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Lutz sprinter returns with gold

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:53 PM
TAMPA -

Just moments before Tianna Madison lined up inside London's Olympic Stadium for the opening leg of the 4 x 100 meter race Friday, she and teammate Allyson Felix made a pact.

"Allyson and I said to each other, right before the race, 'By any means necessary, you will get this baton,' " Madison, 26, said Sunday evening. "She even spiked me in the leg, but we kept going."

A gold medal dangling from her neck and a United States flag draped around both shoulders, Madison basked in the center of about 100 supporters, friends and family near the Airside F tram inside Tampa International Airport.

That baton made it from Madison to Felix in a clean exchange. Then it went to Bianca Knight and finally to anchor-leg sprinter Carmelita Jeter. In the process of snatching a gold medal in that 4 x 100 event, the women also smashed a 1985 world record of 41.37 with a time of 40.82.

"I knew that it was going to be fast because in Round 1, we almost broke the Olympic record," said Madison, who lives in Lutz with her husband John Bartoletta. "I just really focused on running the best 100 I could run and catching the two girls on the outside and making up some ground, and I knew if I could do that, I'd put Allyson in the perfect position to get us into the lead and that's what we did.

"But the world record, we all had this look on our face. None of us were really expecting that, but oh we are so glad that we shattered it."

It was the first time since 1992 the American women's 4-x-100 meter relay team finished first in that event.

Among the many in the crowd Sunday in Tampa were Madison's sister-in-law, Darlene Bartoletta and her three children Danielle, Lauren and Michael Bartoletta.

Despite knowing the outcome of the race, Darlene Bartoletta said she and her family were glued to the television screen, filled with anticipation.

"We freaked out, but of course we knew ahead of time from Twitter. We knew they won and we knew they had a world record, but it was still a surprise," she said laughing. "We knew it was going to happen, but to see it was hair-raising."

Lauren Bartoletta admitted her stomach was in knots waiting for the race to begin.

"I was so nervous for her to start off," she said. "But once she handed the baton off, I knew — and they were so far ahead of everyone else — they were going to get (the gold medal)."

Although it was Madison and her team who won the medal on the track, she praised her husband for getting her prepared mentally and physically.

A three-hour dinner date in Orlando last September led to a heart-to-heart conversation.

"We talked about facing your fears and stop lying to yourself," John Bartoletta said. "We had a very, very hard talk. It was heartfelt. She talked to me openly about everything she's been through."

She traveled to Daytona from Lutz daily to train. That regimen included 2 pounds of steak, a bag of mushrooms, a bag of spinach, protein shakes, and plenty of water — a routine that lasted almost 200 consecutive days.

"And this is what happened," John Bartoletta said, referring to the gold medal. "She's an amazing woman."

The gold medal and record has been the culmination of a life full of trapdoors and drama for Madison. Her financial hardship was punctuated with a bankruptcy and foreclosure of her home. She's even moved past being molested as a child.

"It's just really good to have someone like my husband and the Bartolettas behind me who just love and support me every step of the way," the Ohio native and former University of Tennessee track star said.

Madison finished fourth in the 100-meter finals.

While in London, the couple rented a flat away from the hoopla and even bargained with the chef of a nearby Italian restaurant to cook her meals.

Michaeline Whitney, who has known Madison for a year and a half, made the trip to London just before the games to watch Madison during the trials. Whitney said the experience brought a deeper connection and left her feeling honored.

"It was an incredible part of my life I don't think I'll ever forget," Whitney said. "I was so proud to be part of it. I spent so many days with her in London, I really came to know the person she is."

Inside Darlene Bartoletta's living room last Friday night, it was an atmosphere the family won't soon forget.

"When she was just standing there, I had chills from the intensity of the moment," Danielle Bartoletta said.

Michael Bartoletta added: "I couldn't even believe it with my own eyes. … I had to take it all in."

The proof — in the form of a gold medal, connected to a purple ribbon — was there Sunday.


edaniels@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1860

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