U.S. Men's 4 x 100 M relays in Olympic Games & WC, a brief history, 1912-2008-Part 1


Compiled by James Dunaway, with help from Track&Field News; David Wallechinsky's COMPLETE BOOK OF THE OLYMPICS (various editions);and IAAF publications, and thanks to Hal Bateman,Tom Casacky, Scott Davis, Bob Hersh, E.Garry Hill, Dave Johnson, Walter Murphy and Mike Takaha.

This is the first of three parts, the first two giving a fact based synopsis of the U.S. men and the 4 x 100, the second the US women and the 4 x 100 and the third, a commentary by James Dunaway, followed by my comments. Credits and thanks will be applied at end of each piece.

U.S. Men’s 4X100 Relays in the Olympic Games and World Championships, 1912–2008

The men’s 4x100-meters relay was first run internationally in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. The first women’s Olympic 4x100 was contested at the Amsterdam Games of 1928. The IAAF World Championships were first held in 1983 in Helsinki, then 1987 and 1991, and in every odd year since.

MEN [An asterisk (*) indicates the U.S. did not win the men’s 4x100 in that year.]

*1912 Olympics – 1, Great Britain, 42.4, Sweden, 42.6. The U.S. team won its semifinal in 42.2, which would have been a world record, but was disqualified for passing the baton out of the zone.

1920 Olympics --1, USA. 42.2 (World Record); 2, France, 42.5.

1924 Olympics – 1, USA, 41.0 (Equals World Record); Great Britain, 41.2.

1928 Olympics –1, USA, 41.0 (Equals World Record); Germany, 41.2

1932 Olympics– 1, USA, 40.0 (World Record); 2, Germany, 40.9. Interestingly, the U.S. team did not include Ralph Metcalfe, Eddie Tolan and George Simpson, who finished 1-2-3 in both the Olympic Trials 100 and 200 meters. The winning U.S. team of Robert Kiesel, Emmett Toppino, Hec Dyer and Frank Wykoff, which set world records of 40.6 in the heat and 40.0 in the final, consisted of the 4th and 5th place finishers in the Trials 100 (Wykoff and Toppino) and the 4th and 5th finishers in the Trials 200 (Kiesel and Dyer).One can only wonder what a U.S. team of Metcalfe, Tolan, Simpson and Wykoff might have done to the world record.

1936 Olympics – 1, USA, 39.8 (World Record); 2, Italy, 41.1. This was the most famous of all American 4x100 situations, in which the team of FrankWykoff, Foy Draper, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller -- who had finished 3-4-5-6 in the Trials 100 meters, a team which had been announced well before the Berlin Games and which had practiced baton exchanges assiduously – was changed only hours before the heats began. Glickman and Stoller, both Jewish, were replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who had finished 1-2 in the individual Olympic 100 meters a few days earlier.

1948 Olympics – 1, USA, 40.6; 2, Great Britain, 41.3. At first the U.S. team was disqualified for completing the first exchange between Barney Ewell and Lorenzo Wright out of the zone. But a film review showed that the pass was clearly in the zone, and the medals were redistributed.

1952 Olympics – 1, USA, 40.1; 2, USSR, 40.3. After being even with the Soviets after the first three legs, the U.S won by more than a meter thanks to Andy Stanfield’s strong anchor leg. The U.S lineup had to be changed when Art Bragg, the 100-meter Trials winner, pulled a muscle in the Olympic 100 semi-finals a few days earlier.

1956 Olympics – 1, USA, 39.5 (World Record); 2, USSR, 39.8. If one needs to understand the importance of baton-passing in the 4x100, this is a textbook example. The U.S. team was made up of 4 of the 5 fastest sprinters in the world: Ira Murchison (4th in the individual 100 meters); Leamon King -- who although he finished 4th in the U.S. Olympic Trials was considered by many to be the fastest 100 man in the world during the Olympic period, having twice tied the 100m world record of 10.1 in the months before the Games; Thane Baker (2nd in the individual 100); and Bobby Joe Morrow (100- and 200-meter gold medalist). Against them were two Soviet sprinters who finished 6th and last in the two 100m semi-finals, one who failed to make it to the semi-finals, and a fourth who wasn’t good enough to beat any of them for a place on the Soviet team. If you added up each team’s individual yearly bests for 100 meters, the USA foursome totaled 40.6, while the Soviet team’s added up to 41.4. So, with identical baton passing, the U.S. team should have won by at least 8 meters instead of 3.

*1960 Olympics – 1, Germany. 39.5 (Equals World Record); 2, USSR, 40.1. USA finished first in world-record time (39.4), but was disqualified for passing out of the zone during the first exchange between Frank Budd and Ray Norton, when Norton took off too early and had to stop to receive the baton; by then they were clearly out of the zone.

