LONDON — Members of the American 4x100 relay team left the Olympic track Friday believing anything's possible – maybe even a win over Usain Bolt.
With Justin Gatlin running the anchor leg, the U.S. broke a 20-year-old national record in its preliminary round, finishing in 37.38 seconds. The old record, first set in 1992 with Carl Lewis running the anchor leg, was 37.40.
"We're going to figure out a way to go out there and compete with them," Gatlin said. "We're not scared of them."
One small problem: Jamaica, running in the evening's opening heat, was only a hundredth of a second slower than the United States, and that was with Bolt on the sideline.
In the final Saturday, Bolt will take Kemar Bailey-Cole's place on the anchor leg, while Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and 100 and 200 runner-up Yohan Blake will run in the first three spots, as they did in the preliminaries.
The U.S. and Jamaican times were the fourth- and fifth-fastest ever recorded, and based on all the fast times run Friday – the American women set a world record at 40.82 seconds in their final later in the evening – the men's mark of 37.04, set by Jamaica at last year's world championships, appears reachable.
"We've got guys that have been running good and we've got Usain Bolt, who's going to run a fast time," Blake said. "It's going to be interesting."
Bolt first helped rewrite the relay record to close out his three-win, three-world-record performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he ran the third leg of a race the Jamaicans finished in 37.10. Bolt hasn't set a record in his two winning sprints in London so far but has become the first man to repeat at the Olympics in both the 100 and 200.
In the preliminaries, the U.S. went with former Florida football player Jeff Demps, Darvis Patton, Trell Kimmons and Gatlin, this year's 100-meter bronze medalist. Tyson Gay, who finished fourth in the 100 and is still in search of his first Olympic medal, figures to earn a spot in the final.
The American men are back in the final after missing it in Beijing when Patton and Gay mishandled the baton exchange in preliminaries. At the time, Gatlin, the 2004 100-meter champion, was serving a doping ban. But now he's back, and he helped break a record held by Lewis, along with men who are now coaching a number of the American sprinters, Dennis Mitchell and Jon Drummond.
"They always put it in our face: `If you want to be great, go after that record,'" Gatlin said. "Many U.S. relays teams have gone for that record and have not gotten it. It happened to be here in the Olympics."
The American record is one thing. Winning the Olympic gold medal, however, will take a win over Jamaica and Bolt.
"They're definitely fast. They're definitely worthy opponents," Gatlin said. "I'm the kind of person that loves pressure. This is the level we have to reach, this is the level we have to achieve."