- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

BERLIN | No fumbling of the baton this time. No final, either.

Soon after turning in the fastest time in the men’s 400-meter relay Friday at the world championships, the Americans were disqualified for passing the baton outside of the designated zone at Olympic Stadium.

The Americans’ appeal, citing inconclusive video footage, was rejected.

The latest miscue comes after a botched exchange at the Beijing Olympics last summer, and the big mistake overshadowed two big wins Friday.

Allyson Felix broke the Jamaicans’ stronghold on the sprints, holding off Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown to win the 200. Moments later, LaShawn Merritt breezed to a win in the 400, cruising past rival and defending champion Jeremy Wariner.

With the wins, the United States jumped over Jamaica in the medals table with six golds and 16 overall. Jamaica was second with five gold and 10 overall. Russia had four golds and 11 overall.

Before being disqualified, the American relay team was in line for a showdown in Saturday’s final with Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans. The Americans easily won their heat while the Jamaicans, running without Bolt and Asafa Powell, finished second in theirs. That gives Bolt a shot at winning a third gold and setting a third world record at the world championships.

After two gold medals and two world records in six days, Bolt rested Friday, centering on signing autographs instead of running as he celebrated his 23rd birthday with fans at Olympic Stadium.

He’s a problem the United States likely can’t fix. No one can right now. But what about the relays?

USA Track and Field did an exhaustive study looking into what went wrong with the 400 relay teams in Beijing after the men and women dropped the baton, establishing new rules and protocols.

“Everyone involved in the relay, including athletes, coaches and administrators, were mindful of doing everything in our power to ensure the relay succeeded,” said Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, the chief of sport performance for USATF.

With memories of Beijing still fresh, the relay squad took a cautious approach, making slow and safe exchanges. The final pass between Shawn Crawford and Darvis Patton, however, was outside the zone.

Patton was also part of the botched exchange in Beijing, along with Tyson Gay, who didn’t run Friday because of a groin injury.

Lost in the debacle was the performance of Merritt, who flew past Wariner on the final curve. Merritt finished in a world-leading time of 44.06 seconds.

In the process, he stole yet another honor away from Wariner. First the Olympic title, now the world crown.

“It was a good race,” Merritt said. “The gun went off, and I went to work.”

Merritt opened up such a big lead that, with a few meters to go, he stared at his finish on the stadium scoreboard.

“Saw myself pulling away,” he said, smiling. “I felt like I definitely had more left in the tank when I crossed the finish line.”

Shortly after his finish, Wariner put his hands on his hips and went for a stroll back up the track. Through his dark sunglasses, he stared up into the opening of Olympic Stadium.

“I wasn’t really looking at anything. I was disappointed,” he said. “I came in here with expectations of defending my title, but it didn’t work out.”

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