1964 Olympics– 1, USA, 39.0 (World Record); 2, Poland, 39.3. From David Wallechinsky’s The Complete Book of the Olympics: “Poor baton passing put the United States in 5th place, 3 meters behind France (the leader), when Bob Hayes took over for the anchor leg, Hayes then unleashed one of the most awesome and breathtaking displays of sprinting ever seen. He swept into the lead after only 30 yards and crossed the finish line with a 3-yard margin.” After the race a member of the French team said to American lead-off man Paul Drayton, “The only thing you have is Hayes.” To which Drayton replied, “That’s all we need, baby.”

1968 Olympics – 1, USA, 38.24 (World Record); 2, Cuba, 38.40. Again from Wallechinsky, “…mediocre passing left the United States in only 3rd place when Jim Hines took over for the anchor leg. 5 feet behind (Cuban) Enrique Figuerola at the exchange, Hines ripped into the lead and won by (more than a meter).”

1972 Olympics – 1, USA, 38.19 (World Record); 2, USSR, 38.50.

1976 Olympics -- 1, USA, 38.33; 2, East Germany, 38.66.

*1980 Olympics – 1, USSR, 38.28; France, 38.40. USA did not participate due to boycott.

1983 Worlds – 1, USA, 37.86 (World Record); 2, Italy 38.37. This was the first major worldwide meet in which substitutes were allowed to compete in the early rounds of the relays (swimming had been doing this for years, but until the cheating by the USSR in the 4x400s in the Moscow Olympics of 1980, the personnel of each nation’s relay teams could not be changed). Nonetheless, in the 4x100 all finalists ran the same four men in the same order in all rounds. However, in the men’s 4x400, 4 of the 8 finalists, including the U.S., used substitutes in the qualifying rounds.

1984 Olympics – 1, USA, 37.83 (World Record); 2, Jamaica, 38.62 (the USSR and Cuba did not participate because of the Soviet-led boycott). Immediately after the U.S. Olympic Trials, U.S. head coach Larry Ellis was asked who would be on the American 4x100 team. He answered immediately, ”The first four finishers in the Trials 100 meters, unless there’s a good reason to change them.” That team, Sam Graddy, Ron Brown, Calvin Smith and Carl Lewis, ran in the same order for all 3 rounds, running the fastest time in each round and setting a world record in the final.

1987 Worlds– 1, USA, 37.90; USSR, 38.02. The U.S was actually 3 meters behind the slick-passing Soviets when anchor Carl Lewis took the baton from Harvey Glance. In a change from previous U.S. custom, Lewis ran the final only, with Dennis Mitchell anchoring the U.S. in the heats and semi-finals. This was the first time the U.S. had used a substitute in the 4x100.

*1988 Olympics – 1, USSR, 38.19; 2 Great Britain, 38.28. USA was disqualified in Round 1, Heat 4 for passing out of the zone during third exchange, between Calvin Smith and Lee McNeill. As Walter Murphy wrote in Track & Field News, “The Americans were comfortably in the lead as Smith approached McNeil for the final handoff…Smith hit McNeill’s outstretched palm with the baton, but the pass was not completed…and Smith didn’t get the baton to him until they were well out of the exchange zone.” The U.S team finished first in the heat, with a time of 38.98.

In the months before the Games, there had been a great deal of lobbying by agents, shoe companies and some of the coaching staff, aimed at influencing the makeup of the American team. It continued, even in Seoul, right up to the day of the preliminaries, when there became no reason for further discussion.

1991 Worlds – 1, USA, 37.50 (World Record); 2, France, 37.87. Lewis replaced Mike Marsh to run the anchor leg in the final. Although Americans finished 1-2-3 in the individual 100 meters and France had no-one in the final (and only 1 in the semi-finals), superior passing by the well-drilled French found them less than 3 meters behind the American all-star team at the finish.

1992 Olympics – 1, USA, 37.40 (World Record); 2, Nigeria, 37.98. Dennis Mitchell, running the 3rd leg, actually handed the baton to Carl Lewis with a 1-meter lead, which he stretched to 5 at the finish. Lewis, who was originally not scheduled to run the relay, replaced Mark Witherspoon, who had ruptured an Achilles tendon during the semi-final of the 100 meters.

1993 Worlds – 1, USA, 37.48; 2, Great Britain, 37,77. USA won its semifinal in 37.40, equaling the world record set a year earlier; then just missed setting a new record by 0.08 second in the final. “We pressed too much,” said U.S. anchor Leroy Burrell. We wanted to break the world record and that cost us our concentration. Our handoffs were not nearly as good as they were yesterday (in the semi-final).”

