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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Scars & Stripes

Track and field: U.S. wins three of four relays and Jones ends up with five medals, but men's 400 squad goes too far.

October 01, 2000|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Speak softly and carry a quick stick?

If that is the aesthetic ideal of relay running, if moving the baton with grace and speed are equal parts of the perfect race, then America's Olympic sprinters, with three gold medals in four tries, merely broke even Saturday.

The U.S. women went 1-1--botching two handoffs in the 400-meter relay en route to the bronze medal, then riding Marion Jones' overworked thighs and calves to the 1,600-meter gold.

The U.S. men also batted .500, even if the record book indicates they swept the relays on the track.

Running the final race of his Olympic career, Michael Johnson protected the lead with a quietly efficient anchor leg, clinching the United States' sixth Olympic 1,600-meter gold medal in its last six attempts.

The 400-meter team of Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene also churned their way to the top of the medal stand, from where they nearly lapsed into international-incident territory with an over-the-top victory celebration better suited for the World Wrestling Federation than the august Olympic Games.

They took the American flag and wore it like a cape, a shawl, a scarf and an Arabian headdress. They played with their gold medals as if they were kindergarten toys, balancing them on their foreheads and using them as mock monocles.

They flexed biceps and adopted weightlifters poses, they mugged for the cameras, they laid the ham and cheese on so thick, many in the audience could hardly stomach it.

Including U.S. 400-meter relay member Nanceen Perry, who said she was "ashamed" by the exhibition, asking, "How do you expect anybody to respect our flag if you don't respect the flag?"

Johnson, who had chided Greene for his "immaturity" during the trash-talking buildup to their 200-meter encounter at the U.S. Olympic trials in July, was asked during a postrace news conference what he thought of the antics of Greene and his friends.

"I didn't see it," Johnson replied, sounding like the exasperated parent of a 4-year-old, "but I can only imagine."

These kids today. They might have all the right steps--Greene and Co. completed their winning lap around the track in 37.61 seconds--but Johnson suggested that they have yet to learn all the right moves.

"From what I'm hearing, that [display] is probably another byproduct of that immaturity," said Johnson. "And it's not going to change unless people start talking about it. And don't say, 'Oh, it was cute,' but you know it wasn't."

Johnson teamed with Antonio Pettigrew and the Harrison twins, Alvin and Calvin, to win the 1,600 relay in 2:56.35. For Johnson, it was his second gold medal in the event; for the U.S., the victory extended its record in the event since 1976 to 6-0, not counting the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.

Johnson, who said he is retiring from Olympic competition, ends his Olympic career with five gold medals--the 200 in 1996, the 400 in 1996 and 2000, the 1,600 relay in 1992 and 2000.

Jones, who entered these Games chasing an unprecedented five gold medals, finished with three golds and two bronzes. After winning the women's 100 and 200 sprints and placing third in the long jump, Jones aimed to double in Saturday's women's relays.

She never had a chance in the 400. Torri Edwards, running the second leg, had an awful exchange with Perry, who nearly tackled Jones before grabbing the anchor runner by the left arm and shoving the baton into her left hand.

By the time Jones secured the baton, the Americans were running fourth. Jones made up some ground, eventually moving past France's Christine Arron into third, but could not catch the team from the Bahamas, which won the race in 41.95, or the Jamaicans, who finished in 42.13. The Americans' mark was 42.20.

The third-place finish was the Americans' first loss in the event since 1976.

"We had a couple of bad exchanges," said Chryste Gaines, who ran the first leg for the United States. "You pay the price when you make technical mistakes like that."

The U.S. women had no such trouble in the 1,600 relay. Leadoff runner Jearl Miles-Clark handed cleanly to Monique Hennagan, who was in a virtual dead heat with Jamaica's Catherine Scott-Pomales when she handed to Jones. What followed might have been Jones' most impressive performance in Sydney--reeling off a blistering split of 49.40 and turning the race into a runaway.

U.S. anchor La Tasha Colander-Richardson needed the cushion, too. Fading quickly over the final 50 meters, Colander-Richardson just held off Jamaica's fast-closing Lorraine Graham for the victory. The United States finished in 3:22.62, Jamaica in 3:23.35.

The relay medals were the only ones of the day for the United States, which lost a potential gold in the women's 1,500 when Suzy Favor Hamilton began to fade rounding the final curve and, without contact from another runner, fell with about 70 meters to go.

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