RIO DE JANEIRO — In a news conference earlier in the day, a two-time Olympic champion pole vaulter compared life to a boomerang.
Meaning that sometimes what you throw comes back at you.
But vice versa, evidently, also works.
Four years ago in London, the Canadian men’s 4×100-metre relay team lost an Olympic bronze medal after video review showed that Jared Connaughton had stepped on the lane line while passing the baton to the anchor runner, Justyn Warner.
Friday night, at the end of a confusing, traumatic day of putting one foot in front of another at the Rio Olympics — first Evan Dunfee in the 50km race walk, now this — a downcast team of Canadian relay runners was mourning a fourth-place finish that even an inspired anchor leg by Andre De Grasse couldn’t turn into a third.
But then came replay, which has become the modern scourge of professional sports everywhere but which, on this night, was a godsend, for it delivered the bronze to Canada via a disqualification of the third-place Americans.
Some will see that as poetic justice for an U.S. team on which three of the four runners had served doping suspensions.
But the Canadians — who didn’t realize for the longest time that they had inherited a medal, while Usain Bolt and his Jamaican pals took a joyous gold medal-victory lap around Olympic Stadium — don’t care why, or how, they picked up the medal.
Said Aaron Brown, who ran the second leg: “Just happy to be on the good side of the DQ this time.”
It was explained as a too-early baton pass, outside the zone on the very first exchange, from Mike Rodgers to Justin Gatlin, though the U.S. team then requested a review of the incident. The IAAF eventually denied the U.S. appeal.
“I was a little bit disappointed, but when we got the upgrade to bronze, that cheered us up and we started smiling and saying ‘Thank God that it happened,’” De Grasse said.
No one was close when Bolt crossed the line in a winning time of 37.27 seconds to complete his jaw-dropping triple-triple: gold in the 100m, 200m and 4×100, three Olympics in a row.
He was shoulder to shoulder with Trayvon Bromell of the U.S. when he took the pass from Nickel Ashmeade, but by the time they were halfway down the home stretch, the magnificent 6-foot-5 long strider had hit the afterburners and left the field in his rear-view mirror.
“There you go — I am the greatest,” said Bolt, channeling his inner Ali. “I am just relieved. It’s happened. I am just happy, proud of myself. It’s come true. The pressure is real.”
De Grasse might have caught the Americans, DQ or not, with one or two more strides, but he had taken the baton from Brendon Rodney in a big hole and simply ran out of track.
“I think I just needed one more metre, like one more metre,” said De Grasse, the 21-year-old future star who leaves Rio with two bronze medals, and a silver in the 200.
“I think my legs were just a little bit fatigued from running the rounds in the 100 and 200. You only have maybe 97 metres, 98 metres in this race, and those one, two metres could have made the difference between a fourth-place finish or a silver medal.”
It was a Canadian record run, 37.64 seconds, for Akeem Haynes, Brown, Rodney and De Grasse, but it was 0.04 slower than the Japanese and 0.02 shy of the Americans, whose joy evaporated the instant they heard the bad news.
“Hell, we already did the victory lap and then when we talked to TV, they told us,” Tyson Gay said. “It has to be the worst luck for this country ever. It’s always something weird, stupid. Simple mistakes always cost us.”
Before Friday, only two Canadian men’s relay teams had ever won Olympic medals — the 1984 squad in the boycotted L.A. Olympics, and the gold-medal team of Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, 20 years ago.
The bronze was nice, but the Jamaicans’ gold was priceless.
Other outcomes were possible, in theory. Just not likely.
When the last chapter in the Olympic career of the greatest sprinter in history was not his alone to seize, but also in the hands and feet of three teammates, there were any number of ways it could have gone wrong.
But once the baton got safely into Bolt’s left hand — he quickly moved it to the right — the race was over.