LONDON -- All day, Lauryn Williams carried that familiar feeling. No, she wasn't running the individual Olympic 100-meter dash this time. But Thursday night's preliminary round of the 4x100 relay presented several pressure-packed subplots.
For one, Williams had been at least half-responsible for the United States not earning medals in Athens and Beijing, botching handoffs with Marion Jones and Torri Edwards as the anchor of those relay teams.
Then there was the matter of her personal journey to London -- losing her father, David, to cancer in the fall of 2008; leaving the sport for the '10 season to take a soul-searching mission; and coming back in '11 to find that she was no longer a dominant sprinter.
It was all supposed to mean something. In fact, it had to, and Thursday night's race was about attaining proper closure to one of the most decorated Olympic careers to have blossomed in the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania.
Williams, a native of Rochester, had one more job to do: Receive that baton and run the last 100 meters as she has done it thousands of times. She wouldn't leave anything to chance either, continually extending her left hand behind her to receive an imaginary stick as she walked throughout the day.
"Someone laughed at me this morning," Williams said.
"I was walking in the village to meet my friend, and they were like, 'What are you doing?' "
The world found out Thursday night exactly what she was doing. She easily grabbed the baton from Bianca Knight and made a beeline for the finish line, not slowing down until Team USA's "B-Team" had coasted to a time of 41.64 seconds -- the second fastest in Olympic history (East Germany ran 41.60 in 1980).
"A total sense of relief," Williams, 28, said. "A huge weight off my shoulders. I am so blessed to have done my part and be able to watch these girls tomorrow as they go for a gold!
"It was disappointing in '04 and '08, but I'm really excited to have had this opportunity, even if it's just a preliminary, you know, it's my chance at redemption."
Williams, who got a silver medal in the 100-meter in Athens, will be in an unfamiliar position tonight, unable to control her medal fate. Faster sprinters Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix will take her spot and Tianna Madison, Jeneba Tarmoh or Knight will round out the team.
"We're definitely a golden team," Williams said.
After Thursday night's blazing run, it appears the United States could race any four of its six 100 runners and sprint away with gold. Trinidad & Tobago was second at 42.31 seconds.
By the time Williams got the baton, her lead was so big she could have tried to do cartwheels into the finish. Williams, of course, would do no such thing. This meant too much to her, and as soon as she clasped the stick in her hand, she felt redeemed.
"I was just like, 'I got it! Don't stop now!' " Williams said. "Even when you know you're winning, it's all the way to the finish line, because you never know. When you've got all this speed together, it could be a world record, an Olympic record, American record, whatever."
She'd have to settle for the second-best Olympic time, which could very well become the third best by tonight. Jeter, Felix, Knight and Marshevet Myers ran a 41.56 at the 2011 world championships.
Williams will be watching tonight and cheering as loudly as anyone, hoping her teammates help win her first Olympic gold.
"I wanted to show the world that even the 'B-team' for America is really, really fast," Williams said. "And you better watch out and be ready tomorrow."