Mike Rodgers

The track and field calendar is a shambles, ugh

The track and field calendar is a shambles, ugh

Mike Rodgers ran the 100 meters in 9.89 seconds in the preliminary rounds of the U.S. track and field national championships Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

It was the fastest 100 meters, anywhere in the world, so far in 2018.

This raises several questions.

Why is Rodgers running that fast in — the prelims? 

Why, moreover, is a 33-year-old Mike Rodgers running in the 9.8s again after a 2017 that saw him run a best 10-flat and a 9.97 in 2016?

Rodgers ran 9.92 in Prague on June 4. And — here is the inexplicable thing about professional track and field — it has to be asked: why he is running that fast in 2018? For what reason?

Pride gets no one paid. Respect is awesome, and 9.89 is respectfully quick. But, again, track is a professional sport. 

And this is what in track circles is called an “off-year.” There’s no Olympics, no world championships. 

Justin Gatlin, on track for 2016

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EUGENE, Oregon — Before Saturday's big race at the 42nd Prefontaine Classic, the men's 100 meters, Justin Gatlin's coach, Dennis Mitchell, offered just a few words.

Nothing about times. No 9.5-craziness, no records this or that.

"Coach just gave me a handshake and said, 'Lay one down,' " Gatlin would say later.

Gatlin laid down a wind-aided 9.88 for the win. This was a no-doubter. Gatlin crossed the line with his left arm raised, index finger pointed to the sky: No. 1. At least on a Saturday in May in Eugene. More, here in Eugene next month at the U.S. Trials and presumably in August in Rio, to come.

Justin Gatlin meets the press after Saturday's 100

The men's 100 capped a day of sun-splashed performances at the Prefontaine Classic, the one and only major U.S. outdoor stop on the international track and field circuit, with athletes aiming to round into shape for the 2016 Summer Games and, for the Americans, the Trials, back here at historic Hayward Field.

The 2016 Pre, before 13,223, termed by house announcers a sell-out crowd -- not so much, as pockets and patches of bare seats throughout the stands would attest -- marked the second act of a four-part track and field drama this year in Oregon. Part one: the 2016 world indoors in March in Portland. Part three: the 2016 NCAA championships, in about 10 days. Part four: the U.S. Olympic Trials, in late June and early July.

What organizers called a "sell-out": bare spots in the stands at the end of the main straightaway

A number of stars proved no-shows at the 2016 Pre, citing injury or otherwise. Among them: U.S. sprint champion Allyson Felix, American long-distance runner and Olympic silver-medalist Galen Rupp and Ethiopian distance standout Genzebe Dibaba.

Those who did turn up put on, especially for May in an Olympic year, a first-rate show:

In the women's 100 hurdles, American Keni Harrison ripped off an American-record 12.24, the second-fastest time ever. Only Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria, in 12.21 in 1988, has ever run faster. Brianna Rollins, who had held the American record, 12.26 in 2013, finished second Saturday in 12.53.

Emma Coburn also set an American record, in the women's 3k steeplechase, 9:10.76; Bahrain's Ruth Jebet won the race in 8:59.97, just four-hundredths ahead of Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya. American Boris Berian won the men's 800 in a convincing 1:44.2; just a couple years ago was slinging hamburgers at McDonald's; in March, he won the world indoor 800; a few days ago, the Berian saga took on yet another dimension over a contract dispute with Nike.

In the women's 100, American English Gardner ran 10.81 for the win, with two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica eighth and last, in 11.18; in the women's 200, American Tori Bowie ran 21.99, best in the world in 2016, with Holland's Dafne Schippers second in a really-not-that-close 22.11.

Kirani James of Grenada and LaShawn Merritt of the United States added another chapter to their extraordinary rivalry in the men's 400, James winning in 44.22, Merritt just behind in 44.39.

Jamaica's Omar McLeod continued his 2016 dominance in the men's 110 hurdles, winning in 13.06; Americans went 1-2-3 in the men's 400 hurdles (Michael Tinsley with the victory) and the triple jump (Will Claye going 17.56 meters, or 57 feet, 7 1/2 inches on his sixth and final jump, celebrating with a leap over the hurdle set up for the women's steeplechase, only to see Christian Taylor, next, go 17.76 meters, or 58-3 1/4, the two of them meeting after for a quick embrace).

In the men's javelin, Africans went 1-2: Ihab Adbelrahman of Egypt went 87.37, or 286-08; Kenya's Julius Yego took second in 84.68, 277-10.

Without Dibaba in the women's 1500, Faith Chepngeti Kipyegon of Kenya ran a Hayward Field record, 3:56.41. The prior mark: 3:57.05, from Hellen Obiri of Kenya. On Friday evening, Obiri, running this year in the Pre at the 5k, won in 14:32.02.

Also Friday evening, Brittney Reese won the women's long jump, in 6.92 meters, 22 feet 8 1/2 inches; Joe Kovacs the men's shot put, in 22.13 meters, 72-7 1/4; Alysia Montaño-Johnson the women's 800, in 2:00.78; and Mo Farah, the British distance star, the men's 10,000 meters, in 26:53.71. The top five guys in that 10k all crossed in under 27 minutes.

And then there was Gatlin, who figures heading into the Trials and Rio to have the spotlight trained on him, big time -- both for who he is and how, for most people who know about Gatlin's realistic quest to take down Usain Bolt, the way it all turned out in 2015.

At the 2015 Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar, two weeks before last year’s Pre, Gatlin went 9.74. Only four guys have — ever — gone faster: Bolt, 9.58 in Berlin in 2009; the American Tyson Gay, 9.69, Shanghai, 2009; 2011 100 world champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica, also 9.69, at the Athletissima meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, 2012; Asafa Powell, also Jamaican and the first racer in history to run sub-10 more than 100 times, 9.72, Athletissima, 2008.

No less than five times in 2015 did Gatlin run faster than 9.79.

Back for the 2015 worlds at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, where Bolt had raced to Olympic gold in 2008, Gatlin settled into the blocks in Lane 7 with a win streak that stretched past two dozen.

The year, and even the rounds, pointed to Gatlin. He had cruised through, winning his semifinal in 9.77. Bolt had stumbled in his semi, collecting himself late to win in 9.96.

Then, though, came the electricity of the final itself.

