Inside Track: Patton breaks silence

Thu Sep 10, 2009 By Joe Battaglia / Universal Sports

Darvis Patton and Terrence Trammell were hanging out on the practice track outside Olympic Stadium in Berlin waiting to watch teammate Allyson Felix run the 200m final before heading back to the hotel.

The two had just helped the United States win their first round heat of the men’s 4x100m relay at the World Championships, seemingly restoring order to the universe a year after the U.S. failed to advance at the Beijing Olympics.

The two were then approached by teammate Shawn Crawford.

“Shawn came up to us and was like, ‘Dude, do you know we’re under protest and about to be DQd?’” Patton recalled in a recent interview. “We were like, ‘Shawn, quit playing.’ Shawn Crawford is a bit of jokester sometimes. He was like, ‘No dude, I’m dead serious. They said we got the baton too early.’ I said, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’”

After the race was completed, officials from Great Britain approached the meet referee with evidence that Patton had received the baton handoff from Crawford prior to reaching the exchange zone (watch video), the designated area in each lane where runners can legally pass off to the next leg of the relay.

Neither the official nor the referee had noticed the infraction in real time. Television replays also appeared to be inconclusive (watch video). Patton was sure the protest wouldn’t amount to much and that he would get to run in the final two days later.

“I was like, ‘Alright, this won’t stick,’” Patton said. "With the technology of Blackberries, people started texting and saying that they saw replays. On TV, Ato Boldon and Lewis Johnson were like, ‘Clearly, they had the baton. U.S. shouldn’t have to worry. This won’t be a problem. They’ll get this overruled.’

“So we get back on the bus to go back to the hotel and I think Joanna (Hayes) sent Shawn a text message saying, ‘Oh no, they’re saying you guys are DQd.’ Even still, I was kind of like, ‘Whatever.’ We still had time to appeal and I was still thinking they were going to look at the replays, see what it looks like and there was no way we were getting DQd. Clearly, I thought we’d be back in.”

Patton said he went to bed that night still fully expecting to have another race to run, something he now admits was “wishful thinking.” It wasn’t until he woke up the next morning and read a press release from USA Track & Field announcing the disqualification was official that his worst nightmare was realized - again.

In Beijing, Patton finished eighth in the 100m and flubbed the baton exchange with Tyson Gay on the relay (watch video). In Berlin, Patton tied up in the 100m final and finished eighth and was again involved in the exchange that resulted in the U.S. disqualification.

“It was the worst kind of déjà vu,” said Patton, who otherwise had the best summer of his career with seven sub-10 clockings in the 100m. “In the Olympics last year, I finished eighth, of course, and DNF, did not finish in the relay. To have the exact same outcome a year later was like rubbing more salt into the wound. It had me pretty shook up, man. It takes a lot to shake me up, but that shook me up.”

That day after the disqualification, Patton said he went “incognito,” talking only to his wife back home. He has chosen not speak to anyone about the incident until now. And while he shoulders responsibility for his part in what went wrong, he also feels deep-seeded resentment over how the infraction was brought to light.

“I didn’t want to face anybody because I was a part of both incidents,” Patton said. "In 2008, the dropped stick, me and Tyson; this year I’m part of touching the baton early. Damn! There’s a lot of frustration there. Am I pissed about what happened? You’re damn right. I was sick, sick as hell.

“It’s hard to get over this feeling without punching the wall and dropping a few f-bombs. Honestly, that’s how I feel. But, I know none of that will make this feeling that I’m feeling go away.”

Patton feels that he and his teammates ultimately fell victim to the British employing a bush-league tactic to improve their medal chances.

There would seem to be validity to that argument. British athletes receive different levels of funding from U.K. Athletics based on their performance in championship meets. Winning medals elevates athletes to “podium” funding, the highest level available. In the absence of the U.S., the British squad of Simeon Williamson, Tyrone Edgar, Marlon Devonish and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey finished third, earning a bronze medal (watch video). But all four runners are already receiving podium funding.

“I’m angrier about someone trying to get us out of there,” Patton said. “Had someone not protested, we ran 37.9 and it wouldn’t have been an issue. I think we got it right this time, but somebody was looking for the U.S. to mess up. If replays couldn’t catch it, high-definition cameras couldn’t catch it, the referee couldn’t catch it, and the official didn’t catch, that means somebody was looking for something. To say that we didn’t get it right on a technicality that someone went to fish for, on a rule that is so minute that you have dig for it in the IAAF rules book, that’s what bugs me.”

By no means, however, does Patton dismiss his role in another U.S. relay failure.

The day after the relay disqualification, Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, USA Track & Field’s new director of high performance, fielded questions from a select group of reporters for 15 minutes just outside of Olympic Stadium. She gave the following assessment of what went wrong with the men’s relay:

“Unfortunately in this case, Darvis left a little bit late,” Mosley said. “When you have a 28-step situation and he is a couple steps late, now you’re down to a 23-, 24-step difference and that wasn’t enough time for Darvis to pick up enough speed and get into the zone in time for Shawn to pass it off.”

