|ESPN.com: Summer 2008||[Print without images]|
|Darvis Patton, right, and Tyson Gay both claimed responsibility for the baton drop after Thursday's qualifying heat.|
"We didn't get the right ones," women's 4x100-meter relay anchor Lauryn Williams said of the bibs. "I don't know why. It's just another weird thing that happened." It was more metaphor than weird. On a night when the American men's and women's relay squads dressed like a community college team that entered a local meet late, they ran down to the quality of their bibs. They ran like small-time amateurs. Twice in an inept 30-minute span, the Americans fumbled the baton in preliminary races and eliminated themselves from the 400 relays they historically have owned. In a meet that has revealed the precipitous decline of U.S. track and field, the twin tink-tinks of aluminum hitting track heralded the arrival at rock bottom. Blame it on BALCO and its aftershocks -- although I personally would rather have skinny, slow, clean sprinters than big, fast, dirty ones. Blame it on bad administration and coaching. Blame it on a smaller pool of elite athletes who are interested in track. Whatever your cause of choice, Americans are laying eggs all over the Bird's Nest. Especially when a routine round of prelims turned into Dropapalooza. This was a rapidly recurring nightmare for the American runners. Both times, the baton snafu happened in Lane 2. Both times, it happened on the third and final handoff. And both times, the relay gaffe happened when a super-safe pass was the only thing necessary to easily advance to Friday night's final. To have failed in that context (twice) is staggering. Admittedly, it was a wet night, and there was a slew of relay problems -- 11 of the 32 men's and women's teams were disqualified for baton drops or leaving their lanes -- but most of the other relay teams needed utmost speed just to qualify. The Americans had no such urgency, just a need for expediency. Instead, they gagged at a particularly inopportune time. Jamaica already had reduced America to ashes in the dashes. A country of 2.8 million people swept gold medals in both the men's and women's 100 and 200 and won seven of the 12 medals available in those four races: four gold, two silver, one bronze. A country of 300 million -- which has served as a collegiate training ground for many of those Jamaicans -- won four medals: two silver, two bronze. "As a team, we're dominating this Olympics," said Jamaican sprinter Kerron Clark, who finished third in the women's 200 Thursday night. "[Usain] Bolt set it off for us, and after that, the Jamaican camp went crazy." Combine the Jamaican steamrolling with the fact that the Americans will go medal-less in both 400 relays for the first time in modern Olympic history, and you begin to get the grisly picture. Add in the fact that no American men qualified for the finals of any jumps -- long, high or triple -- and it becomes more defined.
|Mechelle Lewis, left, is comforted by teammate Torri Edwards after the women's 4x100 relay team missed the final for the first time since 1948.|
Oops, they did it again. As the baton fell, Edwards covered her mouth with both hands, horrified. Williams went back and grabbed it, running to the finish line, later saying she never again was going to walk off the track in a relay after what happened in 2004. That was an admirable sentiment, but the result was the same: DQ. "My hand was there," Williams said. "The stick was there. What I'm telling people is that the stick had a mind of its own. It's not my fault, it's not her fault, it's not either of our fault." Correction: It's the fault of both. As is the case with the dismal performance of U.S. track and field in Beijing, there's plenty of blame to go around. Information from ESPN The Magazine senior writer Luke Cyphers was used in this report. Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.