Gatlin got off to a slow-ish start. Even so, midway through the race, Gatlin held the lead.

Midway through the race, Justin Gatlin had the lead in the 2015 worlds 100 over Usain Bolt, in yellow jersey // Getty Images

Then, though, came another stumble.

This time, it was Gatlin, trying to hold off Bolt, in Lane 5.

Maybe 20 meters from the line, Gatlin lost his form.

Bolt won, in 9.79.

Gatlin took second, in 9.80, one-hundredth of a second back.

A stumble about 20 meters out cost Gatlin the race, with Bolt, Lane 5, winning by one-hundredth of a second // Getty Images

Asked Friday at a pre-Pre news conference on how many occasions he has watched the 2015 worlds final, Gatlin said, “Countless times. I can’t lie about it,” adding, “I have to make sure I study what I did wrong and also what I did right, and also my opponents as well.

“It was,” he said, “a learning curve for me.”

Sure. But, specifically, how?

“One thing I learned,” he said, “is you can’t be too greedy in trying to get speed. There’s a certain point in the race where it’s humanly impossible for a person to get any faster. So, for me, it’s just to maintain that speed, stay in control of my technique and just go straight through the finish line.”

And this:

The American sprinter Mike Rodgers typically gets out to a fabulous start. Powell performs the race's technical transitions as well as anyone, ever. The Canadian Andre DeGrasse and Gay are going to, in Gatlin’s words, “come like a bat out of hell toward the end of the race.”

“So,” he said, “these are things that you predict — weeks before the race even starts.”

Gatlin didn’t run the 100 at the 2015 Pre. Instead, he focused on the 200, which he won in a — to use his word —blazing 19.68. Gay won the 100 in a comeback statement, 9.98.

For Gatlin, by design, aiming toward the 2016 U.S. Trials and Rio, this Olympic year has gotten off to a considerably slower start.

“The 100 meters,” Gatlin said, “it’s a crazy race. It’s about balance. You don’t want to take too much away from your start and have a powerful finish, because now you’re behind. So you have to have a good solid start. You have to have a good strong finish.”

He also said, “Going into this season, you see me having good starts. The times haven’t been as blazing as last year. But you can see the strength of me coming on at the end.

“I think maybe in Beijing,” meaning this year’s race, at the May 18 IAAF World Challenge event, “Mike Rodgers had a step or two on me coming out of the blocks. I just stayed calm and just commanded the race the second half.”

Gatlin won that 100 in 9.94, Rodgers crossing in 9.97.

“It’s like blinking,” Gatlin said of the various parts of a well-executed 100.

Meaning this:

The ordinary person typically doesn’t think about blinking but, rather, just does it: “Blink, blink, blink,” he said. In the same way, the time to process what the component parts of that well-run 100, and how and why, is in training. When it’s race day, it’s go time.

Just go. That’s how you run the 100 in the blink of an eye.

Gatlin went on, crafting a new analogy, referring to the champion boxer:  “I’m taking it almost like a Floyd Mayweather kind of — taking it round by round,” adding that he was “learning my technique, learning my craft, sharpening my skills and have my strongest round be the last round, the finals. Last year,” another boxing reference, ”I came out like a Mike Tyson — just swinging, knocking everything down.

“This year, I really — on a time level — don’t have a point to prove. I’ve shown the world I can run consistent, fast time. I’m strong, and I’m dominant. So this time I just want to make sure I get to the big dance, and I’m ready.”

The world lead coming into Saturday’s race at venerable Hayward Field in the 100: 9.91, by Qatar’s Femi Ogunode, at a meet April 22 in Gainesville, Florida.

Gatlin after the 100 with NBC's Lewis Johnson

And with fans, who waited patiently in the sun for autographs and selfies

Gatlin, in Lane 3 on Saturday, broke well, keeping an eye of sorts on Ameer Webb, in Lane 6, who has a solid Hayward history and had been running well, obviously in shape, early this year.

By halfway, the race was essentially over, assuming Gatlin could keep it together.

No problem.

The wind, which had been under the legal limit of 2.0 meters per second, blew just above during the race: 2.6. That made Gatlin's 9.88 wind-aided. After flashing that No. 1 sign, Gatlin jogged with the finish line tape wrapped around his neck, like a Bar Mitzvah streamer -- all to big applause.

Powell took second, in 9.94; Gay, third, in 9.98.

Rodgers got fourth, in 9.99; Ogunode, fifth, in 10.02; Webb, sixth, 10.03. China's Bingtian Su took seventh, 10.04. DeGrasse, who tied for third at least year's worlds, came up eighth, 10.05.

"I think all my races this year have been really calm and really relaxed," Gatlin said afterward, clutching a pair of Kenyan flag-colored flip-flops that a fan had thrown him.

Relaying the essence of many discussions with Mitchell, his coach, Gatlin has sought to make the course for 2016 elegantly simple:

“We just want to win. That is the motto for this year: just win. You know, it’s not about predicting what time is going to win, or [is going to get] the gold medal. It’s about getting on that line, competing, executing your race. Once you come across the line, you look across at the board and can be shocked like everyone else at the good time.”

That is yet more evidence of maturity and experience talking.

A lot of water has run under a lot of bridges since Gatlin was just 22 and won gold at the Athens 2004 Olympics in the 100, in 9.85.

In February, he turned 34.

The “20-something Justin was just happy to be there,” he said.

“You know, I think the 30-something Justin understands that now he is leaving behind a legacy — for himself, his family and his fans. So it’s something that’s a little bit more important. When I step to the line, I’ve got to make sure I’m not too antsy but at the same time not too calm, and not suck myself into the ambiance of the stadium and celebrating before the race is even over.”

Can't we all just -- lower the volume?

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Attention, all you sanctimonious, moralistic, smarter-than-everyone-else know-it-alls who traffic in rumor, half-truth, character assassination and worse when it comes to USA Track & Field, and in particular the effort to win Olympic and world relay medals. Do yourselves a favor, along with everyone who values civility, dialogue and tolerance: give it a rest.

Under the guise of anonymity, the stuff that gets said, and in particular written, about USATF and — now, in the aftermath of last week’s Penn Relays, where one of two U.S. men’s 4x100 teams again had a problem exchanging the baton — is way, way, way beyond the bounds of decency, fair comment and constructive criticism.

