By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) - Whether it's dropping the baton or being disqualified, U.S. men's 4x100 metres relay teams have found gold medals difficult to come by in recent years.
A new relays coach is hoping to change that ahead of this weekend's IAAF World Relays in Nassau, Bahamas.
"Potentially, with the talent we have, if we get the stick around the track, we will get a medal," Orin Richburg told Reuters.
Achieving that simple goal, however, has been a regular problem for U.S. men's 4x100 metres relay teams.
Six times they have been disqualified - twice for doping violations - and on three other occasions did not finish in 15 Olympic, world championships and World Relays competitions since 2000.
Only four gold medals have been won along with two silvers.
In the same 15 events, U.S. men's and women's 4x400m relay teams have each claimed 11 gold medals and the women's 4x100m six.
Richburg was asked how he was going to change the situation.
"We have to make sure we get the stick around and make the people who make the team have some transparency and cohesiveness in what they are doing," said Richburg, who has worked with USA Track & Field (USATF) programs since 1989 and served as the 2001 world championships head coach and 2008 Olympic relays coach.
One way to build that cohesion and familiarity is to expand participation in domestic relays in the spring so when athletes come together for global competitions it is not a shock, Richburg said.
A college coach for more than 30 years, Richburg succeeds Dennis Mitchell as America's relay boss and nine-times Olympic champion Carl Lewis, often a critic of the U.S. sprint relay team, welcomed his appointment.
"It is a unique opportunity to turn it around and get back to where it was," Lewis told Reuters. "I am really excited about that.
"He (Richburg) understands relays and understands what to do," said Lewis, who now coaches at the University of Houston and has sprinter Leshon Collins in the U.S. 4x100m pool for this weekend's World Relays.
"It's so pathetic it is ridiculous," said Lewis when reminded the U.S. men had not won an Olympic 4x100m gold medal since 2000.
LACK OF EXECUTION
Bob Kersee, who has coached numerous top American female sprinters, believes the problem has been lack of execution.
"We have not executed as best we are capable of," Kersee told Reuters. "Lack of talent, no."
Richburg admitted mistakes have been made, but wondered if the errors stood out because the relay is a glamour event.
"We make mistakes in other events and it doesn't become a glaring situation," he said.
With a push to acquire as many medals as possible and the talent to do so, the U.S., unlike some countries, cannot put the relay before other events.
"People have to understand there are three medals in the 100 metres, three medals in the 200 metres and three in the 400," Richburg said.
Jamaica, led by world record holder Usain Bolt, have won every global men's 4x100m relay except one since 2008.
"I don't think our kids fear him because they have to face him in the 100 and 200 metres," said Richburg.
Lewis believes Bolt has been a factor.
"The U.S. men would probably be having more success if they weren't all discombobulated by Jamaica," he said.
"When you are not sure of yourself you don't run (well)... The United States has got so it is acceptable to lose."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)