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ATHENS 2004

They Shall Not Pass

Errors cost men in 400 relay, but U.S. sweeps 1,600

August 29, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — They've figured out the part about passing the torch from one generation to the next. Now, members of the U.S. 400-meter relay teams can work on passing the stick.

Problems with baton exchanges from leadoff runner Shawn Crawford to Justin Gatlin, and then from Gatlin to Coby Miller, cost the men the gold medal and world record Maurice Greene had promised. Their fumbles Saturday were minor, compared to the miscue that disqualified the women's 400 relay team Friday, but each slowdown helped the quartet from Britain, anchored by Mark Lewis-Francis, hold off the U.S. and win in 38.07 seconds.

Crawford, Gatlin, Miller and the fast-closing Greene finished second in 38.08, with Nigeria third in 38.23. The U.S. team had run a 38.02 in Friday's semifinals.

"We don't work on handoffs every day," said Greene, who estimated they'd practiced merely twice. "If any one thing goes wrong, the whole team goes wrong. We all have to get the job done. It's not the 1 by 400, it's the 4 by 100....

"We saw the women's relay [Friday] night, but I told the guys, 'Don't make it bigger than it is,' that if something goes wrong, don't panic."

Everything went smoothly in the men's and women's 1,600-meter relays. Leading wire to wire, the women's team of DeeDee Trotter, UCLA's Monique Henderson, Sanya Richards and Monique Hennagan won in 3 minutes 19.01 seconds, a season best and the third consecutive Olympic victory for the U.S. in that event. Russia was second in 3:20.16, and Jamaica third in 3:22.

The men's team of Otis Harris, Derrick Brew, Jeremy Wariner and Darold Williamson breezed to gold in 2:55.91, ahead of Australia, 3:00.60, and Nigeria, 3:00.90. It was the sixth consecutive Olympic 1,600-meter title for the U.S.

"That's the best you can hope for in the 4 by 4, second to America," said Australia's R. Kevan Gosper, a former International Olympic Committee vice president.

Richards said she and her teammates had drawn inspiration from the strength of Lauryn Williams, who couldn't get a handoff from Marion Jones quickly enough Friday to keep the 400-meter team in a race it should have won.

"She was really disappointed," Richards said, "and she wanted us to go out there and give our best to bring home the gold, and that's what we did."

No one passed the buck, and they all passed the baton cleanly. Trotter ran the opening leg in 49.19, Henderson covered the second leg in 50.28, Richards ran the third leg in 49.81 and Hennagan ran the anchor leg in 49.73.

"We knew that you couldn't go in thinking that you have it wrapped up," said Hennagan, who won a gold in the 1,600 relay at Sydney and was the senior member of the Athens quartet at 28. "You have to go in and execute it, make sure you cross all your 't's and dot all your 'i's because anything can happen."

The men's lineup was partly determined by 400 gold medalist Wariner. U.S. men's Coach George Williams let Wariner choose between running the third leg or the anchor leg and Wariner asked to go third, with Williamson as the anchor, as they'd run in college at Baylor.

Wariner's choice worked out fine. Harris got the U.S. to an early lead with a 43.28 first leg, Brew ran a 44.82 second leg, Wariner was timed in 43.98 and Williamson finished in 43.83.

"With all the problems the other relays were having, we just wanted to get the stick around and solidify a gold medal," said Harris, who'd won silver in the individual 400. "It was definitely a blessing for me and my teammates to get a gold medal. It was definitely more satisfying [than an individual medal]....

"We prayed about it and made sure we watched the baton get into each other's hands."

George Williams said he'd take the blame for the men's 400 relay's second-place finish.

"I didn't run it, but I put it together," he said.

But he put it together after learning John Capel had tested positive for marijuana at a meet earlier this month in Munich and deciding to remove Capel from the relay a few hours before Friday's semifinal. Crawford replaced Capel on Friday. Darvis Patton ran the second leg Friday and was replaced by Gatlin on Saturday.

"You got to take the whuppin' just like you give it out," Williams said. "That's track and field. We just didn't get the stick together."

Crawford took the early lead but had to slow to avoid overrunning Gatlin. "Shawn yelled, 'Stick!' two times," Gatlin said.

When it was Gatlin's turn to pass to Miller, they nearly ran out of luck.

"I stepped on his foot and it ripped a hole in his shoe," Gatlin said. "Thank God I didn't cut him. He made up a lot of ground for running with a rip in his shoe."

Said Miller, who had to slow noticeably to accept the baton cleanly, "I really didn't hear him call, 'Stick.' By the time I knew, two more steps and I would have been out of the [exchange] zone."

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