The world's fastest relay team learned, once again, that you can't run to the finish until you pass the baton. The U.S. Olympic men's 4x100-meter relay team failed to win the gold medal for only the fifth time in Olympic history, finishing second to Britain in Saturday night's final thanks to a bungled handoff.
American men had won five of the six medals in the Olympic 100 and 200 meters, but Saturday night's team could not take full advantage of the speed it possessed.
After a hesitant pass between Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin, Gatlin and Coby Miller fumbled the second exchange, putting the United States hopelessly behind one night after the U.S. women's 4x100 team did not even finish after Marion Jones and Lauryn Williams didn't connect on a handoff.
A furious last leg by Maurice Greene, who took the baton in third place and closed a gap of several meters, wasn't enough. Greene finished one-hundredth of a second behind Mark Lewis-Francis, who crossed the line in 38.07 seconds. Nigeria finished third in 38.23.
"It is surprising," Greene said. "When you run the relay, it takes four to win, not just one person. You have to come together as one and get the job done. . . . Things happen, but if something goes wrong with one person, it goes wrong with all four. I'm just happy to be able to finish the race."
Miller said the Olympic Stadium crowd was so loud he couldn't hear Gatlin call "stick," the signal to get ready for the handoff. Miller took off, but when he didn't feel the baton in his hand, he slowed down. Gatlin, racing to catch Miller, then jammed his spikes into Miller's shoe, tearing it.
"I knew going into the race whoever had the better sticks would win the gold medal, and unfortunately, we didn't have it today," Miller said. "The handoff wasn't that good from the start. Justin and mine's was really, really bad because I really didn't hear him call 'stick.' I guess the crowd was in it too much. By the time I knew, we were at the end of the zone. I didn't want to run out of the zone and not get a medal at all."
Gatlin praised Miller for pressing on.
"Coming around the curve, I stepped on his foot and ripped a hole in his shoe," Gatlin said. "I think he made up a lot of ground for having a ripped shoe."
U.S. team members said they had practiced handoffs for the relay only on two occasions: the day before an Aug. 8 relay in Munich and on race day itself.
"That's it," Greene said.
John Capel, the reigning world 200 champion, had been penciled in to run in the 4x100 semifinal Friday night, but he was scratched after U.S. officials learned he had tested positive for marijuana in Munich in early August. The offense carries no penalty other than a public warning, so Capel was free to compete. However, if Capel had tested positive for marijuana again during the Olympics, the U.S. team result would have been nullified, as a second offense carries a two-year ban.
Bernard Williams, the silver medallist in the 200 meters, was in the same situation, as he, too, tested positive for marijuana this summer. He, also, was not selected for either the 4x100 or 4x400 relays.
On Friday, Crawford filled in for Capel, and he ran the leadoff leg again Saturday. Despite having competed in 10 races in the last week, he said the workload wasn't too much.
Women Win 4x400 Relay
The U.S. women's 4x400 relay team won the gold medal in a time of 3 minutes 19.01 seconds, topping Russia (3:20.16) and Jamaica (3:22). Dee Dee Trotter, Monique Henderson, Sanya Richards and Monique Hennagan, however, finished well off the Olympic and world record of 3:15.17, set by Russia in 1988.
"We came here as a team and decided to get the gold medal," Hennagan said.
The medal was a rare one for U.S. women track and field athletes at these Games. The women finished with just six medals, two of each color, for their lowest total since 1976. . . .
American Breaux Greer was a favorite to medal in his second Olympics, having entered the javelin final with the third-best throw in the world this season. Greer, however, could not overcome a torn knee ligament, which had been bothering him throughout the week. Greer, who wore a plastic brace on his right leg, made just two attempts and finished last of the 12 competitors with a throw of 243 feet 11 inches, more than 42 feet below his personal best. Greer declined comment after. . . .
American Amy Acuff barely missed a medal in the high jump, finishing fourth. She cleared 6 feet 6.25 inches. Russian Yelana Slesarenko won, clearing an Olympic record 6-9.
"I had the loneliest number tonight," Acuff said. "I think that was the best high jump competition in history, so you can't feel too bad about that. I felt like I was hanging in there."