To be blunt: a botched handoff is not armageddon.

Tyson Gay, in red, struggles to hand off to Isiah Young at the 2016 Penn Relays // photo courtesy Penn Relays

Nearly 18 years of writing about the Olympic movement has led to a great many track meets. Across those years, U.S. relay difficulties have been duly noted. At the same time, fans and self-professed experts rarely understand or appreciate the real-world difficulties that go into executing the relays, especially a bang-bang event like the 4x100.

If the result is not gold, there’s typically just a lot of yelling and name-calling. It’s as if the United States ought to win every single time simply because that is the American way.

That is thoroughly unrealistic.

And the time has come for everyone to take a deep breath and appreciate the three core Olympic values: friendship, excellence and respect.

In this instance, especially: respect.

Five of the six U.S. relay teams at the 2016 Penn Relays were winners. Five of six.

USATF high performance director Duffy Mahoney // photo courtesy USATF

That sort of mark underscores the goal, as articulated by Duffy Mahoney, USA Track and Field’s chief of sport performance:

“We are trying to build a better mousetrap. We are trying to take a difficult situation and do the best job we can, or a better job, at optimizing the chance of medal attainment,” in particular at the Olympics and world championships.

As the International Olympic Committee notes in a new promotional series, "Sport is respect. It's not all about winning."

Since he took over as USATF chief executive four years ago, Max Siegel has expressly sought to lower the volume of the conversation in and around the sport. He has preached, and practiced, dialogue and cooperation.

So, too, the current board chair, Steve Miller.

The results of Siegel’s first four years are, by any measure, remarkable:

Up, and in a big way: annual budget (to more than $35 million in 2016), federation assets, prize money for elite athletes, partnership agreements, merchandise sales, USATF.tv users and page views.

You can’t be creative at the leadership level when, as the sport used to continually find itself, you’re figuratively scrounging from paycheck to paycheck. A 23-year Nike deal, worth in the neighborhood of $500 million, means the federation finally has financial stability.

USATF chief executive Max Siegel at a news conference in Portland, Ore., in advance of the 2016 world indoor championships // Getty Images

As it happens, beginning in 2016 roughly $1.8 million is due to be distributed to athletes over and above USATF tier and development funding, and other programs. What that means: $10,000 for making the Olympic team as well as bonuses of $10,000, $15,000 and $25,000 for Olympic medals. A top-tier athlete who wins a national title and competes for the national team but does not medal: base pay, $45,000. That same athlete, with an Olympic gold: USATF support of $95,000.

Internationally, the USATF board of directors made the right call in nominating Stephanie Hightower for the policy-making executive council of the sport's international governing body, the IAAF, in place of Bob Hersh. She led a USATF sweep at IAAF balloting last August that also saw the election of Britain’s Seb Coe as president.

Track and field is not — repeat, not — the NFL. Nor the NBA or MLB. Nor even the NHL.

Athletes are not unionized. They are independent contractors. You want the American way? Every athlete is, to a significant extent, his or her own brand — with the exception of certain national-team events, such as the Olympics and, recently, the Penn Relays, where it’s entirely reasonable for Nike to want to appropriately and reasonably leverage its sponsorship. That’s one of the elements it’s paying for, right?

The disconnect is fundamental: track and field is perhaps the only sport in the U.S. Olympic landscape in which there remains a dissident cohort seemingly hell-bent on destroying anything and everything in the pursuit of precisely the sort of petty, personality-oriented politics that used to wrack the U.S. Olympic Committee before a 2003 governance change.

Some of this is tied to the very same underlying issue that for years vexed the USOC: the battle for authority between paid staff and volunteers.

Some of it, especially in the relay landscape, involves rival shoe companies vying for influence, position or an uncertain something vis-a-vis Nike.

Some of it is just nasty and wrong.

Siegel, who is the only African-American chief executive of a national governing body in the U.S. Olympic picture, was targeted in recent months by racially charged emails. So were others at the Indianapolis-based federation. The matter has drawn the attention of law enforcement.

It’s intriguing to draw a contrast between, on the one hand, the almost-total lack of public condemnation from some of the sport’s most outspoken activists after those emails were published and, on the other, the loud voices that proved keenly critical of Siegel and USATF in the aftermath of a rules violation at the 2014 U.S. national indoors.

Further disconcerting: what gets written on message boards at sites such as Lets Run and a Facebook page entitled “I’m tired of USATF and IAAF crippling our sport.” At least on Facebook there are names attached to the comments. The stuff on Let’s Run is so frequently laced with such venom, almost always posted via pen names, that it’s a wonder some enterprising lawyer hasn’t already thought to ask what’s appropriate.

At this year’s Penn Relays, U.S. runners Tyson Gay and Isiah Young could not cleanly execute the third, and final, hand-off in the men’s 4x100. This led to a Let’s Run message-board string relating to the U.S. relays coach entitled, “Fire Dennis Mitchell Now.” The site highlighted the link on its homepage; as of Thursday, five days after the race, the link still sat on the page.

The Let's Run link to a message string sparked by the men's 4x1 at the Penn Relays

In and of itself, the message-string headline is innocuous. But the discussion underneath veers off to allegations of various sorts about Mitchell. Some of it is arguably the worst kind of hearsay. Almost none of it deserves to be aired in a public forum without corroboration and real evidence.

Late in his career as an active athlete, Mitchell served time off for doping. That fact tends to enrage his detractors. Typically, they fail to note, or to care, that the Olympic movement’s rules when it comes to doping make expressly clear that everyone deserves second chances. Especially a guy who was team captain at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Moreover, in 2008, Mitchell testified for the federal government in its case against North Carolina-based coach Trevor Graham, one of the central figures in the BALCO scandal.

As Mitchell said in a 2015 interview, “I was a witness for the good guys. I wasn’t prosecuted. I wasn’t threatened. I wasn’t put on trial for lying. I was a 20-minute witness for the federal government to tell everything about my life and his life that would incriminate him. That’s what I did.”

Mitchell said, referring to the coach-athlete relationship, “I want my athletes to understand I am the caretaker of their dreams. I have no options. It’s all due to what I have been through. It’s because I have been with a coach who has been the opposite — who doesn’t care about your life, your family, your dreams.”

