Is the U.S. relay serious?
By Joe Battaglia
May 2, 2011
PHILADELPHIA -- It's gotten to the point as a track fan where you don't know whether to laugh or cry whenever the U.S. men take to the track to run the 4x100m.
Since the infamous failed exchange between Doc Patton and Tyson Gay at the Beijing Olympics, and the subsequent disqualification for exchanging the baton outside the zone in the prelims of the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, the U.S. has been trying to figure out how to get the stick around the track. Well, Daegu is now four months away and we still can't get it exactly right.
In the USA vs. The World races on Saturday at the Penn Relays, there were no drops but the hand-offs between American runners were far from clean. To no one's surprise, Team Jamaica, with relay stalwarts like Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell prevailed over the hastily-assembled U.S. teams. Jamaica's margins of victory were .10 over USA Red and .23 over USA Blue, which means clean exchanges could have made all the difference.
"I'm ticked off at myself because I know my hand-off could have been smoother," Shawn Crawford said. "That cost us at least two- or three-tenths of a second on that hand-off between me and Darvis. I feel like I have to take the blame a little for our team finishing third. If our hand-off would have been a little bit smoother, a little cleaner, we would have been right up there, and possibly could have won."
We've gone beyond beating a dead horse here. We're now whaling on a skeleton. When is USA Track & Field going to figure out that the current way of doing things is not working? I mean, how can you seriously expect a relay team thrown together 48 hours before a meet and given one day to practice -- even if there are eight coaches in attendance -- to beat a well-oiled machine like Jamaica?
"I think we did pretty good, I think we just need more practice," USA Blue anchor Ivory Williams said. "Of course everybody wants to the see the U.S. and Jamaica go at it, but Jamaica works hand-offs all the time. For us to practice one day and come out here thinking we're going to do something is not good. We all need to stick together and run the relays. That's the only way we're going to get anywhere."
The Jamaicans pretty much know their relay pool for the World Championships this summer will be made up of Carter, Frater, Powell, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. Since all five run for either MVP or Racers Track Club in Kingston, they can also work on relay hand-offs year round.
Conversely, who is in the U.S. 4x100m relay pool?
Well, it could be Tyson Gay, Walter Dix, Mike Rodgers, Wallace Spearmon, Crawford, Patton, Trell Kimmons, Williams, Justin Gatlin, Rae Edwards, and who knows who else. We won't know the exact names until things are shaken out at the USA Outdoor Championships in Eugene next month. But by then, the relay season will have come and gone, runners will head for the European circuit, and another training opportunity will be missed.
The former National Relay Program, which hemorrhaged $1 million between 2003 and 2008 for a 71-percent success rate (17 medals, seven disqualifications at the World Championships, Olympics and World Cup), has rightfully been dissolved. However, the NRP's original idea to use events such as the Penn Relays, Drake Relays, and Mt. SAC to fine-tune the American squads remains solid.
Here's how we would like to see things done for the men and the women:
On January 1 (or thereabouts) USA Track & Field, with input from the national team head coach, names the relay pool for the upcoming championship. To be eligible for selection you must have ranked in the Top 10 in the U.S. 100m rankings (by time, not Track & Field News) the previous year or won a major international medal in the 100m in the previous four years. After that, it is total coach's discretion.
The four athletes selected will be required to run at three predetermined tune-up meets (since Penn and Drake are the same weekend, we suggest Texas Relays, Mt. SAC, and Penn Relays be the three). If athletes are unable or unwilling to commit to running those three meets, they forfeit their spot on the relay squad.
USA Track & Field subsidizes travel and expenses for the four athletes to these three meets and pays each athlete three times the sum awarded to event winners at the USA Outdoor Championships. So if winning the 100m at Nationals earns you $5000, selection to the U.S. relay team gets you $15,000. If that's not enough, maybe USATF can get sponsor BMW to cough up new M3s for everyone on the team.
Athletes will be required to arrive at Texas Relays, Mt. SAC and Penn at least five days before the event so that there is time for at least three training sessions together.
Ok, if you've gotten through all four points you must be convinced that I'm hopped up on some illicit drug to think that athletes, let alone their agents, would agree to a proposal that could hurt earning potential and alter/jeopardize individual training and competition schedules. Well, sometimes you need to give up something to get something.
One thing is certain. You would find out in a hurry how important the relays, and to a larger extent competing for the honor of country, is to these athletes.
"I think (the selection process) should change because we're professionals," Rodgers, the USA Red anchor, said. They shouldn't wait until the last minute to let us know when the final four are going to run. Like at this meet, we had 48-hours' notice of who was going to run so we had one day of practice then came out here and ran.
"I guess it's going to take a while for things to get straightened out."