Bobbles cost U.S. sweep of relays

Bad passes leave men with silver in 400, but 1,600 teams triumph

Track And Field

Athens Olympics

August 29, 2004|By Helene Elliott | Helene Elliott,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - They've figured out the part about passing the torch from one generation to the next. Now, members of the U.S. 400-meter relay teams can work on passing the baton.

Problems with the baton exchange from leadoff runner Shawn Crawford to Justin Gatlin, and then from Gatlin to Coby Miller, cost the U.S. men's team the gold medal that world-record holder Maurice Greene had promised yesterday.

Their fumbles yesterday were minor compared with the problem that disqualified the women's 400 team Friday, but each slowdown helped the quartet from Britain, anchored by Mark Lewis-Francis, hold off the United States and win in 38.07 seconds.

Crawford, Gatlin, Miller and the onrushing Greene finished second in 38.08, with Nigeria third in 38.23. The same U.S. team had run 38.02 in Friday's semifinals.

"We don't work on handoffs every day," Greene said. "If any one thing goes wrong, the whole team goes wrong. We all have to get the job done."

Everything went smoothly in the men's and women's 1,600 relays, in which the batons are handed off at lower speeds.

Leading wire-to-wire, the U.S. women's team of DeeDee Trotter, Monique Henderson, Sanya Richards and Monique Hennagan won in 3:19.01, a season best and the third consecutive Olympic victory for the U.S. team in that event. Russia (3:20.16) was second and Jamaica (3:22.00) third.

The men's team of Otis Harris, Derrick Brew, Jeremy Wariner and Darold Williamson breezed to gold in 2:55.91, ahead of Australia (3:00.60) and Nigeria (3:00.90), the sixth straight Olympic 1,600-meter title for the United States.

"That's the best you can hope for in the 4-by-4, second to America," said Australia's R. Kevan Gosper, a former International Olympic Committee vice president.

Richards said she and her teammates had drawn inspiration from the strength of Lauryn Williams, who couldn't get a handoff from Marion Jones quickly enough Friday to keep the 400-meter team in a race it should have won.

"She was really disappointed," Richards said, "and she wanted us to go out there and give our best to bring home the gold, and that's what we did."

Before the men's race, U.S. coach George Williams let Wariner, the winner of the individual 400 meters, choose between running the third leg or the anchor leg; Wariner chose to go third, with Williamson as the anchor, as they had run in college at Baylor.

It worked out well. Harris gave the U.S. team the lead with a 43.28 first leg, Brew ran a 44.82 second leg, Wariner was timed in 43.98 and Williamson finished in 43.83.

"With all the problems the other relays were having, we just wanted to get the stick around and solidify a gold medal," said Harris, who won silver in the individual 400. "It was definitely a blessing for me and my teammates to get a gold medal. It was definitely more satisfying [than an individual medal]. ...

"We prayed about it and made sure we watched the baton get into each other's hands."

In the 5,000 meters, Hicham El Guerrouj became the first man in 80 years to win the 1,500 and 5,000 meters at a single Olympics, holding up two fingers in triumph after outsprinting world record holder Kenenisa Bekele down the final straightaway of the longer race.

But El Guerrouj, who won the 1,500 on Tuesday, was only the second person within a half-hour to pull off a rare middle-distance double. Briton Kelly Holmes won the women's 1,500 just before El Guerrouj's race, adding to the 800 title she won Monday.

For El Guerrouj, the greatest middle-distance runner of his generation, these Games provided the first Olympic golds of his storied career.

In the 5,000, the Moroccan passed Ethiopia's Bekele with about 50 meters left and finished in 13:14.39, smiling and extending his arms as he crossed the finish line. He kissed his hands and his right knee before touching his head to the track in prayer.

The only other man to win the 1,500 and 5,000 in an Olympics was Paavo Nurmi, who did it in 1924.

In the women's high jump, Amy Acuff of Austin, Texas, finished fourth with a final clearance of 6 feet, 6 1/4 inches. She passed at 6-7 1/2 , then missed badly at 6-8 1/4 . Yelena Slesarenko of Russia won at an Olympic-record 6-9.

"I think that was the best high jump competition in history, so you can't feel too bad about that," Acuff said.

U.S. javelin champion Breaux Greer, hampered by a torn ligament in his left knee, was eliminated after throwing 243-11 and then fouling on his next two tries. Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway won in an upset with a personal-best effort of 283-9.

The Associated Press and Times staff writer Alan Abrahamson contributed to this article. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Today in Athens

Track and field: men's marathon

Boxing: American Andre Ward competes in light heavyweight final

Closing ceremony

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