In addition to former Stillman track star Jeff Henderson’s (right) gold-medal winning performance in the long jump, two other HBCU products came home from the 2016 Rio Olympics with medals. And both earned their medals in 4×400 meter relays, one for the women and one for the men.
Four years ago, the 4×400 meter relay team from the Bahamas overtook the team from the USA in the final 100 meters to win the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. This year Team USA held off all challengers to win gold and foil the Bahamas’ attempt to repeat as Olympic champions. Jamaica finished second and a strong final leg by Norfolk State alum Chris Brown helped the Bahamas finish in third place. Brown passed Belgium’s Kevin Borlee in the final straightaway to earn a bronze medal.
It was the fourth relay medal for Brown as he closed out his fifth Olympic experience and his third in the anchor spot. In addition to leading off on the gold medal team in London, he also anchored the silver medal performance from Andretti Bain, Mathieu and Andrea Williams in Beijing, China in 2008 and anchored as well in Sydney, Australia in 2000 when he and Avard Moncur, Troy McIntosh and Carl Oliver clinched the first relay medal with the bronze. Brown, the elder statesman of the team at age 36, rebounded after dropping to fourth on the back stretch. He was passed by Jamaica’s Javon Francis as they trailed LaShawn Merritt from the United States and Gaone Leaname Maotoanono from Botswana. Brown passed Maotoanono as well and just as he got closer to the finish line, he managed to dip to keep ahead of Borlee.
Although she didn’t run in the final event, 27-year old Hampton alum and former NCAA 400-meter champion Francena McCrory will get to share the gold medal won by Team USA women’s 4×400 meter relay team. McCrory ran the third leg in the semifinals to help the team qualify for the finals. The quartet of Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix did the job in the final, winning in 3:19.06 by fighting off a determined Jamaica team (which ran 3:20.34), with Great Britain a distant third (3:25.88) and Canada, Ukraine, Italy, Poland and Australia next in line.
In a switch by U.S. coach Dennis Mitchell’s decision, Okolo got to run the final even though she’d been sixth in the U.S. Olympic trials in Oregon six weeks ago, picked to run over Taylor Ellis-Watson, who’d been fourth, and McCorory, who was fifth. The U.S. team of Okolo, Ellis-Watson, McCorory and Francis had breezed to a 3:21.42 win in the Thursday night semifinals, setting things up for the final.
This made McCorory a gold medalist for the second straight Games. The quartet of Felix, McCorory, Dee Dee Trotter and Sanya Richards-Ross won in London in 2012. Ronnie Ash, who won an MEAC title in the 110-meter hurdles before transferring to Oklahoma, advanced to the finals in the men’s 110 hurdles in Rio but was disqualified after falling over one of the last hurdles. He won his first round heat and finished second in his semifinal heat to claim one of the eight spots in the finals.