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Panel hits out at the US relay teams

IN a stinging indictment of what went wrong with the American athletics teams at the Beijing Olympics, a task force lashed out at the US relay system. The 69-page report was commissioned by USA Track and Field's new CEO, Doug Logan.

Americans led with 23 athletics medals in Beijing but failed to live up to expectations in many areas. Their seven gold medals were the lowest haul since the 1997 world championships.

The nine-person panel, which included sprint great Carl Lewis, decried an overall "lack of accountability, professionalism and cohesion" among staff, coaches and athletes. They suggested athletes focus more on winning medals, less on things such as appearance fees and access to TVs in the Olympic village.

The most scathing criticism was leveled at the relay effort. The men's and women's 400m teams dropped the baton in qualifying ?? a debacle that punctuated the underachieving effort of the entire team.


The panel called for the American Relay Program, which spent more than US$1 million and trained 173 athletes from 2003-08, to be disbanded immediately, saying the concept was good but the execution wasn't.

The panel described a general atmosphere of confusion, politicking and anxiety that ultimately led to bad exchanges between Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay in the men's race and Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams in the women's.

"The Task Force was troubled by the fact that the athletes themselves seemed to have no idea why the stick dropped, beyond saying it was 'one of those things' and the stick had a mind of its own," the report read.

The disorganization may have been best illustrated by the scene shortly before the women's relay when the runners were in the holding room, about to head to the starting line, with no idea where their bibs were. Their numbers had to be handwritten.

"One athlete was ... nearly crying when she spoke of how embarrassing it was to them," the report read. "That the bib debacle transpired just moments before taking the track did not help the team's fortunes, as it was clearly a very significant distraction and cause of negativity. The same issues played out in different ways" in the men's relay.


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