'A total embarrassment': Carl Lewis slams U.S. track leadership after 4x100 relay failure

·5-min read

Trayvon Bromell called it “BS.”

Carl Lewis called it “a total embarrassment.”

Whatever you want to call it, the U.S. still can’t find four men who can pass the baton to one another while running as fast as they can.

For the fourth straight Olympics, U.S. men failed to win a medal in an event they once owned. The favored Americans finished sixth in their 4x100-meter relay heat Thursday and didn't qualify for the final largely because Fred Kerley and Ronnie Baker botched the baton pass between the relay's second and third leg.

The U.S. couldn't recover despite deploying its three fastest men in the prelims. Bromell owns the top time in the world this year in the 100. Kerley and Baker finished second and fifth, respectively, in the Olympic final. Even Cravon Gillespie, who placed sixth in the 100 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, is the fastest remaining American who didn't run in the men's 200 final less than 24 hours earlier.  

The problems started for the U.S. on the first leg of the relay when Bromell again couldn't recapture his early-season form and got the Americans off to a sluggish start. Bromell, who surprisingly failed to make the finals of the men’s 100 earlier this week, neither gained nor lost any ground on most of the rest of the field during his leg.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: Cravon Gillespie of Team United States reacts after coming in sixth in round one of the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Heat 2 on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Cravon Gillespie of Team United States reacts after coming in sixth in round one of the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Heat 2. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The U.S. was still in the middle of the pack at the end of the second leg when Kerley ran up on a slow-to-start Baker and clumsily tried to hand off the baton. The exchange was so butterfingered that Baker had to slow dramatically and the Americans lost significant ground to their rivals.

There was still time to salvage things enough to survive and advance, but neither Baker nor Gillespie could deliver. Gillespie, in particular, faded in the latter half of his leg, allowing unheralded Ghana to overtake the U.S. for fifth place by two hundredths of a second.

That scant margin turned out to be the difference between a lifeline and misery. China, Canada, Italy, Germany and Ghana all qualified for the final from the U.S.’s heat. The Americans once again were left to stare at the video board in dismay and figure out what went wrong.

“I don’t have no words, honestly,” a fuming Bromell told NBC’s Lewis Johnson minutes after the race. “I’m honestly kind of mad, not at these guys, they did what they could do. I did what I can do. I can really just speak for myself in a sense, like I said, these guys did their job, I did what I could do. On the first leg, it just — it’s really some BS for real, to be honest with you.”

Lewis had an even harsher indictment of the Americans’ performance on the relay. The nine-time Olympic gold medalist tweeted that the U.S. relay passed the baton worse than AAU teams.

“The USA team did everything wrong in the men's relay,” Lewis wrote. “The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw.”

The names may change for the U.S. but the results don't. 

At the 2008 Olympics, the U.S. were cruising toward a spot in the 4x100 final when Darvis Patton bore down on Tyson Gay for the last changeover and a mix-up sent the baton tumbling to the rain-soaked track.

Four years later, the U.S. finished second to Jamaica, only to be stripped of its silver medals as a result of Gay's doping case.

Then in 2016, the U.S. joined victorious Jamaica and second-place Japan on a victory lap only to learn it had been disqualified. A bungled baton pass between Mike Rodgers and Justin Gatlin occurred outside the designated zone.

Among the Americans' biggest problems is a lack of practice time with one-another. Whereas other teams work on their baton passing and continuity for months or even years, the U.S. tries to slap together a relay in a matter of weeks. 

Lewis also took issue with which Americans ran which legs. It's unclear exactly what Lewis meant, but the decision to put Gillespie on the anchor leg was a head scratcher. So was using Baker to run the curve on the third leg. Why not leave that to someone with a background in the 200 and let Baker showcase his 60-meter speed on the opening leg?

Ultimately, until the U.S.'s preparation improves, its results may not change. 

Speed is never the issue for the U.S. men's 4x100-meter relay. Inevitably, it's everything else that bedevils the Americans. 

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 13 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 13 slideshow embed

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