- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

It was Groundhog Day at the world track and field championships Friday night in Berlin… and again Saturday afternoon.

Was I watching reruns from the 2005 world championship, 2004 Athens Olympics or Beijing Games last year - or did I really see what I saw on the tube the past few days? It is becoming a familiar tune, like “50 Ways to Lose Your Relay.”

For whatever reason, the United States cannot seem to move a lightweight, 11-inch aluminum stick around an oval track for 400 meters.

Last year, the American men’s and women’s one-lap relays dropped the baton. On Friday, the men’s team found a more innovative way to get disqualified: They passed outside of the zone. What makes it more frustrating is that both teams were in the heats and purposefully being cautious.

Anchorman Darvis Patton was overly cautious, leaving a bit too late and taking the baton from Shawn Crawford before they entered the passing zone. The Brits challenged the pass and turned the U.S. team into spectators for the final.

Turn the clocks back a year, and it was Patton again on the dropped baton in the Olympics. That blunder, and other failures during the Beijing Games, led USA Track & Field to analyze the problems and yank millions of dollars away from its relay program.

On Saturday, the women’s team shut down after the second exchange - another poor one between Alexandria Anderson and Muna Lee - as Lee pulled up with a hamstring injury. There were failed exchanges for the women in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, too, but they earned gold at the world championships in 2005 and 2007.

The relays are not rocket science. Run and pass the baton to another runner. We all did it in elementary school and day camp, probably even in preschool.

The solution is simple. Like bad driving, blunderers should be sent to “bad handoff class.” First violation: one month of remedial relay training. Second violation: loss of baton for a year.

Richards goes gold - It took seven years and several huge disappointments, but Sanya Richards finally won an individual gold medal Tuesday at the world championships. The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist runner ran a world-leading 49.00 seconds in the 400 meters.

Richards has been ranked No. 1 in the world in her event each of the past four years and had yet to win an Olympic or world championship individual gold medal. The 24-year-old has been the favorite to win gold medals since she was 17. She was so close last year in Beijing - just 100 meters from the gold when her right hamstring seized and she watched helplessly as she finished with the bronze.

This gold adds to a spectacular resume that includes 1,600-meter relay golds in the Olympics and world championships.

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