BEIJING -- Sanya Richards clutched this medal, stared at it, smiled at it. A few feet away, Allyson Felix did the same.
These weren't their first prizes of the 2008 Olympics.
But these were the medals the Americans wanted.
Gold. Elusive gold.
Producing precisely the type of superb runs they couldn't muster in their individual events, Felix and Richards helped deliver one of two U.S. victories in the 1,600-meter relays Saturday night, allowing a team that failed to live up to its own expectations a chance to celebrate.
"We had ups and we had downs. Just wanted to end on a high moment," said Felix, who ran a strong second leg before anchor Richards had to overtake Russia's Anastasia Kapachinskaya down the stretch. "It doesn't make up for it, but it's a start to the healing process."
Entering the final track and field event, the men's marathon Sunday, the U.S. leads with 23 medals at the Bird's Nest, five more than Russia, and seven golds, one ahead of Russia and Jamaica.
Led by Usain Bolt -- he of the three gold medals and three world records in three events -- Jamaica won five of the six high-profile sprint races.
"I thought it was a great performance," U.S. men's coach Bubba Thornton said, rejecting the notion that America didn't fare well. "We've had a couple things happen."
Nothing went wrong in the women's 1,600. Felix ran the fastest lap of any of the 32 women in the final, a 48.55-second split that put the United States in front. By the time Richards got the stick, though, Russia was in the lead.
Richards closed the gap, then bided her time, waiting ... waiting ... waiting for the right moment. With 30 meters left, Richards pulled to the outside and zoomed past Kapachinskaya. Showing no sign of what she said was a bothersome hamstring after fading from first place to third in the final 80 meters of the 400, Richards covered her leg in 48.93, and she thrust her baton overhead as she crossed the finish line.
At 3 minutes, 18.54 seconds, it was the fastest women's 1,600 since 1993.
"We kept our heads high," Richards said.
Even as Richards wound up with a bronze -- not gold -- in the 400, and Felix heads home with a silver -- not gold -- from the 200, the U.S. women's total of nine medals is their highest since 1992.
"We won more medals -- it just didn't come from where everyone else thought it should come," U.S. women's coach Jeanette Bolden said.
The American men, meanwhile, have 14 medals heading into the marathon, but only four golds, which would be their fewest ever in Olympic track and field.
No. 4 came in the 1,600 relay, when Jeremy Wariner -- another favorite who settled for something less than gold in his specialty -- anchored the U.S. to victory in an Olympic-record 2:55.39.
In addition to padding the medal count, the twin relay wins made up for the gaffes two nights earlier, when both U.S. 400-meter teams dropped the baton and were disqualified in the semifinals.
This time, instead of being red-faced, the relay quartets were wearing red -- special uniforms to replace the blue ones used throughout the first eight days of track and field competition.
Aiming to make amends, Bolden and Thornton held meetings with their relay squads before Saturday's races and pulled out the red outfits. Thornton joked that he bought them at Beijing's tourist-trap Silk Market.
"A lot of things happened in this Olympics that we weren't expecting," said Wariner, the 2004 Olympic champion in the 400 who got silver this time. "But we'll use that to build on. I know next year at the world championships it's going to be different."