Bolt had just put together two of the greatest seasons in track and field annals, winning gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 4x100-meter relay at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin, setting a bounty of world records in the process. (The relay title from Beijing was later stripped after one of his teammates retroactively tested positive for taking a banned substance.) He arrived in the City of Brotherly Love as a bona fide global superstar and the undisputed king of the sport. Adding to the anticipation was that this was Bolt's first time racing at Penn since a stint on Jamaica's sprint medley squad in 2005.
He arrived in the City of Brotherly Love as a bona fide global superstar and the undisputed king of the sport.
"There was a great atmosphere, similar to what we find at European track meets," Bolt recalled to the Philadelphia Inquirer last year. "I think there were more Jamaican flags in the stadium than U.S. flags. The Jamaican fans always make a lot of noise and create a great energy. Every stride I did in my warm-up got a cheer."
Given the precarious nature of high-speed baton passes in the 4x100, and Team USA's long history of snafus in the event, there was the potential for an anticlimactic outcome. Boldon, however, says he had no doubt that an epic showdown was on tap. "You have to remember what Penn Relays is like for an American athlete," he says. "For all the dominance of the Jamaican fans in the stands and the Jamaican high schools on the track, American athletes, particularly American pros, look at Penn Relays as, 'This is our country, this is our turf and you're not gonna come here and beat us.'"
The race marked a turning point in Bolt's relay career — it was the first time he ran the anchor for Team Jamaica, after previously handling the third leg. (He'd hold the anchor role through his retirement in 2017, leading the squad to gold at the 2011, 2013 and 2015 world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.) Once the crowd quieted down just enough for the race to get underway, teammates Mario Forsythe, Yohan Blake and Marvin Anderson managed the pressure of the moment exceptionally well. At the top of the homestretch, Anderson slipped Bolt the baton with a slight lead over of a pair of American quartets.