U.S. 1,600 relay teams save day

Updated: August 29, 2004, 9:50 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Lauryn Williams had a favor to ask Sanya Richards on Saturday morning: "Bring home the gold."

How about two? The United States swept the 1,600-meter relays later in the evening, making up for the disappointment of the 400 relay teams. Richards led her 1,600 team to victory in 3 minutes, 19.01 seconds, while Jeremy Wariner powered the men to gold in 2:55.91.

Williams was on the 400 relay that was knocked out Friday night when she couldn't execute the baton exchange with Marion Jones. Then, on Saturday night, Justin Gatlin stepped on Coby Miller's shoe, slowing the men's 400 team down and costing it gold.

"She just wanted us to go out and bring home gold for them, and that's what we did," Richards said. "I'm just happy we were able to pull it off for the U.S."

After what happened to the 400 teams, the U.S. coaches told their runners to focus on getting clean handoffs, even though they are not as much of a factor in the longer relays.

So the team of DeeDee Trotter, Monique Henderson, Richards and Monique Hennagan went out and easily beat Russia, which took silver in 3:20.16. Jamaica won bronze in 3:22.

"Before we came out here, our coaches told us the running would be the easiest part, to focus on the small things like getting the stick around, staying in the zone, not running out of our lanes early," Richards said. "Everybody was focused on it and it worked out really well for us."

It also made up somewhat for the 400-meter final, when Richards, Trotter and Hennagan failed to medal.

While they celebrated, the men's 1,600 team prepared to take the track with Wariner, Otis Harris and Derrick Brew -- who swept the 400 earlier in the week.

Darold Williamson was selected to run anchor, a familiar position for him. He and Wariner ran together on the Baylor team that won the 1,600 relay earlier this year at the NCAA outdoor championships.

After they won the gold medal, Wariner announced he's turning pro.

"I've done all I can do. Now it's time for me to step to the next stage and see what I can do there," he said.

Australia took silver in 3:00.60, and Nigeria won bronze in 3:00.90.

"We prayed the Americans would do us a favor and drop the baton somewhere," said Enefiok Udo Obong of Nigeria. "But bronze is as good as gold in Nigeria."

The United States has won the men's 1,600 relay every year since 1976, not including the boycotted Moscow Olympics.

"With all the problems the other teams were having, we just wanted to get the stick around and win a gold medal," Harris said.

But nine-time gold medalist Carl Lewis believes handling the baton is not as hard as it is being made out to be. He was shocked the United States lost the 400-meter relay.

"There is no way America should lose it," Lewis said. "We shouldn't lose the relay. It's that simple. I don't know what else to say. I heard there was a bad exchange, but that's not enough. It's not that difficult."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press