Published January 13, 2015
Tyson Gay reached back to grab the baton "and there was nothing." He's not the only American track favorite who will leave Beijing empty-handed. The American men's and women's 400-meter relay teams both misconnected on the final handoffs in their preliminaries Thursday, a pair of stunning setbacks that made it that much easier for the Jamaicans to say the Bird's Nest is really their house.
Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown ran the fastest women's 200 in a decade to beat American Allyson Felix and complete her country's sweep of the four men's and women's sprint races, the first sweep since the United States did it in 1988. And with the Americans out of the mix in the relays, there could be even more gold in store for Usain Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican team.
"I think this Olympics is the Jamaican Olympics, no disrespect to the Americans," said Kerron Stewart, the Jamaican who finished third in the 200. "Dominating like we are, it's no surprise. I know it's been crazy because we've been on the podium a lot."
With the relays gone, this will be the first time the U.S. has gone 0-for-6 in Olympic sprints.
Not that it was a totally disappointing day for the Stars and Stripes.
LaShawn Merritt led a U.S. sweep in the men's 400 — the second American sweep of the track meet. But even that had a strange twist. The guy he beat, Jeremy Wariner, was the defending world and Olympic champion and the favorite. Wariner lost the race by almost a full second, laboring down the stretch to hold off David Neville, who dove across the finish line.
"I didn't have anything left," Wariner said. "I don't know what to say. I ran the best I could."
Wariner joins a long list of 2007 world champions from the United States who failed to win gold in Beijing.
Felix (200), Gay (100, 200), Bernard Lagat (1,500), Brad Walker (pole vault) and Reese Hoffa (shot put) are the others who failed to win gold in their events this year. Of that list, only Felix got any kind of medal. Lolo Jones and Sanya Richards were other American favorites who came up short.
Americans David Payne and David Oliver picked up silver and bronze medals in the 110-meter hurdles, won by Cuba's Dayron Robles, whose path became clearer when Liu Xiang of China pulled out with a foot injury earlier in the week.
Gay also came in with health problems — the hamstring he strained at Olympic trials last month — but he ran. He didn't make it out of the semifinals of the men's 100 meters, though, and after the botched handoff in the relay, he'll leave not only without a medal but without having run in a final.
"I take full blame for it," Gay said of his bad exchange with Patton. "I kind of feel I let them down."
The men's relay team failed to reach the Olympic final for the first time since 1912. The women missed for the first time since 1948.
Indeed, preliminary rounds of relays are supposed to be about as routine as making the bed, filled with safe passes and no risks.
In the men's race, things were going smoothly for the United States through the first two legs. But when Patton closed in on Gay and Gay reached backward, they couldn't connect. Patton made a final lunge to get the stick to Gay before he ran out of the passing zone, but as Gay's hand closed, the stick wasn't in it. It bounced off the rain-slickened track, and the crowd gasped.
Gay said he felt the baton but "then I went to grab it and there was nothing. It's kind of the way it's been happening to me this Olympics."
Patton said he was every bit as much to blame.
"That's Tyson Gay," he said. "He's a humble guy, but I know it's my job to get the guy the baton and I didn't do that."
The women were also in good shape heading into the final exchange, but Lauryn Williams didn't receive the baton from Edwards. It fell to the ground as Edwards yelled and covered her face with her hands. Williams went back to retrieve it and finished the race — but the Americans were dead last.
Williams will now go down as the American involved in not one but two faulty Olympic exchanges that cost her team a chance at a medal. In 2004, she misconnected with Marion Jones in the final and the Americans were disqualified for making the exchange outside the 20-meter handoff zone.
"If people want to assess the blame to me, that's OK," Williams said. "I mean, I can take whatever it is that people are going to dish out. We had good chemistry. The hand was back there. She was there. I don't know what happened."
Had they advanced in either race, the Americans may not have been favored anyway, considering the world records Bolt set over the past week in the 100 and 200 and the way Jamaica has dominated the women's sprints as well.
Both Jamaican teams won their relay heats, and the men did it without Bolt on the track, meaning when he returns for the final Friday, the world record of 37.40 could be in jeopardy. The team will also include Asafa Powell, who held the 100 mark before Bolt broke it.
Now, Jamaica also has an even clearer path toward being called the dominant team of these Olympics. With three days left in the meet, Jamaica has five gold medals, one more than the United States. Not a bad scoreboard for an island country of 2.8 million, which would be only the third-largest city in the U.S.
"They're dominating," Felix said. "They're running well all the way around. I wouldn't say I'm surprised because they've always been so strong."