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Why the US women’s 4x100 team had to qualify for the final on an empty track

Allyson Felix's collision with another runner nearly cost the Americans, but her astute thinking afterwards helped ensure the team was able to qualify on their second chance.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The U.S. women's 4x100 relay team was done in Rio, and then it wasn't. For a brief time Thursday, the Americans were stuck in limbo following a disastrous last-place qualification run that saw Allyson Felix collide with another runner while trying to hand off the baton. Given a second chance to post a better qualifying time thanks to a successful protest to the IAAF, Olympic gold is again within reach.

The relay team ran a solo re-run of the race on Thursday night in Rio, racing to a qualifying time of 41.77 to qualify for the final with the fastest time of the semifinal. Here's how we got to this point.

What happened in qualifying?

Felix was finishing up the second leg of the qualifying race Thursday morning when a Brazilian runner in the next lane collided with her. This caused Felix to fumble the the baton just as she was about to hand it off to teammate English Gardner, who had already started running to build momentum for the hand off.

The result was chaos as the Americans scrambled, but credit must be given here to Felix. She realized that the only way the U.S. would able to lodge a successful protest regarding the collision that interfered with her hand off to Gardner was to finish the race. If the team didn't log an official time in qualifying -- even a downright terrible time -- it wouldn't be able to file an appeal.

So the Americans gathered themselves and finished off the race in 1:06.71, more than 23 seconds behind all the other teams. For comparison, Jamaica won the qualifying with a time of 41.79 seconds, and every team that qualified had a time under 43 seconds. Right after the race, there was already talk of an appeal.

How did the appeal work?

The U.S. filed an appeal with the IAAF, the governing body that runs international track and field competition, immediately following the end of the race. Felix confirmed in an interview with NBC Sports afterwards that the team wouldn't waste any time protesting the result.

"I got bumped coming into the exchange zone," Felix said. "It just completely threw me off balance. I tried to pull it together to get it to English. Maybe if I had one more step I could’ve, but I was falling as I was going to her."

The IAAF proceeded to review video of the race and determined a violation occurred when Felix got bumped on the right side by the Brazilian runner who crept into her lane. As a result, the U.S. was given another chance to run and Brazil was disqualified.

Now they're through to the final

In order to advance to the Olympic final, the Americans needed post a time better than 42.70 seconds in their time trial on Thursday night. They ran alone, which was an interesting sight for fans watching NBC's live stream, and got the job done.

Canada and China both finished qualifying in 42.70 seconds, but Canada officially finished seventh after the IAAF broke down their times to thousandths of a second. So the U.S. knocked China out by beating that time, which understandably has the Chinese upset. They filed their own appeal against Team USA's reinstatement, per the IAAF, but the U.S. was allowed to race.

Four years ago in London, an American group led by Felix shattered the world record with a time of 40.82 seconds.

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