Bolt wins gold again, US men get DQed again

August 20, 2016

Tough to say which was the bigger lock in the men’s 4x100-meter relay Friday night at Rio’s Estadio Olimpico: Jamaica blowing away the field for Usain Bolt’s ninth gold medal, or the U.S. men getting a DNF or DQ.

Dead heat, it turned out.

Bolt got the baton on the anchor leg even with 21-year-old American anchor Trayvon Bromell and then, predictably, ran away from him and into history. It completed the incomprehensible triple-triple – three golds in three Olympics – and was his ninth overall, equaling the record for track and field shared by Carl Lewis and Finnish legend Paavo Nurmi.

Some will say he’s surpassed them, since one of Lewis’ golds came after Canada’s Ben Johnson tested positive at the 1988 Games in Seoul and Nurmi won four medals in cross country events that were last on the Olympic program in 1924.

“I have mixed feelings,” Bolt said after what he has insisted would be his final Olympic race. “It’s a relief. I’ve had all this pressure to come to the Olympics and win three gold medals in each one. I’ll definitely miss it, but I’ve done all I can do. I’ve proven to the world that I’m the greatest in the sport. For me, it’s mission accomplished.

“I have to make a new bucket list now.”

As for the U.S. men, well, they might want to start with less lofty goals, like actually finishing a relay legally.

Just when you thought their relay fortunes couldn’t become any more ignominious, they did this: Finished the race in third behind, gulp, Japan … and then were disqualified for a baton exchange outside the allowable zone between lead leg Michael Rogers and Justin Gatlin.

Illuminating the men’s struggles even more, the U.S. women staged a dramatic victory over the favored Jamaicans in their 4x100 final, and did it, incredibly, out of lane 1 with its tighter turns.

Not knowing they had been DQed, the U.S. men took a victory lap, even pausing at one point to, yes, stick a No. 1 index finger in the air, apparently forgetting they haven’t won 4x100 title at an Olympics or World Championships since 2007. In the seven since, they’ve had a DNF or DQ in six.

Jamaica and Bolt, meanwhile, have won all seven. Friday’s clocking was 37.27 seconds, slower than Beijing (37.10) or their world record in London (36.84). Japan, which had been religiously practicing baton passes since March, was second in 37.60, an Asian record. Canada was elevated to third.

The Jamaicans were asked why the Americans, despite their prodigious sprint talent, struggles to get the baton around.

“Pressure,” Bolt said, laughing.

“They’re more focused on beating us than running a proper race,” lead leg Asafa Powell expanded. “So yes, it’s the pressure of trying to beat the Jamaicans.”

It wasn’t until the American sprinters entered the trackside interview area and spoke with NBC that they learned of the disqualification, the latest in sordid history of dropped batons and failed drug tests.

“I don’t see how because Justin didn’t have full possession of the stick inside the zone, that’s why I held it so long,” Rogers said. “They said they thought it was early. You see Justin throw his hand back and I put the stick in his hand, but he didn’t have possession of the stick until he was inside the zone. So I think that’s legal. I think it’s a terrible call, terrible.”

Said 34-year-old Tyson Gay, who still has no medals in three Olympics: “It just seems like the U.S. has bad luck. It’s like we have this dark cloud over us that we can’t shake. It’s ridiculous. We went out there to have fun, and a simple mistake cost us. To be DQed, it sucks.”

Some will blame it on karma, the U.S. sending out a relay team with three guys who have served doping suspensions (Rodgers, Gatlin, Gay) and a coach (Dennis Mitchell) who also served one and has been linked to a known steroid dealer.

Earlier this year USA Track & Field instituted a conflict-of-interest rule precluding its national relay coach from also individually coaching anyone in the relay pool, and Mitchell, who coaches Gatlin, stepped down. But USATF changed course and opted not to implement the rule until after the Olympics, allowing Mitchell and his shady past to return.

“It sends a global message that USATF is willing to overlook a cheaters past and give them the highest honor in our sport,” Lauren Fleshman, a former NCAA distance champion, wrote on her blog when the decision was announced. “It shows that they are no longer following their Zero Tolerance policy. It shows that Team USA is soft on drugs … It’s like putting someone who has formerly served time for fraud in charge of your bank.”

The most uplifting relay story belonged to the U.S. women, who dropped the baton in Thursday morning’s preliminaries but were given a reprieve when meet officials ruled Allyson Felix had been bumped before the botched exchange. As the baton lay on the ground, Felix astutely yelled at English Gardner to retrieve it so they could finish the race, knowing they couldn’t protest unless they did.

They were allowed a re-run by themselves that night, needing to go under 42.70 seconds to bump China from the eight-team final. They did, but ended up in the dreaded lane 1.

No problem. Tianna Bartoletta, who won a long jump gold medal, led off to Felix to Gardner to Tori Bowie. Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce closed fast but not nearly enough. The Americans won in 41.01 seconds, the second fastest in history.

“The adversity yesterday,” Felix said, “made us even more determined.”

The day’s only other U.S. medal was a silver by Sandi Morris in the pole vault. Jenn Suhr, who won silver in 2008 and gold in 2012, has been sick for more than a week and was questionable whether she’d even compete. She failed to clear 15 feet, 5 inches – more than foot under her personal best – and finished seventh.

“This is going on day 10 and I feel worse today,” Suhr said. “It’s just all over. Dizziness, it’s always in the chest, can’t breathe. I threw up twice out there. It’s getting ridiculous. I don’t know what it is, but I’m getting nervous. I just want to get out of here, go home and figure it out.

“After warmups I thought, ‘OK, I’m on.’ Then after warmups, everything just shut down. My muscles, I’ve never had them shake and just give out like they have been … It is such a crappy feeling to know that you’ve worked four years for this, for this to happen.”