*1995 Worlds – 1, Canada, 38.31; 2, Australia, 38.50. USA DNF in Round 1, Heat 3, due to a bungled 2nd exchange between the usually reliable Jon Drummond and the less experienced Tony McCall.

*1996 Olympics – 1, Canada, 37.69; 2, USA, 38.05. This was the first time a U.S. team had lost the Olympic 4x100 final other than through a disqualification. It is never a disgrace to lose to a 4x100 team which runs faster than 37.70, but when a U.S. team runs over 38.00 any time in the past 20 years, it is reasonable to attribute their time not so much to slow running as to less-than-perfect passing. There was considerable agitation for Carl Lewis to be put on the team when Leroy Burrell withdrew because of a foot injury, but Lewis’ bid for a place on the team was rejected because he had refused to attend the pre-meet relay camp.

*1997 Worlds – 1, Canada, 37.86; 2, Nigeria, 38.07. USA DNF in Round 1, Heat 2, due to a faulty 1st exchange between lead-off man Brian Lewis and Tim Montgomery. “Another U.S. Disaster” was the headline of Jon Hendershott’s story, in Track & Field News, “(Montgomery) appeared to get away too early, and Lewis (Montgomery’s Norfolk State teammate) could never catch him. Montgomery slowed as the end of the zone approached, turned to find Lewis, and the pair traded the stick after crossing the endline.” There were two substitutions on the U.S. team because of injuries in the days just before the competition.

1999 Worlds– 1, USA, 37.59; 2, Great Britain, 39.73; 3, Brazil, 38.06. The U.S. team, using what they described as “safe” passes, ran what was then the 5th fastest time ever. Anchor Maurice Greene took the baton even with Britain’s Dwain Chambers, but drew away to win by a long meter. Nigeria originally finished 3rd in 37.91, but was later disqualified due to a drug violation by one of its runners. The U.S ran the same team, in the same order, in both heats and final. The team had spent several days training together in Monaco before proceeding to Seville for the Worlds.

2000 Olympics – 1, USA, 37.61; 2, Brazil, 37.90. U.S. Anchorman Maurice Greene actually took the baton with a two-meter lead, and finished three meters to the good. Alternates Kenny Brokenburr and Tim Montgomery ran the first two legs in the heats and semifinals, so 6 Americans received gold medals. The 4 men in the final, Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis, and Greene, took a lengthy victory lap, and continued to celebrate during the medal ceremony which caused considerable controversy, which Wallechinsky summed up as follows: ”The four Americans offended many people with their celebration, which included posing and clowning not only on their victory lap, but also during the medal ceremony and during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Track & Field News devoted two-thirds of a page to the incident -- about as much space as it had to the three rounds of the event itself – as well as more than half its Letters page. USATF and the USOC apologized to the world for the athletes’ action and pressured the athletes to do the same, which they did in the form of a statement by Drummond as spokesman for the runners.

2001 Worlds – 1, USA, 37.96; 2, South Africa, 38.47. The U.S. team – which lost its 100-meter Olympic and World champion Maurice Greene when he was injured winning the Worlds 100 here in Edmonton -- survived a lane violation disqualification in its 1st Round heat (it was successfully appealed), and barely escaped an out-of-zone exchange in its semi-final when anchor Tim Montgomery took off too soon and then had to essentially stop to be able to take the baton from Dennis Mitchell within the exchange zone. Fortunately for the Americans, Cuba, Great Britain and Jamaica all had baton-passing problems, too, and even with a relatively slow 37.96 winning time, the U.S. team still won by 5 meters. (NOTE: The U.S. victory was subsequently forfeited because of Tim Montgomery’s drug violations, which resulted in all his official results after March 2001 being annulled).

2003 Worlds – 1, USA, 38.06, 2, Brazil, 38.26. The U.S. team lost its three top 100-meter runners when Maurice Greene was injured, Jon Drummond was expelled from the meet for his 40-minute protest of a false start, and Tim Montgomery left for home immediately after finishing 5th in the 100 final.(later advanced to 4th after a doping DQ involving Dwain Chambers, then subsequently himself DQ’d as noted above..A foursome was cobbled together, consisting of the three 200-meter finalists – John Capel, Darvis Patton, and J.J. Johnson, plus relay alternate Bernard Williams. In a thrilling final, Johnson ran down British anchor Dwain Chambers to win by 6 inches. Great Britain was later disqualified because of the doping violation by Chambers. The U.S. team ran the same four runners in the same order in all 3 rounds.

