August 9, 2012 / 8:50 PM / in 5 years

Athletics: U.S. set pace in women's 4x100 heats

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States came within a whisker of breaking one of the oldest records in athletics when they set the fastest qualifying time in the heats of the women’s 4x100 meters relay at the London Olympics on Thursday.

With the stadium still buzzing after Kenya’s David Rudisha broke the 800 meters world record, former world champion Lauryn Williams joined forces with Tianna Madison, Jeneba Tarmoh and Bianca White to anchor the American “B” team across the line in 41.64 seconds.

The time was 0.04 seconds outside the Olympic record set by East Germany at the 1980 Moscow Games and 0.27 outside the world record set by East Germany in 1985.

The Americans could threaten both records in Friday’s final when world champion Carmelita Jeter and Olympic 200 gold medalist Allyson Felix will be called in to strengthen the team after skipping the preliminaries.

“I know they’re going to get the gold tomorrow. All they have got to do is to get the sticks around tight,” Williams told reporters.

“This is a great team we have put together. Don’t blink, you might miss the race.”

Despite having more depth in women’s sprinting than any other country, the U.S. have not won the Olympic title since 1996.

They were beaten on merit Sydney 12 years ago but paid the price for messing up their baton exchanges at Athens and Beijing.

“We practiced until we were blue in the face. Everybody practiced every place in case of an emergency,” Williams said.

“I’ve been practicing in my sleep. I’ve been throwing back my hand all day long.”

Jamaica, who loom as the biggest threat to the U.S., finished second to Ukraine, bronze medalists at last year’s world championships in South Korea, in their heat and fourth overall after an awkward handover but got through unscathed.

Trinidad and Tobago posted the second fastest time behind the Americans and European champions Germany were sixth.

The only major casualty were Russia, gold medalists in Beijing four years ago when the U.S. and Jamaica both fumbled the baton.

Editing by Ed Osmond

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