Allyson Felix got jostled and stumbled. Instead of handing off the baton, she had to try flipping it to English Gardner.
That didn't work, and though another full-on American nightmare in the Olympic relays was forestalled, the 4x100 certainly has turned surreal.
Race officials upheld an American protest due to the jostling in Thursday morning's preliminary heat, but because relay finals must be limited to eight teams, the American runners will be called back to the track Thursday evening to run all by themselves, in the same order and in the same lane. Their goal is to beat the time of 42.70 seconds run by China, the slowest qualifier from the two heats.
"We're going to regroup, get ourselves together and go out there and be able to compete in the final," Gardner said before she was aware of the extraordinary circumstances of the U.S protest.
Even on tired legs, 42.70 should be no problem for the U.S. relay runners, especially with nobody jostling them from the side. Two of the runners in the heat, Felix and Tianna Bartoletta, were part of the team that set the world record (40.82 seconds) at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Still, these are hardly ideal conditions. The lead-off runner, Bartoletta, returned to the track a little more than 12 hours after taking gold in the long jump.
"She is exhausted but ready," said Bartoletta's husband, John. Bartoletta will go straight from the rerun to her medals ceremony.
Felix has been battling a sore ankle for months, along with the emotions of not qualifying for the 200, then finishing a disappointing second in the 400.
Asked if she got hurt amid the jostling, Felix said: "No. Just upset."
Replays of the race show Brazil's third runner, Kauiza Venancio, start to pump her arms as she gets ready to receive the baton from Franciela Krasucki. Venacio's left arm made contact with Felix's right one and threw her off balance as she was attempting to pass to Gardner.
Felix let out a yelp as her flip missed its mark and the baton tumbled to the ground. She picked up the baton and told Gardner to finish the race â a heads-up move that may not have really changed anything, per the rulebook, but removed any doubt about the U.S team's intention to finish the race. Anchor runner Morolake Akinosun finished but the Americans didn't post an official time â listed as a "DQ," until officials let them back in.
"I remember them telling us, if there's an appeal, you have to make an effort," Felix said.
In less-jarring news, the U.S. men's team coasted through the preliminaries easily, winning their heat in 37.65 seconds. Jamaica's relay team also made it through, finishing second in their heat without Usain Bolt, who was resting up for the 200-meter final later in the evening.
It puts Jamaica, and Bolt, in position for a third straight title in the sprint relay.
"The only pressure is to make sure we get the stick'" around, said Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder who ran the third leg.
It's been more of a problem with the United States than the Jamaicans over the years.
The U.S. women dropped the baton in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics to give away potential medals in an event that was virtually made for the team with the deepest pool of sprinters.
The U.S. men have either been disqualified or failed to get the baton around the track eight times at Olympics or world championships since 1995.
"First thing I did is told the young guys, 'We got this,'" veteran Tyson Gay said after running the men's third leg. "You've got to be positive. A lot of things happen out there."