BARCELONA, Spain - While running in his third final of the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships, Tiger freshman Aaron Ernest finally struck gold Saturday as he anchored the United States to an easy win in the 4x100-meter relay while nearly shattering the world junior record at Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.
After sweeping silver medals with runner-up finishes in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes already this week, Ernest stepped onto the track in Saturday's finale as the anchor for the gold-medal favorites for the United States along with Tyreek Hill, Aldrich Bailey and Arthur Delaney.
Hill gave the Americans a commanding lead at the first exchange before Bailey and Delaney passed off to Ernest in a dead heat with the Japanese at the final exchange.
Ernest quickly surged ahead of Kazuki Kanamori running anchor for Japan and pulled away to capture the gold medal by four meters with a 2012 world junior leading run of 38.67 seconds. Jazeel Murphy also sprinted past Kanamori at the finish line to win the silver medal for Jamaica with its national junior record of 38.97. Japan captured the bronze medal after running 39.02 in the sprint relay final.
Ernest and his American teammates crossed the finish line just .01 seconds off the world junior record run of 38.66 that was set in 2004 by the United States to win the 4x100-meter relay gold medal in the finals at the IAAF World Junior Championships contested in Grosseto, Italy.
"I felt good when I got the handoff," Ernest said. "I didn't have my legs yesterday (for the 200-meter dash final), but today was a totally different story. I just tried to go out there tonight and show everybody how I can sprint. To be a three-time medalist this week is unbelievable."
The United States has dominated the 4x100 relay at the IAAF World Junior Championships while earning three-straight gold medals since 2008 and eight gold medals in 14 appearances all-time.
Saturday's performance wraps up a brilliant week for Ernest as the leader of Team USA's sprint squad, as he also swept silver medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes to medal in each of his three events. In the final of the 100-meter dash on Wednesday, Ernest matched his personal record at 10.17 to win his first silver of the week. He then set a PR of 20.53 in Friday's 200-meter final for his second silver.
Another LSU Tiger also gave himself a chance to run for a gold medal during Sunday's finale with fellow freshman Quincy Downing leading off the United States in the semifinals of the 4x400-meter relay.
Downing led off the Americans with a career-best 45.67-second split, before handing the baton off to Eric Futch with the lead at the first exchange. Chidi Okezie and Arman Hall then brought it home for a victory in the second heat as the United States posted 3 minutes, 6.26 seconds for the fastest time of the semifinal round. Australia followed as the heat runner-up and automatic qualifier in 3:07.49.
On the strength of his 45.67-second split while leading off Saturday's semifinal race, Downing is a strong candidate to join the foursome lining up in the 4x400-meter relay final on Sunday. The Americans run for the gold medal in the final event of this year's championship at 1:10 p.m. CT.