He also said, “I am on this earth to fulfill a life of servitude,” adding, “I am here to coach. I am here to be a beacon to others who are lost. I am comfortable with that. My job is not to be a CEO. I am a nuts-and-bolts guy. That is what God has given me … he didn’t give me the great ability to be other than I am. I have embraced it. It hasn’t come easily. At one time, it was taken away.”

At recent Olympic Games and world championships, the list is long of U.S. relay missed handoffs, disqualifications and other errors. Indeed, after the 2008 Beijing Games, USATF went so far as to commission a report that in significant part sought to identify root causes and fixes.

In the 2008 relay program, on the men's side, of the six guys who ended up in the 4x1 relay pool, only one had run his leg in any of the three relevant meets (Stockholm, London, Monaco) before Beijing: Darvis "Doc" Patton, who ran leg three, and then only in two of the those preceding meets. At the Games in the semifinals, Patton and Gay, anchoring, could not compete an exchange.

It's worth observing that Patton and Gay were not at the relay practice camp prior to the Games. This goes to the issue squarely confronting the American program now: getting together to practice and compete as much as possible.

In essence, Mitchell is, at least through the 2016 Games, a big piece of the fix.

USATF hired him in a bid to bring winning structure and order to a scene that should be simple — getting the stick around the track — but, in fact, is layered with complexities.

Despite the well-publicized glitches, there are signs the U.S. relay program can, genuinely, meet expectations.

Dennis Mitchell at the 122nd Penn Relays last month at Franklin Field // photo USATF

The gold medal-winning U.S. 4x100 men's relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, left to right: Dennis Mitchell, Leroy Burrell, Mike Marsh and Carl Lewis // Getty Images

For instance, the 2015 Penn Relays showed real evidence of development: Notre Dame grad Pat Feeney stepped in on short notice to run a 44.84 anchor to give the U.S. 4x400 team a win over the Bahamas.

At the 2015 World Relays a few days later in the Bahamas, a U.S. foursome — Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Gay and Ryan Bailey — went 37.38 to take down Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans.

There are also signs of just how difficult putting, and keeping, together such a program can be.

Bailey, struggling with his hamstrings, has essentially been MIA since last June’s U.S. nationals in Eugene, where he false-started out of the 100 and then withdrew from the 200.

It’s also the case that, in the relays, stuff happens. At those 2016 Penn Relays, Gay and Young could not connect; the year before, Rogers, Gatlin, Young and Bailey beat the Jamaicans (without Bolt), winning in 38.68.

After this year’s Penn misfire, former U.S. standout Leroy Burrell declared it “might be time for a bit of regime change with the leadership,” adding a moment later, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to get the stick around. I saw thousands of relay teams yesterday — maybe not thousands but hundreds of relay teams get it around. But the professionals can’t. That ’s just not good for our sport.”

His comments came after this from Carl Lewis, the 1980s and 1990s sprint champion, at the USOC media summit in Beverly Hills, California: “America can’t cross the line so something’s going on here. Nine-year-olds never drop the stick.”

A note: Mike Marsh, Burrell, Mitchell and Lewis made up the four who ran a then-world record 37.4 to win gold in the 4x1 relay at the 1992 Barcelona Games. The current mark: 36.84, run by Bolt and the Jamaicans in the London 2012 final.

Another note: three of four on that U.S. 1992 relay were members of the famed Santa Monica Track Club: Marsh, Burrell and Lewis. That leaves -- who?

One obvious follow-on: Marsh, Burrell and Lewis, teammates, could — and did — run together regularly in practice and competition.

The starting place for any elite-level relay discussion has to be this: the Olympics and worlds are not high school or college.

It’s one thing to execute when a men’s 4x1 relay is 45 or 50 seconds. It’s another at the highest level, when the time drops to 38 or even 37-ish seconds.

“I’m tired of people who have been part of Team USA take shots at Team USA,” Gatlin said in response to Burrell’s remarks. “To put us in the same boat as high schoolers is insulting.”

Added Rodgers, “People keep pointing their fingers and downing us, but nobody has ever tried to come out there and help us. Nobody from the past. Not Carl or Leroy. They haven’t been out there. I can’t really respect their opinions because they’re supposed to be leaders in our sport and in the USA, and they’re not coming out there to drop some knowledge on us, so I don’t care what they have to say.”

The next variable: in a perverse way, the U.S. program suffers from a luxury of too much talent. Other countries know all along who the top five or six runners in the 4x1 or 4x4 might be, because there are only that many, and so they can run together, repeatedly. Obviously: practice makes perfect.

In 2015, the United States saw 33 men and 37 women meet the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying standard in the 100. For men, that’s 10.16; for women, 11.32.

At those 2015 World Relays, who took third in the men’s 4x1? Japan. There are not 20 guys in all of Japanese track history who have run 10.16.

Next, and sticking with the men’s 100:

For the 2016 Olympics, there will be six guys in the U.S. men’s relay pool. But officials clearly can’t know until the evening of July 3, after the U.S. Trials men’s 100 has been run at venerable Hayward Field in Eugene, who the first four guys across the line are going to be.

The other two spots? Officials similarly have to wait until other events are run; those two spots might be filled, after discussion, by another 100-meter place finisher, 200-meter runner or even a hurdler or long or triple jumper. Whoever.

Because there’s probability but there literally cannot be certainty about who the top four guys might be, that makes it a virtual impossibility to practice, practice, practice together.

On top of which:

It’s unclear what gets accomplished — other than disruption — when athletes who are sponsored by shoe companies other than Nike get pulled from U.S. national-team relays, and particularly on short notice.

Five years ago, Ato Boldon, the 1990s Olympic sprint medalist who is now widely considered the sport’s premier television analyst, put forth a list of six “rules” he suggested the U.S. program adopt. A number still deserve solid consideration today, including:

“Rule 3 is managers/agents stay the $%&* out of practice/discussions. What YOUR client ‘wants to run’ means nothing.”

The week of the 2015 Penn Relays, adidas pulled no fewer than eight athletes out, citing uniform issues.

At the 2015 Diamond League meet in Monaco, U.S. officials weren’t told that Trell Kimmons, who also is sponsored by adidas, wasn’t going to run until he was literally in the tunnel about to compete.

