The U.S men’s 4x100m relay team failed to meet expectations on Thursday.
Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie finished sixth in the second of two heats and were eliminated from the event as China, Canada, Italy, Germany and Ghana all qualified with times under 38.09 seconds.
The U.S. has made a plethora of mistakes during the Olympics and World Championships over the past 30 years, including dropped batons and both end-of-exchange and beginning-of-exchange zone violations. The U.S. 4x400m mixed relay team was disqualified then later reinstated last Friday after Lynna Irby was positioned outside of the exchange zone when she received a handoff from Elija Godwin in the preliminary heat.
The U.S. hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in the men’s 4x100m relay since 2000, and that streak will continue after Thursday’s disastrous performance.
This prompted Carl Lewis, arguably the greatest American male sprinter of all time to respond.
“The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay,” Carl Lewis tweeted Thursday night. “The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than AAU kids.”
Lewis doubled down on his criticism of the team while speaking with USA Today, calling Thursday’s performance a “clown show.”
Why the U.S men’s 4x100m relay team failed to qualify for final
The U.S lineup of Bromell, Kerley, Baker and Gillespie in that order struggled from the get-go. The handoff from Kerley to Baker was terrible, with Kerley running close to Baker’s back. Baker took off too late in the exchange zone but recovered well and gave a good handoff to Gillespie. But Gillespie couldn’t make up the ground and got beat by the other nations’ anchors as the U.S. finished sixth with a time of 38.10 seconds.
The American time was the fastest preliminary time ever that wasn’t enough to qualify for the finals. The U.S. couldn’t qualify based on time because Germany and Ghana finished ahead of them in the race. Only the first three teams in each heat, plus the next two fastest teams from either heat that did not automatically qualify, can make the final.
On paper, the U.S. should have qualified. Gillespie was technically the slowest of the four on the team in the 100m final, running a 10.00 second time at the U.S. Track and Field trials last month. Also, the lack of practice may have contributed to the Americans’ woes. According to Baker, Kerley and Gillespie, who all talked with media after the race, the team only practiced together for a few days.
4x100m relay runners are required to execute a blind exchange, meaning that the person receiving the baton does not see it and must rely on timing. This takes practice and plenty of reps because the exchange zone is only 30 meters and it must be within the zone each time. Mistakes are bound to happen for even the most experienced teams, but the likelihood of one happening decreases if the team develops familiarity with one another.
Kenny Bednarek, who won silver in the men’s 200m the night before, commented on Lewis’ criticism and what he thinks went wrong during the relay.
“Like [Lewis] said, we’ve seen better with an AAU squad,” Bednarek told Craig Melvin on TODAY Thursday.
“It’s just very disappointing to see how we did there. I feel we can do a lot better than that, we just need to make sure to be more organized and just do something different. Get us more involved and tell us what’s what in practice. Not a couple days before the event, let’s try to get in a training camp. All of that is necessary,” Bednarek said.
“Yeah. We weren’t even in the loop,” Bednarek said. “I was asking my coach a couple days before we even got to the 200 like, ‘Hey when are we practicing, when are we doing this, when are we doing that,’ and everything was just up in the loop. No communication at all.”
Relay teams usually send out their “B” team to run the preliminary heats and save their best runners for the final. But Thursday’s heat featured Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who won gold in the 100m, and Canada’s Andre De Grasse, who won gold in the 200m just several hours earlier.
Noah Lyles, who won bronze in the 200m Wednesday night and anchored the 2019 World Championship team, might have been a better option as a starter but did not participate in the preliminary heat.
U.S. has a chance to redeem itself in four more relays
The women’s 4x100m team, however, advanced to the final. Of the five gold medals the U.S. has won in track and field so far in Tokyo, four were won by women (Valarie Allman, Athing Mu, Sydney McLaughlin and Katie Nageotte), while shot put star Ryan Crouser became the first man to win gold for the U.S. in Tokyo on Thursday.
The U.S. will participate in three more upcoming relays during the Tokyo Olympics. Allyson Felix and Querana Hayes will headline the women’s 4x400m team, and Gabby Thomas, Teahna Daniels and Jenna Prandini will be on the women’s 4x100m relay on Saturday morning.
Sha’Carri Richardson lost a chance to run in the 100m event after testing positive for marijuana. Her suspension would have ended before the relay final began, but officials decided not to include her.
Michael Cherry and Michael Norman — who finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 400m event Thursday morning — will headline the men’s 4x400m relay team that will attempt to qualify for the final on Friday morning.