*2004 Olympics – 1, Great Britain, 38.07; 2, USA, 38.08. Writes Wallechinsky: “The U.S. was haunted by its traditional relay problem; poor passing. During the first exchange, (lead-off man) Shawn Crawford was forced to slow down on his handoff to (Justin) Gatlin, while Great Britain and Nigeria completed smooth handoffs.”

*2005 Worlds – 1, France, 38.08; Trinidad, 38.10. USA DNF in Heat 1. On a cool, rainy day in Helsinki, the U.S dropped the baton at the 1st exchange, between lead-off man Mardy Scales and Leonard Scott. From Bret Bloomquist’s followup in Track & Field News: “ Scott said, ‘I put all the blame on myself. We can… say the stick was slippery, or whatever, but the bottom line is that we practice on these sticks every day and we’re supposed to get through the zone. It slipped out of my hand. I was trying to pull for it and it slipped out of my hand. It’s my fault.’ Scales added: ‘The baton we had was slippery, but that’s not to blame. We had a good exchange; it just seemed like the baton just slipped out. We’ve practiced a lot. We’ve been here three weeks; we’ve been working together. We just didn’t execute today.’”

2007 Worlds – 1, USA, 37.78; 2, Jamaica, 37.89. The U.S. team almost earned an *. In Athletics 2008 (the annual ATFS record book), the account of this race reads, “the U.S. team, although with dreadful 2nd and 3rd exchanges but fast legs by Spearmon and Gay, won in 37.78.” (In both poor U.S. passes, the outgoing runner did not start quickly enough, or soon enough). According to Track & Field News, Leroy Dixon, the American anchor, was told he would be running the anchor leg only the night before the race.

*2008 Olympics – 1, Jamaica, 37.10 (World Record); 2, Trinidad and Tobago, 38.06. USA did not qualify for the final. In Heat 1, the U.S. team was leading, and apparently on the way to winning the heat, but did not finish because the baton was dropped at the 3rd exchange, between Darvis Patton and anchor Tyson Gay. Gay took responsibility for the error and admitted: "I tried to reach for it, but it wasn't there. I should have made sure. I guess it's my fault." Certainly, Jamaica’s winning performance was out of the reach of any team the U.S. could have put on the track for the final, but it’s reasonable to think the U.S. would have finished second in the final with adequate legal exchanges in both rounds.

Incidentally, this was the first time that entries were officially limited to 16 teams (based on pre-Games performances) in order to insure that only two rounds would be run.


In the November 1997 issue of Track & Field News there appeared a sidebar, as follows:

What Went Wrong This Time? (slightly edited for clarity – jod)

“It was just a matter of miscommunication about when to pass the stick,” was the explanation of leadoff Brian Lewis after the U.S foursome couldn’t get the stick around for the third time in the last seven WC/OG meets.”
(italics mine – jod)

Third man Dennis Mitchell –easily the most experienced member of the U.S. quarter – said, “We just have to develop a system that’s more consistent year after year. Consistent with our coaching staff, our athletes, our ideal about running the relay

“We have to develop a relay philosophy that’s consistent from year to year and team to team. No matter who comes on the team each season, they should know what kind of sticks to expect. Yet every year, we get a brand new coaching staff (with) its own style of coaching – and the athletes have to learn how to adapt to it.

“I think maybe some of those things need to change; we have to go to a system that’s more consistent with every team that comes along. We have weeks, sometimes only days to prepare for a championship like this (the 1997 Worlds). That’s a very difficult and pressurized situation. Practice isn’t the problem we have; it’s just that we need a more consistent system.”

U.S. head coach Dean Hayes was asked how much practice the (4x100) team got. “I have to give them all the credit,” said Hayes. “We went to San Diego and took a couple of days to get them together. They seemed to mesh pretty good; the agents and athletes all did whatever we wanted. We tried to keep it a relaxed atmosphere, and we did the same thing in Athens when we practiced.”

He added, “The biggest trouble is that we’re spread all over the country and it’s hard to get them altogether.
That’s probably our biggest weakness. While our relay pool isn’t determined until our nationals, other countries have their teams together for a number of years, which is very helpful.”

Why did Brian Lewis lead off instead of the more experienced Jon Drummond? Hayes said, “Drummond ran the 200 [final the day before], and it was his choice. If somebody’s not ready, we go to the next athlete [in the relay pool].”

Mitchell adds, “ I don’t have anything against our coaching staff. It’s just that each staff has its own idea of how the stick should be passed. There is a lot of skill involved; there are a lot of aspects to passing the baton, and if one of those aspects goes wrong, then you get messed up.

“That’s something we’ve been doing over the last few years. We’ve just got to fix it.”
Eleven years later, it evidently still hasn’t been fixed

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