Bahamians click into gear for record-breaking relay gold

The Bahamas women's 4x100m relay team had taken a silver medal four years earlier, and came to Sydney with strong hopes of making the podium again. To underline their strength, three Bahamian women reached the final of the individual 100m, and they beat the USA in the semi-final by 0.4 seconds. But few thought that they actually stood a chance of taking the gold, the destiny of which was generally expected to come down to a battle between the United States and Jamaica.

The Jamaicans set the fastest time in qualifying while the Americans had won the gold medal in this relay at the previous four Games. Yet both teams seemed to have slight flaws.In practice, the Jamaicans had not looked quite as smooth as normal, and there were suggestions of some disharmony within the squad.

The USA, too, seemed not to be running quite as flawlessly as normal in the run-up to the final, despite their formidable reputation. The Bahamians, by contrast, seemed untroubled by anything.

In the final, American fears were realised as they made errors in two out of the three handovers. The baton got round, but not as smoothly as it should have done, and as a result the US quartet never hit the front.

Instead, the race developed into an all-Caribbean battle. The Bahamas led from the start, with the Jamaicans trying to hunt them down, waiting for a mistake. But the mistake never came.

Each Bahamas changeover was executed to perfection and as Debbie Ferguson took off down the back straight it seemed victory was assured. Behind her was the Jamaicans' final runner, 40-year-old Merlene Ottey, who became the first female runner to compete in six Olympics. Ottey ran well, but not nearly well enough to catch Ferguson, who gleefully brought the Bahamian baton home some two metres clear.

It was a win that led to jubilation back home. With a population of just 270,000, the Bahamas became the smallest nation ever to win an Olympic gold medal in a team event.