ATLANTA -- No one gets off the hook, not the big-mouthed sprinters, not their blockheaded coaches, not even the man getting the last laugh, Carl Lewis.
Maybe the United States would have won the men's 4 x 100-meter relay if Lewis had run last night, but that's almost besides the point.
If Lewis were so intent on anchoring the relay, he could have attended a pre- Olympic training camp.
But he was too big for the team.
His coaches were too confident of victory.
And the U.S. relay members were too arrogant in dismissing the greatest anchor in history.
That was a fine little morality play that took place on the last night of track and field competition, not just for the relay team, but the entire Atlanta Olympics.
You can't buy it, which might be one reason it was in such short supply for so many Americans at these Games.
"To be blunt about it, we got barbecued," Mike Marsh said.
The United States had never lost this race when it crossed the finish line, so its second-place finish to Canada was nothing short of historic -- and nothing short of an embarrassment.
"The athletes run the relay. The coaches lose it," U.S. assistant coach Charlie Greene told NBC before the race. "We're going to win this relay. Take it to the bank."
Thanks for the tip, Charlie.
And thanks for helping select the Drab Four.
Yes, it's fair to question whether Lewis would have made a difference, even though his obnoxious campaign for a record 10th gold medal is what started all the trouble.
Jon Drummond led by a tenth of a second after the first leg, but Canada's Glenroy Gilbert ran a 9.02 on the second, while America's Tim Harden ran a 9.36.
Harden is the runner U.S. coach Erv Hunt chose to replace the injured Leroy Burrell. Otherwise, the order could have been Drummond, Marsh, Dennis Mitchell and Lewis.
"It was my first Olympics. It was Tim's first Olympics. We were just tight," Drummond said.
The runners are professionals; the coaches acted like amateurs, dragging this out to the end. After the race, Hunt finally admitted it was a mistake.
"This has been going on since the trials," he said. "I should have dealt with this way back and decided then. I knew how I felt. I should have just said, 'These are my guys.' So yes, I think this affected the team."
Hunt and Greene not only bypassed Lewis, but also Jeff Williams, who finished fourth in the trials, one place ahead of Harden. Williams didn't even run in the preliminary rounds, for reasons that never were made clear.
The controversy was absurd.
And it motivated the Canadians.
"There was absolutely no mention or concern that we were the world champions last year, ranked No. 1 in the world," said anchor Donovan Bailey, who had a significant lead over Mitchell entering the final leg.
"No one mentioned that, by the way, there are couple of guys from up north who could possibly win this. All we heard about was Carl winning his 10th gold medal. Everything was very automatic. That made us jell together."
Did Bailey expect Lewis to run?
"I think Carl's a better businessman than that," Bailey cracked. "It's his last Olympics. He won gold. He wanted to stay golden."
Bailey set the world record in the 100 earlier in the Games. He probably would have humiliated Lewis, triggering an even greater controversy.
"It's a good thing Carl wasn't running," Drummond said. "Canada would have won and you all would have blamed Carl."
Perhaps, but they're all to blame.
Drummond mocked Lewis by saying he ran "butt-naked last" in the trials. All of the relay members except Marsh were adamant that their time had come, but when their big moment came last night, they blew it.
Mitchell, the team captain, said the lineup was decided Friday, and Lewis was excluded to preserve "continuity of the relay." Marsh, however, said he didn't know he was on the team until an hour before the race.
Confusion, and more confusion.
"I do believe there were distractions before the race, because of the problems we had actually figuring out who was going to be on the relay," Marsh said.
"Right now, for me to give an assessment for how that affected us . . . I'm not qualified to do that. It's possible. It's plausible. You're talking about what's going on in someone's head."
Mitchell, 30, lost the most last night -- he has been trying to escape Lewis' shadow since high school -- but he answered every question afterward.
LTC "Please, don't look for any excuses," he told reporters. "We don't have any. We finished second. We're proud of that. We're not looking for excuses. We're not looking to be sad."
He added: "It hurt me to my heart to tell [alternate] Tim Montgomery he couldn't run. It hurt me to my heart to tell Carl he couldn't run. But we have to put the best team out there we could. And we did."
If that's the case, then their best wasn't good enough.
There's a lesson here, and oddly enough, it comes from a Nike ad.
Next time, maybe everyone will remember.
Just do it.
Pub Date: 8/04/96