After the Monaco meet, USATF, working in conjunction with its’ athletes’ advisory committee, worked out an entirely workable compromise, the details of which went out to all involved in late March or early April of this year, meaning everyone had more than ample notice:

In general, athletes would be free to wear what they wanted — both to and from meets, and in practice. The exception: one domestic and one international relay competition, typically USA v. the World at the Penn Relays and Monaco or a similar summer event. At those two events, on the day of competition, athletes would have to wear Nike to and from, and of course at the meet.

On the men’s side in the 100, six of the top 10 Americans run for Nike: Rodgers, Gatlin, Gay, Young, Bailey, Remontay McClain. Strike Bailey. So down to five. All five sent word they were in for Penn.

Wallace Spearmon, who is now unattached, also said he would be in. So, six.

Treyvon Bromell, the 2015 worlds bronze medalist in the 100, is a New Balance guy. USATF got told he would be a no-go.

Kimmons and Marvin Bracy are adidas. No-go, USATF was informed.

On the track, Rodgers, Gatlin and Gay had staked the Americans to the lead before that missed final handoff, Gay to Young.

“I can’t fault them for wanting to sell shoes,” USATF high performance director Mahoney said.

But, he said, “In this case, it’s almost penny-wise, pound-foolish. What are they trying to accomplish?”

U.S. No. 1 overall -- in fast-changing world

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BEIJING — With images of Jesse Owens and Luz Long on the big screens, Owens’ grand-daughter kicked off the final night of the 2015 track and field championships by presenting Usain Bolt his gold medal from the men’s 4x100 relay the night before.

This was, in a nutshell, the past and present of the sport. The future?

Usain Bolt on the medals stand Sunday night // Getty Images

This, probably more than anything, from Seb Coe, the newly elected president of the IAAF, the sport’s governing body, taking over from Lamine Diack of Senegal, who served for 16 years: “We are more than a discussion of test tubes, blood and urine.”

He also said at a Sunday news conference, “We have a sport that is adorned by some of the most super-human outrageously talented people in any sport. Our challenge is to make sure the public know there are other athletes,” not just Bolt, “in our sport.”

This is not — not for a second — to discount the import of doping in track and field. But it’s clear things are changing.

The men’s 100 is often thought to be the dirtiest race in the sport; not so; a read of the historical record shows that, without question, it’s the women’s 1500.

And now that times in that event are often back at 4 minutes and over — the final Tuesday saw a slow, tactical 1500, won by one of the sport’s breakout stars, Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, in 4:08 — more women from more countries can claim a legitimate shot at a medal.

That, actually, is one of the two big take-aways from these 2015 worlds: more athletes from more countries winning medals.

And, despite a disappointing medal performance by the U.S. team, the other: the emerging political influence internationally, concurrent with Coe’s presidency, of USA Track & Field.

Seb Coe, center, at Sunday's news conference, with IAAF general secretary Essar Gabriel, left, and communications director Nick Davies, right

Despite the chronic backbiting within certain circles — sometimes, track and field comes off as the only major sport in the world in which its most passionate adherents seemingly find joy by being so self-destructive — the sport could well be poised for a new era in the United States.

That depends, of course, on a great many factors. But everything is lined up.

Next year’s Rio Games are in a favorable time zone.

USATF has, in the last three years, under the direction of chief executive Max Siegel, made significant revenue leaps.

Beyond that, Eugene, Oregon, last year played host to the World Juniors and a meeting of the IAAF’s ruling council; the 2016 world indoors will be staged in Portland, Oregon; the 2021 world championships back in Eugene.

The 2017 track championships will be in London; in 2019, in Doha, Qatar.

By comparison: the swim world championships have never been held in the United States. This summer’s FINA championships were held in Kazan, Russia; in 2017, the swim worlds will be in Budapest; in 2019, in Gwangju, South Korea.

In elections that preceded this Beijing meet, all five of USATF’s candidates for IAAF office won; USATF president Stephanie Hightower got the highest number of votes, 163, for any candidate running for the IAAF council.

“You’ve got Seb leading the way but the change in the USATF position internationally is extremely significant,” Jill Geer, the USATF spokeswoman, observed Sunday night.

She also said, “Our development has to continue, and we don’t take our status as the world’s No. 1 track and field team for granted, at all,” adding, “No medals are guaranteed.”

From 2013 going back to 2004, the U.S. has been a 25-medal average team at world majors, meaning the Olympics or worlds.

Here, 18 overall, six gold.

Kenya and Jamaica -- with a victory late Sunday in the women's 4x4 relay -- topped the gold count, with seven. Kenya, overall: 16. Jamaica, overall: 12.

The upshot: for the first time at a world championships, dating to 1983, the U.S. finished third or worse in the gold-medal standings.

The last worlds at which the Americans won so few medals: Edmonton 2001, 13 overall, five gold; Athens 1997, 17 overall, six gold.

Here, the Chinese showed they are an emerging track and field threat, with nine medals, seven of them silver.

Ethiopia, Poland, Canada and Germany won eight apiece. Canada won two golds, in men’s pole vault, Shawn Barber, and on Sunday in men’s high jump, Derek Drouin, with a jump of 2.34 meters, or 7 feet, 8 inches.

Canada's Derek Drouin after his winning jump // Getty Images

Some specific examples of how the world is changing in real time:

The women’s 100 hurdles, long the domain of the Americans (and, recently, Australia’s Sally Pearson, who was hurt and did not compete here)?

Your Beijing podium -- Jamaica, Germany, Belarus.

The women’s 200? Gold went to Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands in a time, 21.63, surpassed in history only by the Americans Florence Griffith-Joyner and Marion Jones.

Asked the inevitable question, Schippers said, I’m clean.

Allyson Felix, the U.S. 200 star, didn’t challenge Schippers in that race; instead, Felix ran the 400, cruising to gold Thursday in 49.26, the year’s fastest time. Coe said the conversation ought to begin in earnest now about the possibility of allowing Felix the chance — like Michael Johnson in Atlanta in 1996 — to double in the 200 and 400 next year in Rio.

Without question, Bolt remains the dominant figure in track and field, and has been since his breakout performance here at the Bird’s Nest seven summers ago. Indeed, Coe said no single figure in international sport had captured the public imagination like Bolt since, probably, Muhammad Ali.

