The Relay Curse Continues for the U.S. Men
TOKYO – The disappointment for American athletics, especially in the men’s field, continued in familiar fashion on Thursday, when four of the world’s fastest sprinters failed to advance to the relay race final 4×100 meters.
The American disappointment continued a few minutes later, as Jamaican Hansle Parchment beat world champion Grant Holloway in the 110-meter hurdles. Holloway took the lead early but couldn’t hang on. Ronald Levy of Jamaica won the bronze medal, relegating Devon Allen of the United States to fourth.
The relay crystallized a performance by the American men in the quickly derailed Olympic track competition.
A poor start from Trayvon Bromell – who was the fastest man in the world before those Olympics – and a botched handover weighed on the Americans in the relay, despite unparalleled depth in the sprint.
“Honestly, I’m a little mad, not at these guys, they did what they could do,” Bromell said on television after the race.
The passing baton that brought down the USA team occurred between the second and third legs as Fred Kerley handed the bat to Ronnie Baker. The transfer went way too slow, costing the team precious time they couldn’t make up for. Both men were finalists in the 100 meters, with Kerley winning the silver medal in that race.
In previous years, when the United States had failed to win the relay, a lost stick was to blame. In this case, the Americans circled the track safely, but they weren’t fast enough.
Relay races present sprinters with a heck of a choice: run too fast and the danger of dropping the baton increases, especially with sprinters reaching speeds over 26 miles per hour. Focus too much on taking over, and time inevitably suffers.
Bromell was slow to get out of the door and the American men couldn’t make up the deficit. After the last pass, Cravon Gillespie looked like he had grabbed third place and the Americans looked like they could survive until the final, but he was beaten head-on by the Chinese and Canadian riders. Andre De Grasse of Canada, the surprise winner of the 200 meters Wednesday night against Noah Lyles of the United States, shone on the final stage.
The result immediately drew criticism from America’s biggest name in athletics.
“The United States team has it all wrong in the men’s relay,” said Carl Lewis, nine-time Olympic gold medalist, wrote on Twitter. “The passing system is bad, the athletes are running with the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership.”
Officials at USA Track and Field, the national governing body, declined to comment.
The sprint relay remains a mystery that the American team cannot solve. He hasn’t won a medal in the event since 2004, when the Americans won silver, and the men haven’t won gold in the race since 2000. The failure has baffled fans, because the depth of American talent is generally not reached by competitors.
In 2008, an abandoned stick and confusion in race preparation over who would participate doomed the team. In 2012, the Americans seemed to regain their form, losing to a Jamaican team led by Usain Bolt. But Tyson Gay, one of the Americans, later tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, forcing the American team to return their silver medals.
At the Rio 2016 Games, the United States appeared to have won a bronze medal, but replays showed that the first rally took place on an illegal area of the track. The team was disqualified.
Not making the race final takes frustration to a whole new level. The Americans were passed by teams from China, Canada, Italy, Germany and Ghana.
Kenny Bednarek and Lyles, who won silver and bronze in the 200 meters on Wednesday night, did not participate in the relay. Lyles was on the world champion squad from 2019, and Bednarek said on Wednesday he expected to be on the relay squad. Both could have made it to the finals, as the rules allow countries to subclass riders between the semi-finals and the finals.
Strangely, the frustration of the American men’s relay is unique to the Olympics. They won the event at the 2019 world championships and won a silver medal in the race for the 2017 world championships.
The Olympic frustration over the 110-meter hurdles is a little less intense. The Americans did not win a medal in this event in 2016, but won two medals in 2012 and 2008.
Holloway appeared to have the race under control from the start, but in the second half he seemed to climb too high over the hurdles, which lead runners may be inclined to do to protect themselves from obstacles while holding the lead.
Conservative strategy gave Parchment a chance to catch up, and he passed Holloway in the final yards, ahead of him by five hundredths of a second, 13.04 to 13.09.
American men are likely to spend the next few months trying to figure out what went wrong in Tokyo. There’s little time to make any adjustments, with Eugene, Oregon, set to host the world track and field championships next summer.
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