U.S. men hope to break through in 4×100-meter relay

A year after being largely eliminated from the Olympic medal podium, the US men’s sprinters have endured a respectable IAAF World Championships.

They won gold, silver and bronze in the 100m at a world championships for the first time in 31 years.

Three Americans crossed the finish line in the 200-meter final on Thursday.

And yet, US athletics leaders cannot relax just yet. Because the event that has frightened the US team more than any other in the last two decades is yet to be played out.

Qualification for the men’s 400m relay starts on Friday.

It’s one of the most enduring paradoxes in athletics: the USA routinely produces many of the fastest men on the planet, but they just as consistently produce some of the most amazing results when it comes to getting four of them to pass a baton cleanly across the track to hand over. The result is two decades of botched handovers, dropped sticks, a doping ban that annulled an Olympic silver medal and what observers, including US sprinting icon Carl Lewis, have called a lack of leadership.

“Trust me, I’ve been in three failed seasons, 2015, 2016 and of course 2021, so I don’t like it either,” Trayvon Bromell, the 100’s bronze medalist, said in May. “I feel like I should have at least had all these medals by now, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

By 2000, the USA had won gold medals in 15 of the first 20 Olympic 4×100 finals. It has won just one medal since then – a silver in 2004. Another silver in 2012 was lost to Tyson Gay for a doping violation.

The USA was victorious in seven of the first 11 Outdoor World Championships through 2007 and has won just once since, in 2019, in addition to two silver medals.

Even her rare moment of celebration at the 2019 World Cup in Doha almost didn’t happen. The US men were too close on their first handoff in qualifying, resulting in a few shots, only to be too far apart on their final substitution, with Mike Rodgers having to call out to Cravon Gillespie, who turned to take the baton grab in time. Canada filed an unsuccessful protest that the passing had taken place outside the permitted zone.

The fragility of their qualification and the ominous history of the event was why, after Ankerbein crossed first in the final, Noah Lyles said the USA had not just run 37.10 seconds, the third fastest time in history, and the first had won Olympic or World Championship gold in 12 years, but “broke the curse, a generational curse, and ushered in a new era”.

This new era lasted two years. A botched handoff between Fred Kerley and Ronnie Baker prevented the United States from qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think last year left a salty taste in everyone who competed,” said Christian Coleman, who led the 2019 gold medal team’s first stage in May.

USA's Noah Lyles wins a heat in the men's 200m semifinals at the World Athletics Championships.

USA’s Noah Lyles wins a heat in the men’s 200 meter semifinals at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Tuesday in Eugene, Ore.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

On Twitter, Lewis called the Tokyo failure “a total embarrassment and totally unacceptable that a US team looks worse than the AAU kids I’ve seen.” Lewis, who won gold medals in the short relay at the 1984 and 1992 Olympics and the 1983, 1987 and 1991 World Championships, later blamed him on systemic problems with US track leadership.

“You have to see what’s best for the athlete,” he said in a television appearance, “and often we let politicians step in, agents step in, and outsiders step in.”

Countries like Jamaica, Great Britain, Japan and Canada that have had consistent success in the 4×100 relay draw from a smaller pool of elite sprinters, which creates more training time, chemistry and confidence – and often medals as well. The US relay pool is determined after the US Championships, and the country’s sheer speed can work against that, with the composition of the top six-to-eight sprinters changing dramatically from one year to the next.

“If you don’t have a team with real chemistry, things can go wrong,” said Ato Boldon, NBC sports commentator and former Olympic medalist. “I remember Usain Bolt once saying that with every 4-by-1 something goes wrong, but the Jamaicans handle the things that happen in the race better than the Americans. I thought, yeah, that’s harsh, but it’s true.”

It’s a byproduct, several US sprinters said, that they typically only have a handful of drills together. To complicate matters further, determining which sprinters are on the A-Team and which stages are running is a process full of internal politics, with sponsorship and influence of all factors, said Boldon, who has attended previous US “relay camps”. has big championships.

“It’s not usually written about, but I know I can tell you with absolute certainty that on the US team there’s Coach A who says, ‘Well, my athlete won’t run unless he anchors. ‘ or ‘if he doesn’t lead’ or ‘if he doesn’t finish second’ or ‘if he doesn’t finish third,'” Boldon said. “Other countries don’t have that problem. They say, ‘Hey, you do this or you’re out the team.’”

Several US sprinters proposed implementing a selection system that would reduce relay pool turnover and allow for more practice time. Noting that he, Lyles and Kerley all train close together in Florida, Bromell wondered aloud, “Why don’t we train?”

“We’re getting a lot of flak from the world,” said a US sprinter, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter because he feared reprisals. “The only way for us to really show our dominance in the sport is to do a different selection process for relay teams and then find a way to practice them. They don’t have to be the fastest four people – the most consistent people. Maybe you have eight people and you figure out how to form a cohesive team with those people.”

Coleman acknowledged that America’s ever-changing sprint hierarchy makes continuity a challenge. But he didn’t call structural problems an excuse either.

After all, US women face the same problems – and yet they have won Olympic gold and four world titles since 2000, 2012 and 2016.

“You just have to put more focus and energy into practicing, that’s really all it takes,” said Coleman. “We have the most talented guys in the world and of course top-notch speed.”

Considering the strength of US’s performance in Eugene, the energy from running his home track, and the fact that Jamaica is no longer at the top of the world, anything but US gold in the 4×100 relay this week should be considered “huge “To be viewed as disappointment,” Boldon said. The US will be under pressure but they should win, he said.

“But,” he added, “I wouldn’t bet my house on it.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-21/u-s-men-hope-to-break-through-4×100-meter-relay-at-world-championships U.S. men hope to break through in 4×100-meter relay

Emma Bowman

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