Assuming Bolt can keep himself in the good health he showed here, the world gets at least one more run-through of The Bolt Show, next summer in Rio, now with a worthy rival, the American Justin Gatlin, who took silver in both the 100 and 200. After that? Bolt’s sponsors want him to keep going through the London 2017 world championships; Bolt said he will have to think about it.

That relay Saturday night capped yet another incredible performance for Bolt. But for his false start at the Daegu 2011 worlds, he has won everything at a worlds or Olympics since 2008 — 100, 200, 4x1.

That was a familiar storyline.

This, too:

Mo Farah, the British distance star, nailed the triple double — winning the 5 and 10k, just as he had done at the Moscow 2013 worlds and the London 2012 Olympics.

The American Ashton Eaton won the decathlon, setting a new world record, 9045 points. He and his wife, the Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, make up the reigning First Couple of the sport; she won silver in the heptathlon.

Dibaba, after winning the 1500 on Tuesday, took bronze in the 5000 Sunday night, a 1-2-3 Ethiopian sweep. Almaz Ayana broke away with about three laps to go, building a 15-second lead at the bell lap and cutting more than 12 seconds off the world championships record, finishing in 14:26.83.

Senbere Teferi outleaned Dibaba at the line. She finished in 14:44.07, Dibaba seven-hundredths behind that.

For junkies: Ayana covered the last 3000 meters in Sunday’s final quicker than any woman has run 3000 meters in 22 years.

Dibaba’s sister, Tirunesh, had held the world championship record, 14:38.59, set in Helsinki in 2005. Tirunesh Dibaba holds the world record still, 14:11.15, set in Oslo in 2008.

Then, of course, Beijing 2015 saw this all-too-familiar tale:

The U.S. men screwed up the 4x1 relay, a botched third exchange Saturday night from Tyson Gay to Mike Rodgers leading to disqualification after crossing the finish line second, behind Bolt and the Jamaicans.

Going back to 2001, the U.S. men’s 4x1 has failed — falls, collisions, botched handoffs — at nine of 15 major meets. Not good.

Job one is to get the stick around. If the Americans do that, they are almost guaranteed a medal — and, given a strategy that now sees Gatlin running a huge second leg, the real possibility of winning gold, as the U.S. team did in May at the World Relays, with Ryan Bailey anchoring.

Bailey did not qualify for these championships.

It’s not that the U.S. men — and women — didn’t practice. Indeed, all involved, under the direction of relay coach Dennis Mitchell, thought things were lined-up just right after the prelim, in which the same four guys — Treyvon Bromell, Gatlin, Gay, Rodgers — executed just fine.

The plan, practiced and practiced: hand-offs at about 10 to 12 meters in the zone in the prelims, 12 to 14 in the final. The plan, further: 28 steps in the final, 26 in the prelim — the extras accounting for the faster runs in the final, adrenaline and other factors.

Rodgers took responsibility for the essential mistake. He broke too early.

As Jill Geer, the USA Track & Field spokeswoman put it in an interview Sunday night with several reporters, “In the relays, there’s a lot of pressure. everybody feels it,” athletes, coaches, staff.

She added, “They don’t accept a DQ any easier than the public does.”

Geer also noted, appropriately, that medals at this level are a function of three things: preparation, execution and luck, good or bad.

In the women’s 1500 on Tuesday, American Jenny Simpson — the Daegu 2011 gold medalist, the Moscow 2013 runner-up — lost a shoe. She finished 11th, eight-plus seconds behind Genzebe Dibaba.

Men’s decathlon: Trey Hardee — the Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011 champion — got hurt halfway through the 10-event endurance test. He had to pull out.

Women’s 100 hurdles: 2008 Beijing gold and 2012 London silver medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson crashed out; Kendra Harrison was DQ’d; and the 2013 world champion, Brianna Rollins, finished fourth.

Women’s 4x4 relay: the Americans sent out a star-studded lineup, 2012 Olympic 400 champ Sanya Richards-Ross, Natasha Hastings, Felix and Francena McCorory, who had run the year’s fastest pre-Beijing time, 49.83.

Before the race, the four Americans went all Charlie's Angels.

Left to right, before the 4x4 relay: Francena McCorory, Allyson Felix, Natasha Hastings, Sanya Richards-Ross // Photo via Twitter

Felix, running that third leg, then put the Americans in front with a 47.7-second split. But McCorory, windmilling with 90 meters to go, could not hold off Novlene Williams-Mills, and Jamaica won in a 2015-best 3:13.13. The Americans: 3:19.44.

It was the first Jamaican 4x4 relay worlds gold since 2001. The Jamaicans have never won the relay at the Olympics.

After the race: McCorory, Hastings, Felix // Getty Images

What gold looks like // Getty Images

In the men’s 4x4, LaShawn Merritt reliably turned in a winning anchor leg to lead the U.S. to victory in 2:57.82.

Trinidad and Tobago got second, a national-record 2:58.2. The British, just as in the women’s 4x4, took third. The British men: 2:58.51; the British women, a season-best 3:23.62.

Earlier Sunday night, Kenyan men went 1-2 in the men’s 1500, Asbel Kiprop winning in 3:34.4, Elijah Manangoi 23-hundredths back.

The U.S. got three guys into the final, including 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz, second in the 1500 at the Moscow 2013 worlds, third at Daegu 2011.

The American finish: 8-10-11, Centrowitz, Manzano, Robby Andrews.

Manzano said afterward, “The first 800 was fine, but I thought I was just going to gear up like I did two days ago,” in the prelims, riding his trademark kick. “Unfortunately it didn’t quite pan out like that. Sometimes it just clicks in place, and today didn’t quite fit in there.”

A couple hours before that men’s 1500, Geer had said, “We had an awful lot of 4-5-6-7 finishes,” adding that “those are the kind of finishes where we will be drilling in and saying, how do we turn that 4-5-6 into a 1-2-3?”

The men’s 5k on Saturday, for instance: 5-6-7, Galen Rupp, Ben True, Ryan Hill.

Beating Farah? That’s an audacious goal.

But, Geer insisted, there is “nothing systemically wrong” with the U.S. effort.

“Our performance wasn’t necessary all the medals we had planned for or hoped for,” she said.

At the same time, she asserted, “When you look at our performance here, where we did well and maybe didn’t do well, if we can fix, which we absolutely can, even half the areas we had execution mistakes or under-performed, we will be extraordinarily strong in Rio.”

