'A total embarrassment': Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson slam America's 4x100m relay team after shambolic Olympic exit

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
'A total embarrassment': Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson slam American 4x100m relay team after shambolic Tokyo Olympics exit - SHUTTERSTOCK
'A total embarrassment': Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson slam American 4x100m relay team after shambolic Tokyo Olympics exit - SHUTTERSTOCK

"It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable - they did everything wrong,” said Carl Lewis.

“It’s embarrassing and ridiculous, but it’s what we’ve seen for so many years with the US team,” said Michael Johnson.

Harsh words for a nation that has won 86 medals in Tokyo, more than any other country, and yet there were few dissenting voices given the shambolic scenes which saw the Americans spurn their chance of reaching tomorrow's 4x100m final.

Their second changeover - when Fred Kerley tried to hand the baton to Ronnie Baker was particularly gruesome. Baker grasped first at air then at Kerley’s shoulder.

The pair looked completely out of sync, with Kerley eventually needing to use his loose hand to guide his team-mate to the right spot. There has not been a more farcical passing of a baton since Alex Ferguson was succeeded by David Moyes.

Lewis was among those questioning the wisdom of using Baker, a 60m and 100m specialist, to run the third leg given his lack of experience around bends. By contrast Kerley, whose best event is 400m, was given the straight second leg.

"The passing system is wrong, athletes [are] running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership,” said Lewis.

Kerley just about manages to pass the baton to his team-mate, but in less than textbook fashion - SHUTTERSTOCK
Kerley just about manages to pass the baton to his team-mate, but in less than textbook fashion - SHUTTERSTOCK

The sprint relay team may have been the chief targets of American angst today, but at least they can console themselves in the knowledge they are not alone - on the men's side, at least (USA do have two gold medallists in women's track and field).

Grant Holloway was a hot favourite to win the 110m hurdles on Thursday morning but lost for the first time this year, settling for silver behind Jamaica's Hansle Parchment.

Trayvon Bromell, thought to be in contention for the 100m title, didn’t make the final. 200m favourite Noah Lyles did in his event, but could only manage third.

The US relay team finished behind China, Canada, Italy, Germany and Ghana - GETTY IMAGES
The US relay team finished behind China, Canada, Italy, Germany and Ghana - GETTY IMAGES

It is shaping up to be the first time since 1896 that US men have come away from an Olympics without a gold in track events, and their failings have contributed to the country trailing China by six golds overall at the time of writing. If the USA do not draw ahead in what remains of these Games it will be only the second time since 1996 they have finished off top spot in the final standings, after China beat them on home soil in 2008.

America does not have a comfortable relationship with losing. It can’t even stomach draws, hence infinite overtime until a victor is found in baseball and basketball. At home the track travails are not being viewed charitably.

“People are embarrassed,” said Michael Johnson. “With the amount of talent we should be doing a lot better than we are.”

This week, a year late, we lived through the quadrennial outrage of American publications including the New York Times sorting their medal tables by total won rather than golds, as is usual practice. That apparent insecurity and the relay blunder adds to the suspicion that standards have slipped at this Olympics for Team USA.

It is not just athletics facing angry questions in the coming weeks. Gymnastics has not delivered the hoped-for haul, largely because of Simone Biles’ reduced involvement. Her withdrawal from all but one final must be seen in the context of the horrendous US Gymnastics abuse scandal.

If a cultural reset is needed there then it’s an absence of stars to blame elsewhere. In swimming America won the most golds, but only managed two more than Australia. The gap to second, again Australia, was 13 in Rio.

Not coincidentally, this is the first Olympics of the millennium without Michael Phelps in the team, a man whose collection of 23 Olympic golds would place him 39th on the all-time list - of countries.

The men’s basketball team are into their final but lost a game along the way, for the first time since 2004. US teams at Olympics used to sweep all before them with fantasy line-ups of players. This summer LeBron James decided to stay at home and concentrate on promoting a film in which he plays alongside Bugs Bunny.

Cravon Gillespie reacts after the United States' dismal sixth-place finish - REUTERS
Cravon Gillespie reacts after the United States' dismal sixth-place finish - REUTERS

Even more shocking than hoop dreams failing to come true were the struggles of the women’s footballers. They were humbled 3-0 by Sweden in the group stage and lost 1-0 to Canada in the semi. “It sucks,” said Megan Rapinoe. Her team settled for bronze.

You thought British rowing was in trouble? The US managed a grand total of zero medals. “As an organisation, we have already started the process of reviewing our national team programs, which will include feedback and analysis from this Games,” said US Rowing high performance director Matt Imes. Sounds painful.

These are still minor aberrations in the grand scheme of the all-time summer Olympics medal table, where the USA have nearly 1,500 more than their closest competitors. They are the only country with more than 1,000 golds, the next best are Soviet Union with 395.

By the New York Times’ measure, and to use an American sports terms, the USA will still be the winningest nation at this Olympics. But it’s hard to shake the notion that they’re not quite as winningest as they used to be.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting