Relay flops blame it on failure to connect

Half of all the teams in the men's and women's sprint events failed to get the baton round at the Olympics. Mike Rowbottom listens to the excuses in Beijing

Jamaica's domination of the Olympic sprinting events culminated in another world record performance here last night in the men's sprint relay which saw Asafa Powell take over the central role from his team-mate Usain Bolt by stopping the trackside clock at 37.10sec, three-tenths of a second faster than the US quartet recorded at the 1993 World Championships.

It was a stupendous demonstration of expertise on an evening when five more nations failed to negotiate the sprint relay course, including the British women, who would have had a good chance of bronze or even silver had they got round.

Of the 32 teams who came here for the sprint relays, exactly half – eight from the men's event, eight from the women's – were disqualified for incorrect or non-existent handovers of the baton. If this event had a motto, it would have to be: only connect.

All the usual excuses and explanations have been uttered by subdued athletes here within the last couple of days. Tyson Gay, of the United States, closed his hand over the baton and it "wasn't there". Jamaica's Kerron Stewart, involved in the fumbled exchange with Sherone Simpson which cost Jamaica the chance of completing a set of sprint relay golds to go with what they had already obtained in the individual sprints, expressed it thus : "I did what I was supposed to do. She did what she was supposed to do. But it wasn't done."

For Britain, whose men had also failed to pass the baton correctly the previous day, the failure of Montell Douglas and Emily Freeman to connect on the second changeover was particularly unfortunate, given that a medal earned by them would have brought UK Athletics up to its target of five medals which was designated before the Games by their Lottery funding body, UK Sport.

Since the 2004 Athens Olympics – where Britain's men won the 4x100m gold – a sum of half a million pounds has been spent on trying to optimise the performance of Team GB's sprint relay teams. The men's team are currently under the direction of a specialist coach in Michael Khmel, a Russian brought in after one relay debacle too many at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

The women's sprint team are coached by Roger Walters. What will he make of the explanations offered by the two women involved in the latest baton mishap? "I called 'hand' to Emily and our timing was out," Douglas said. "The Jamaicans were going out and we were all so close together and I've never seen anything like it. We were clashing and colliding I felt like we are all bashing each other. I called for 'hand' and when I went to put it in I knew I wasn't going to get there and I shouted 'Stop Emily, Stop'. I could see the end of the box but by then it was too late because she couldn't hear me." Freeman, pale and wan as a figure in a Pre-Raphaelite painting, added: "I think we lost a medal there and I'm partly to blame."

As far as the British teams are concerned, much emphasis has been placed in recent years on getting all the relay runners together for regular practice. But there is no legislating for misunderstanding, or the kind of coltish nervousness which appeared to have sent 21-year-old Craig Pickering off and running before he should have done in the first round of the men's heat which meant he was out of his legal ground by the time the desperately lunging figure of his team-mate Marlon Devonish could reach him.

No such indecision dogged the Jamaicans here last night as each team member slapped the baton firmly into an awaiting hand all the way round. For once, Bolt didn't have to sprint to the line, merely jogging on towards it and pointing down the track as his friend Powell took the glory leg.

How it's meant to happen

A sprint relay team needs to execute three successful exchanges of the baton – each within a 20-metre exchange zone – or face disqualification. Passers must remain in their lanes after the pass to avoid blocking other runners. The agreed method for exchanging is for the incoming runner to shout "hand" to the waiting athlete, who extends his or her palm upwards behind them to take the baton.

Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test