RIO DE JANEIRO - Japan came close to sabotaging Usain Bolt’s bid for Olympic immortality but settled for a first-ever silver medal in the men’s 4×100-meter relay at the Rio Games on Friday.
The Japan team of Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge finished second in a new Asian-record time of 37.60 seconds, just 0.33 behind Bolt and his Jamaica teammates.
“It’s a great feeling, winning a medal was our goal all along,” said Cambridge, who took the baton for the anchor leg neck-and-neck with Bolt and held off Trayvon Bromell of the United States and Canada’s Andre de Grasse to secure silver.
“I believed that my three teammates would put me in a good position, and that’s what happened. We have a great team and I was determined not to lose. I started to lose my balance but luckily I didn’t fall.”
Bolt completed an unprecedented sweep of three sprint titles for a third straight Olympics after anchoring a Jamaican team also featuring Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade to the gold medal in a time of 37.27.
“All the weight is gone now,” said Bolt, who insists he will retire after competing at next year’s world championships in London. “It’s a relief. I’ve done it all, I’m happy with myself, I’m accomplished so much. I’m just proud of myself that I’ve executed and got it done.
“I would have never thought I could go back-to-back-to-back Olympics. At the first one I was just happy. The second one was a challenge, and then to come into the third one is just unbelievable. I hope I’ve set the bar high enough that no one can do it again.”
Canada took the bronze medal in 37.64 after the U.S. was disqualified following an illegal baton change on the way to a third-place finish.
Japan got off to a flying start through Yamagata, who chased down China’s Tang Xingqiang on his outside lane and passed the baton to Iizuka in a strong position.
Iizuka and Kiryu then kept Japan in gold-medal contention handing over to Cambridge for the final leg, but the 23-year-old could not keep up with Bolt as the star attraction of the Rio Games powered Jamaica to the title.
“As soon as I got the baton I knew I was going to win this one,” said Bolt. “Because there is no one on the anchor leg that can outrun me when we get the baton together.
“I told the guys, ‘don’t give me too much work to do, please.’ And they did exactly that. I had no more work to do than just run to the line.”
Cambridge held off Bromell and double Rio Games sprint medalist De Grasse to win Japan’s second-ever medal in the event after taking bronze in Beijing eight years ago, sparking the team’s hopes of more success at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“This time we won the silver medal so next time we are aiming for gold,” said Yamagata. “I think winning the silver has earned us the right to think like that. I want us to be confident and target the gold.”
The U.S. only learned that it had been disqualified at the end of its victory lap, leaving Canada to pick up the bronze medal.
“When we came fourth it was a little bit disappointing because we were probably a little bit surprised that Japan outdid us,” said De Grasse, who won his third medal of the Rio Games as part of a Canada team also featuring Akeem Haynes, Aaron Brown and Brendon Rodney.
“But congrats to them, they did their thing. So that was a little bit disappointing, but when we got the upgrade to bronze that kind of cheered our spirits up and we started smiling. Thank god that happened.”
But the day belonged to Bolt after he added the 4×100 title to the 100- and 200-meter crowns he won earlier in the week for a third straight games, sealing his place among the greatest ever Olympians.
“It’s mixed feelings,” said Bolt, who turns 30 on Sunday. “It’s a relief because it’s been really stressful the years I’ve gone through. I’ve had injury problems, there’s been so much. But I’m also sad that I have to leave. I’m going to miss the competition. There are just so many feelings right now.
“I’m going to miss the crowd. I’m not going to miss these interviews because I’ve done like 500 since I’ve been here. But I’ll definitely miss the crowd, the energy and just the competition. I love competing and I’ll miss that. But it’s been a great career so I’m just happy with myself.”