Teamwork pays off for Great Britain

Updated: August 28, 2004, 7:23 PM ET
By Carrie Sheinberg | Special to ESPN.com

ATHENS, Greece -- You do the math. With the first, third and fourth place finishers in the 100-meter dash joining forces on one 4x100 relay team, doesn't it figure that they should beat the competition?

Justin Gatlin
APJustin Gatlin's (left) first handoff went all right but he put a hole in his teammate's shoe in the next one.

Think back to fourth grade, when you and your friends were picking teams in gym class. Even if you cheated to finagle the best team possible, you couldn't have stacked your team as well as the U.S. men's relay team Saturday night.

Still, even with their impressive resumés, at the finish line, there was Maurice Greene getting beat by a chest hair, losing to Mark Lewis-Francis and the rest of the Great Britain team.

When it comes to flat-speed, it's not even a question. Forget humans, Justin Gatlin, Shawn Crawford, Coby Miller and Greene can run faster than most animals on this planet. Crawford is still anxiously awaiting a rematch with a Zebra.

Training side-by-side they have clearly pushed each other to greater speeds and faster times.

When they line up one after the other around the track though, something is lost in the translation.

There's the obvious, in the relay there are curves to run around and a stick to pass.

Then there's the intangible. These men are part of the same team, and by working hard to beat one another, they all become better. But in a relay, they suddenly have to depend on one another. That trust and communication is something that can take years to develop.

"We trained together for a number of years and that played a valuable part," said British team member Jason Gardener. "It's been disappointing for our individual events, but we really did believe in ourselves and we trained well, not just over a number of weeks but over the past few years."

And the Americans?

They could count the days they trained together on one hand. Scratch that, two fingers.

"We trained the day before the relay in Munich (a tune-up event in August)," Greene struggled to recall, "then the race in Munich -- so that's two. We didn't have a chance here because we were working on our individual races."

Overloaded with talent but ridiculously lacking in practice time together. Sound like another American team who struggled in Athens?

Like the American basketball team, which hadn't lost the gold medal since 1988, the U.S. 4x100 team has owned this event since 1972. Excluding Moscow in 1980 when the U.S. wasn't present to compete.

In Athens, their lack of practice couldn't have been more obvious. They each ran spectacularly, yet when they needed to sense one another, anticipate each other's moves in the hand-off zones, they looked like they were on a first date.

Crawford started off at a breakneck pace and managed an only slightly muffled pass to Gatlin. When Gatlin rounded the turn, Miller threw his hand back too early, slowing him down while Gatlin was still going full speed. They exchanged the baton safely but their speeds were so varied, Gatlin just about ran over his teammate.

"I stepped on his foot," Gatlin said, "and it ripped a hole in his shoe."

Miller booked toward Greene, who grabbed the baton already well behind Great Britain's anchor man.

"I saw people in front of me and I just thought, 'go get 'em,'" Greene said. "I might have pressed a little too hard and didn't take my time, that might have been why I didn't catch him."

He came close, but at the line, Greene and his teammates saw the American 4x100 winning streak come to an end. The days of pulling this off based on talent alone were over. A winning relay team must be just that: a team.

"We all have to get the job done," Greene said. "It's not a 1x400, it's a 4x100."

Exactly.

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