Patton does not disagree with Mosley.

“If I would have got out, bottom line, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Patton said. “In my honest opinion, I feel like if I would have got out and we got the stick around, this wouldn’t be a topic for conversation at all. This would all be nothing.”

But the reality of the matter is the U.S. now has the ignominious distinction of having failed to complete the 4x100m at the two biggest meets of successive seasons, something Patton said was an unfortunate coincidence.

“I can’t really answer that question other than to say it keeps happening on that stage,” Patton said when asked why the U.S. is having trouble with exchanges in the championships. “The only thing that changes is the significance of the meet, which blows everything out of proportion. If we dropped the baton at the Penn Relays or Texas Relays or Mt. SAC relays it wouldn’t be an issue. It’s where this is happening at. That’s what brings the ‘Come on U.S.! You guys have got to get it together!’”

The U.S. failures the last two seasons have undoubtedly been exacerbated by the coinciding Usain Bolt-fueled success of rival Jamaica. Patton said that high expectations placed on the U.S. have made dropping the baton look even worse.

“I don’t know what happened in this sport where if the U.S. doesn’t win, it’s a failure,” Patton said. “And it’s not just Jamaica is what happened. Go back to ‘04 and look at the mood of some of the athletes that got silver medals, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Us not winning is almost considered a loss, and that’s bad when you made the top three in the world, made the podium. I think our expectation level is so high that when we don’t win gold it’s a disappointment. And if we don’t finish a relay, it’s like ‘Why can’t these guys get it together?’”

Another good question.

Patton said what went wrong in Berlin was certainly not a product of disorganization or poor team chemistry.

“We had a lot of camaraderie,” Patton said. “Everyone was familiar with each other. There were no prima donnas on this team. Everything was looking up. Practice went well. We were ready for the final. My hat’s off to Harvey Glance and the coaching staff. Harvey is a great leader. He brought a relaxed atmosphere. We were out there having fun. It was never too serious, and it just made it easy. We were confident going into the semi and we were going to be confident going into the final.”

When asked why other countries seem to have no difficulty getting the baton from runner to runner cleanly and the U.S. cannot, Mosley indicated that perhaps it is time for USA Track & Field to devise standardized relay policies and then educate its runners to the expected techniques.

“Some clinics would be helpful,” Mosley said. “But before holding a clinic on relay exchanges and philosophies, we need to develop a philosophy that we think is going to work. And when we develop that philosophy - we hold our hand like this and we have a silent exchange or we call ‘Stick’ - we come up with a policy we think that works and then test it out and win a national competition.”

Patton does not feel such institutional changes are warranted.

“In my opinion, I don’t feel there is a need for all of that,” he said. "What happened happened, and it brings these questions, without a doubt. Had I gotten out and we got a medal we wouldn’t be having these conversations. It would be more about the U.S. beating Jamaica or Jamaica beating the U.S. We just need to get it together. We shouldn’t be having technical meetings or whatever. We’re all adults. We’ve all done this before. We’ve just gotten it wrong on the wrong day.

“I think we’re so deep into the negative right now that it won’t be a positive if we win the next 10 in a row. Even if we win in 2011 it will be, ‘Oh they got it right, but let’s wait and see what happens next year.’ Someone is always going to bring it up and it will always be a topic of conversation.”

The U.S. must now live with this result for two years before its next opportunity for redemption, at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Patton said he does not think the members of that relay pool will be overly concerned about ending this string of futility.

“Absolutely none,” Patton said, when asked how much pressure will be on the 2011 squad. “If you want to call it pressure, it will be nothing but the media bringing it up. Not one time did Beijing get brought up among us in relay practice before Berlin. In all the years I’ve been running the relay, what happened in the year before has never been brought up. We forget about it and focus on the task at hand: Getting the stick around, making it to the final and seeing what happens in the final.”

Scuttlebutt among media members in Berlin was that Patton has probably seen his last relay pool given his age - he’ll be 33-years-old at the next Worlds - and his involvement in both relay incidents the last two summers.

“I understand that people want to talk,” Patton said. "This is track and field and people are going to say what they want. Comments and criticism come easily when you’re behind closed doors or watching in a crowd of 50,000 people instead of standing in front of them. And, I’m not making excuses. That’s not what a professional athlete is paid to do. But does that mean we are infallible? Does it mean that we are invincible? Not at all. We’re just human.

“With that said, I have the most medals of anyone on the relay. I like to consider myself a veteran on this team and also a leader on this team. I think I will be on the next relay and relays to come as long as I’m healthy and running fast.”

That was a real Gay move by GB. We cant beat them straight up so lets get em DQed.

Huh? Exchanging the baton within the lines is an unknown detail that is hard to find within the rule book?

Being from Canada and having no vested interest, I don’t fault GB at all for protesting. It seems just as illegal to exchange outside the zone as it does to step on the line of a 200m race. If USTF is going to protest after the fact with video evidence (ala Beijing 200m), they need to be willing to accept the results of protests from other countries, after the fact, with video evidence.