U.S. 400-meter relay teams doomed by flubbed handoffs, fail to qualify

BEIJING -- 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.

"I take full blame for it," Gay said of his bad exchange with Darvis Patton. "I kind of feel I let them down."

Setting aside the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, you have to go back to 1948 for the last time the U.S. women failed to reach the 400 relay final; 1912 and 1988 were the only previous times it happened to the men.

And for the first time in Summer Games history, the U.S. will leave an Olympics 0-for-6 in the sprint races: the men's and women's 100s, 200s and 400 relays.

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 new chief executive officer of USA Track & Field, Doug Logan, promised "a comprehensive review" of all of the team's programs.

"Included in this assessment," he said, "will be the way we select, train and coach our relays."

The women were also in good shape heading into the final exchange, but Lauryn Williams didn't receive the baton from Torii Edwards. It fell to the ground as Edwards screamed and covered her face with her hands.

"Heartbreaking," Edwards said.

Unlike the men, who stopped racing, Williams scrambled back on the wet track to pick up the baton and complete the lap -- more than 6 seconds after first-place Belgium finished in 42.92.

A "never give up" gesture if there ever was one, but the U.S. was disqualified.

The men didn't bother to finish their lap.

"If you're going to point the finger, just point them at me," U.S. men's coach Bubba Thornton said. "Not the guys. They don't deserve that."

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 Usain 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 track and field 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.

Trinidad and Tobago won the heat in which the American men ran, with a time of 38.26. In that first heat, only four of the eight teams managed to make it all the way around the one-lap race in a light rain.

Jamaica won the second heat in 38.31, with Powell running the anchor leg.