American Relay Team Disqualified at World Championships

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BERLIN -- No fumbling of the baton this time. No final, either.

Soon after turning in the fastest time in the men's 400-meter relay Friday, the Americans were disqualified at the world championships for passing the baton outside of the designated zone at Olympic Stadium.

The Americans' appeal, citing inconclusive video footage, was rejected.

Even when they get the baton around the track, they still can't advance.

The latest miscue comes after a botched exchange at the Beijing Olympics last summer, and the big mistake overshadowed two big wins Friday.

Allyson Felix broke the Jamaicans' stronghold on the sprints, holding off Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown to win the 200. Moments later, LaShawn Merritt breezed to a win in the 400, cruising past rival and defending champion Jeremy Wariner.

With the wins, the United States jumped over Jamaica in the medals table with six golds and 16 overall. Jamaica was second with five gold and 10 overall. Russia had four golds and 11 overall.

When Merritt heard the news of the relay team's DQ, he was shocked.

"Oh yeah?" he said. "It's too bad."

Before being disqualified, the Americans were in line for a showdown in Saturday's final with Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans. The Americans easily won their heat while the Jamaicans, running without Bolt and Asafa Powell, finished second in their heat. That gives Bolt a shot at winning a third gold and setting a third world record at the world championships.

After two gold medals and two world records in six days, Bolt took a rest Friday, centering on signing autographs instead of running as he celebrated his 23rd birthday with the fans at the Olympic Stadium.

When he collected his gold for the 200 title and a second $100,000 check for his world record, some 45,000 fans in the stands gave him a heartfelt "Happy Birthday to You" serenade. With two records and two golds, he has already won $320,000.

He's a problem the United States likely can't fix. No one can right now.

But what about the relays?

USA Track and Field did an exhaustive study looking into what went wrong with the 400 relay teams in Beijing after the men and women dropped the baton, establishing new rules and protocols.

"Everyone involved in the relay, including athletes, coaches and administrators, were mindful of doing everything in our power to ensure the relay succeeded," Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, the chief of sport performance for USATF, said in a statement. "To be disqualified is something that is hard for all of us to accept, but at this point we can only use it as inspiration for our remaining three relays, and as a lesson for future championships."

The team was trying to be extra careful, too.

With memories of Beijing still fresh, the relay squad took a cautious approach, making slow and safe exchanges. The final pass between Shawn Crawford and Darvis Patton, however, was outside the zone.

Patton was also part of the botched exchange in Beijing, along with Tyson Gay, who didn't run Friday due to a groin injury.

Running the anchor leg Friday, Patton grabbed the baton and simply took off.

"If you dwell on the past, I think it can hamper your progress," Patton said.

The exchange between Patton and Crawford wasn't even the dicey one.

No, that was the pass from Mike Rodgers to Crawford. Crawford slowed way down, making sure he had a firm grip before bolting.

"My thing is safe baton passes in the semis," Crawford said moments after the race. "When it comes to the finals, just let it all out."

The Americans won't get a chance to enact that plan.

Lost in the relay debacle was the performance of Merritt, who flew past Wariner on the final curve. Merritt finished in a world-leading time of 44.06 seconds.

In the process, he stole yet another honor away from Wariner.

First the Olympic title, now the world crown.

"It was a good race," Merritt said. "The gun went off, and I went to work."

Merritt opened up such a big lead that with a few meters to go, he stared at his finish on the stadium scoreboard.

"Saw myself pulling away," he said, smiling. "I felt like I definitely had more left in the tank when I crossed the finish line."

Shortly after his finish, Wariner put his hands on his hips and went for a little stroll back up the track. Through his dark sunglasses, he stared up into the opening of Olympic Stadium.

"I wasn't really looking at anything. I was disappointed," he admitted. "I came in here with expectations of defending my title, but it didn't work out."

Still, Wariner said he feels he's rounding into the form that earned him a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. He's even back working with longtime coach Clyde Hart.

However, Wariner tripped over a shoe left on the track in a June training session, twisting his ankle and costing him valuable training time.

"I was in great shape, but not race shape," Wariner said. "My kick wasn't like it used to be. He just had a better finish."

The rivalry between Wariner and Merritt is one of the best in track, especially since no one can touch Bolt in the 100 and 200.

"We always knew LaShawn was going to start running very, very fast at some point," said former sprint star Michael Johnson, who manages Wariner. "Now there's less room for error."

Felix made adjustments to close the gap on Campbell-Brown, easily powering by her.

When Felix crossed the line, she pumped her right fist. That was the exclamation point on her third straight world title.

"I felt really delighted," she said. "I can't believe it's No. 3 already. I couldn't have asked for more."

Neither could the Americans. Finally, a sprint victory against Jamaica.

The island country dominated the Americans in Beijing and won three straight in Berlin before Felix stopped the streak.

"I was hearing it a lot in the media about the battle between us and Jamaica," Felix said. "I went out there and just focused on myself. I focused on what I needed to do to make my country proud. The rivalry to me is fun and exciting."

In other finals Friday:

- Dani Samuels won the discus to give Australia its first medal at the championships. Olympic champion Stephanie Brown Trafton of the U.S. finished 12th.

- Yaroslav Rybakov of Russia captured the high jump title, while Russian compatriot Sergey Kirdyapkin won the 50-kilometer walk.