A decathlon record but more U.S. relay woe

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BEIJING — For this world championships year, 2015, the U.S. 4x100 men’s and women’s relay teams had one objective, and one objective only: get the stick around. Really. The trick was not to fall prey to the dropsies, oopsies and bumps in the night that have for far too long at major meets have plagued American entries. With several young runners on the track and and the idea of using the 2015 worlds as an end unto itself but also a means of preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the verdict Saturday: oops, again!

At first, it appeared the Americans had pulled second-place finishes in the 4x1, both times behind the Jamaicans.

The U.S. women turned in a season-best effort.

But then the U.S. men were disqualified for a gruesome-looking third pass, Tyson Gay to Mike Rodgers -- out of the zone.

Tyson Gay after the U.S. DQ // Getty Images

To win at this level, everything has to go right. It's very complex. But at the same time, very simple. Veronica Campbell-Brown, the Jamaican veteran, offered the summation of what they do right and the Americans consistently find a struggle: "We executed well, we finished healthy and we won."

This next-to-last night of the 2015 worlds offered great performances not just on the track but in the field events as well.

In the decathlon, the American Ashton Eaton went into the last event, the 1500, needing a 4:18.25 or better to break his own world record, the 9039 points he put up at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Beyond pride and records, don’t think he didn’t want the record, even if this is a non-Olympic year; it would mean, given bonuses and roll-overs, six-figures plus.

His wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the Canadian silver medalist heptathlete here and at the Moscow 2013 worlds as well, tweeted about an hour before he would run:

To go 4:18, Eaton would have needed to keep to this pace: 1:08 at 400 meters; 2:17, 800; 3:26. 1200; 4:18, finish.

In Eugene in 2012, Eaton had run a personal-best 4:14.48.

Michael Schrader of Germany hit 400 in 1:09.34, Eaton back in the pack; Larbi Bourrada of Algeria 800 in 2:21.56, Eaton one step behind; Bourrada at 1200, stretching it out, 3:31.61; Eaton ran hard down the homestretch, chasing Bourrada, who crossed in 4:16.61.

Eaton, 4:17.52.

Clear by 73-hundredths of a second.

Eaton fell to the track, then got up and staggered toward the sidelines, hands on knees, before climbing over the rail to give his wife a hug. The picture of exhaustion, he literally needed help getting back over the railing.

The new world record: 9045 points.

His performance included a decathlon event world record 45-flat Friday in the 400; Bill Toomey had run 45.63 in 1968.

Ashton Eaton after crossing the finish line in the decathlon 1500 // Getty Images

Winning a world championship and setting a world record looks like this // Getty Images

He said later about Brianne, "She’s — it can’t be summed up in words but I now I would not have done what I did today without her."

He also said about the emotion that welled up after his victory, "The older I get," and he's 27, "the more I realize we're making choices to have the experience we're having. Those choices involve giving up a lot of stuff.

"You just feel like you miss a lot, friends, family ... it is just an accumulation of those feelings, and when you do something you just realize, I am doing it for a reason, and when that reason manifests itself it's pretty emotional."

Canada’s Damian Warner took decathlon silver, 8695, a national record; Rico Freimuth of Germany third, in a personal-best 8561.

"When Ashton broke the world record, the feeling on my skin was unbelievable," Freimuth said, adding, "I told him he is the greatest athlete."

Eaton in the middle of performance // Getty Images for IAAF

Breaking the world record by less than that one second carried with it a slight irony. At the 2014 world indoors in Sopot, Poland, Eaton missed breaking his own heptathlon world record in the final event, the 800, by — one second.

"That was a gutsy 1500, huh?!" Harry Marra, who coaches Eaton husband and wife, said later -- and the results both put up underscore what a world-class coach that Marra, after many years in the sport, continues to be.

Eaton said that before the 1500, "I was doubting myself in the restroom, thinking, I don't know if I can run that." Then he thought, "I have a lot of people who believe in me … and they were all saying, you can do it. I was like, yeah, think I can."

Earlier Saturday evening, Britain’s Mo Farah completed the distance triple double, winning the men’s 5k with a ferocious kick to cross in 13:50.38. He won the 10k earlier in the meet.

Britain's Mo Farah, second from left, racing to victory in the 5k // Getty Images

With the victory, Farah became the 5 and 10k champion at the 2012 Olympics, 2013 worlds and, now, here.

The winning time, 13:50.38, was the slowest in the history of the world championships, dating to 1983. The previous slowest: Bernard Lagat, 13:45.87, at Osaka, Japan, in 2007.

Farah ran the last 400 meters in 52.7 seconds, the last 200 in 26.5. "The important thing," he said, "is to win the race, and I did that."

Americans in the 5k: 5-6-7.

For the first time ever at a world championships, the women’s high jump saw six athletes go over 1.99 meters, or 6 feet, 6-1/4 inches.

Russia’s Maria Kuchina won at 2.01, 6-7, the 0ft-injured Croatian star, Blanka Vlašić, taking second, also at 2.01 (she had one earlier miss, at 1.92, 6-3 1/2), tearfully blowing kisses to the crowd after her last jump.

Russia's Maria Kuchina on the way to winning the women's high jump //

Blanka Vlasic of Croatia tearfully taking second // Getty Images

Vlašić now has two worlds golds and two silvers; she took silver at the Beijing 2008 Games. This was Kuchina’s first worlds; she registered an impressive six first-time clearances Saturday before being stymied at 2.01. Another Russian, Anna Chicherova, the London 2012 gold and Beijing 2008 bronze medalist, took third, also 2.01 but with two earlier misses.

"Today I showed that I am still there, that it is not over," Vlašić said.

Since 2003, meanwhile, there had been 13 major sprint relay competitions before Saturday night — Olympics, world championships and, the last two years, World Relays.

At those 13, U.S. men had botched it up — drops, collisions, falls, hand-offs outside the zone — seven times.

Add in a retroactive doping-related DQ from the Edmonton 2001 worlds, and the scoreboard said eight of 14. Dismal.

U.S. women: five no-go’s going back to 2003, four in the sprints, one collision in the 4x1500 in the Bahamas in 2014.

There’s a women’s retroactive Edmonton 2001 doping-related DQ, too. So that would make it six.

