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TRACK AND FIELD

Mistakes, injuries plague U.S. sprint relay teams

Men's and women's teams in Berlin again fail to advance to the finals. The men botch a baton exchange, while injuries -- and possibly another bad baton pass -- derail the women.

August 23, 2009|Philip Hersh

BERLIN — Lauryn Williams took off with the gun, passed the baton to teammate Alexandria Anderson and turned around.

"I thought we were on easy street," Williams said. "I headed back to the finish line to congratulate my girls, and I didn't see them there."

Instead, Williams faced what has become too routine a sight: a U.S. sprint relay failing to get out of the preliminaries at an Olympics or world championships.

And the rollicking, sellout crowd of 59,926 at the 1936 Olympic Stadium did not get to see highly anticipated world title races between Jamaica and the United States in Saturday's 4x100-meter men's and women's finals.

Jamaica won both easily, though its women were much slower (42.06 seconds) than the planned U.S. quartet for the final had run 14 days earlier (41.58), and its men gave Usain Bolt a third gold medal but not a third world record with a time of 37.31, well off the 37.10 they ran in the 2008 Olympics.

"We definitely missed them," Jamaica's Aleen Bailey said of the U.S. women.

"We feel sad for the U.S. team."

This was the second straight major competition in which both the U.S. men and women missed the sprint relay final for reasons having nothing do to with their speed.

Friday, the men botched a baton exchange for the sixth time in the 16 global championships -- Olympics and worlds -- since 1988.

Saturday, two injuries contributed to the women's failure, though an imperfect baton exchange also may have been a factor.

The women went out because Muna Lee, running the third leg, crumpled to the track because of a left hamstring strain after taking the baton from Anderson on their second attempt to pass it.

Lee twisted around before finally getting possession of the baton, took a couple steps, then came undone. She was carried from the track on a stretcher.

"The stick was in there," Anderson said. "She pushed off, and I don't know what happened after that."

Lee, fourth in the 200 final Friday night, was running the prelims only because her teammate Marshevet Hooker had come up lame in the 200 semis last week.

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, USA Track & Field's new chief of sports performance, thought the past problems prey on U.S. sprint relay athletes.

"We try to create a spirit of optimism, but there is certainly a cloud of judgment around them about this relay," Fitzgerald Mosley said.

"You cannot be a human being in this situation and not feel it."

Fitzgerald Mosley said a lack of communication between coaches and athletes had created "a lot of concern and confusion" among sprint relay runners in the Beijing Olympics.

"Athletes coming through the tunnel were asking, 'What order are we running, coach?' " she said.

She also admitted a lack of rules knowledge and confusion over exchange techniques may have contributed to the men's disqualification for a premature pass Friday.

No matter the causes, the sprint relays haven't been a pretty sight.

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phersh@tribune.com

twitter.com/olyphil

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