It’s not as if the athletes, coaches and, for that matter, administrators at USA Track & Field are not aware of the challenge.

Indeed, after the 2008 Summer Games here at the Bird’s Nest, USATF commissioned a thorough report on the matter, dubbed Project 30; in those Olympics, both men’s and women’s 4x1 relays dropped the baton on the exchange to the anchor, Torri Edwards to Lauryn Williams, and Darvis Patton to Tyson Gay.

The Project 30 report identified a host of institutional and structural challenges, and potential reforms, including more training camps.

What followed that next summer, at the Berlin 2009 world championships: the women’s 4x1 team DNF’d in the heats,  the men’s 4x1 effort got DQ’d in the rounds.

It hasn’t, of course, been all bad.

At the 2012 London Games, the U.S. women 4x1 ran to gold and a world-record, 40.82.

The U.S. relay program has this year been under the direction of Dennis Mitchell, the Florida-based former sprint champion who is now coach of, among others, Justin Gatlin.

He is so in charge that when, at a pre-meet news conference, U.S. team coaches Delethea Quarles (women) and Edrick Floréal (men) were asked about who might run in the relays, each said, it’s up to Mitchell.

It wouldn’t be a championships without some measure of, ah, observation from many quarters — fans, agents, press reports — about which Americans are doing what, or not, in which relay.

For instance, Tori Bowie, the bronze medalist here in the women’s 100, in 10.86, didn't run. Why?

Bowie is sponsored by adidas; the U.S. team by Nike. At the Diamond League meet earlier this summer in Monaco, to run in the relays you had to wear team gear. Some adidas athletes chose not to -- meaning they chose not to run. For emphasis, the U.S. team did not say, don’t run because you are sponsored by adidas; indeed, the U.S. team said please do run, in national-team gear.

The predictable upshot, this quote from Bowie’s agent, Kimberly Felton: “Of course, she would love to run the relay and support her country.”

Well, sure. But a little context, please, because, as always, things just aren’t black and white.

In Monaco, Bowie attended one practice, according to USATF. Her representatives then informed USATF she would not be competing there and would not be part of the relay pool going forward, including the camp in Japan. To not stay part of the program — that was all from Bowie’s side.

This statement, in full, earlier this week from USATF:

“Our men’s and women’s sprinters were invited to Team USA relay camp in Monaco in mid-July and to Team USA’s overall World Championships training camp in Narita, Japan, this month. In order to ensure quality relay performances and success in Beijing, athletes were required to attend both camps and to actively participate in all practices. With a relatively high number of new, talented sprinters emerging this year, these practices were especially important for practicing exchanges and determining relay position. Tori Bowie’s representatives informed us that she would not compete in Monaco and later said she would not be moving forward with the relay process or attending camp in Narita. We moved forward, practicing with and planning for the athletes in attendance. We look forward to our relays taking the track on Saturday.”

If this all seems like something new, consider:

At those Osaka 2007 worlds, the American sprinter Carmelita Jeter won bronze in the 100, in 11.02, behind Jamaica’s Campbell (not yet married) and another American, Lauryn Williams, both in 11.01. Jeter ran in the 4x1 relay heats; U.S. coaches opted not to use her in the final, believing a different line-up gave the Americans their best chance; the U.S. women’s 4x1 team, no Jeter, won in 41.98.

In Saturday’s prelims, the U.S. women went 42 flat, second only to Jamaica, which went a world-leading 41.84.

The U.S.: English Gardner, Allyson Felix, Jenna Prandini, Jasmine Todd.

Jamaica: Sherone Simpson, Natasha Morrison, Kerron Stewart, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

In the finals, the Americans put out the same line-up; the Jamaicans, Campbell-Brown, Natasha Morrison, Elaine Thompson and Fraser-Pryce.

Felix ran a big second leg. But the Jamaicans had the lead by the time the stick got to Fraser-Pryce. Game over: the Jamaicans won in a world championship-record 41.07, second-fastest time in history, the Americans next in a season-best 41.68. Trinidad and Tobago pulled third, in a national-record 42.03.

On the men’s side:

At the World Relays in May in the Bahamas, the Americans figured out a formula for taking out the Jamaicans: get a big-enough lead so that even Usain Bolt, who ran anchor, couldn’t catch up. In the Bahamas, given a big lead by Justin Gatln and Tyson Gay, running legs two and three, Ryan Bailey held off Bolt for the victory.

Bailey is not here; he false started in his 100 heat at the U.S. nationals and so did not qualify; he then pulled out of the 200.

He would be missed.

In the Bahamas, the U.S. ran 37.38, and Bailey afterward made a throat-slash motion, emphasizing no fear of the Jamaicans.

The U.S. four here: Treyvon Bromell, Gatlin, Gay, Rodgers.

Jamaica in the prelims: Nesta Carter, Asafa Powell, Rasheed Dwyer, Nickel Ashmeade.

Prelim times: Jamaica 37.41, U.S. 37.91.

For the finals, the U.S. lineup stayed the same; for Jamaica, Carter, Powell, Ashmeade, Bolt.

Before it all got underway, Bolt did a little dance on the track, laughing and smiling, as always.

The Americans ran in Lane 6, Jamaicans in 4.

Inexplicably, Bromell almost missed the start; he was just settling into the blocks when the gun went off. He recovered and executed a slick pass to Gatlin, who, again, ran a huge leg two.

But the gap closed, and Bolt powered to victory in 37.36, best in the world this year.

Usain Bolt in a familiar pose: victory // Getty Images

The U.S. appeared to finished second in 37.77 despite that ugly-looking third pass, Gay to Rodgers. Rodgers actually stopped short for just a moment to try to be sure to grab the bright pink stick in the zone.

Rodgers said, "I knew that I had to slow it down a bit because I still did not have the baton. I wanted to stay in the zone."

Job not done.

More practice, more camps -- maybe more Ryan Bailey, it would appear, for 2016.

Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, both in red, trying to make the third pass in the men's 4x1 // Getty Images

Scoreboard for the U.S. men since 2001 in the sprints: 15 races, nine fails. That's a failure rate of 60 percent.

Take out the 2001 doping matter and since 2003 it's eight fails-for-14. Still not good.

"It was very hard to get focused because of all the noise," Gay would say later, an odd thing for a veteran like him to say, adding a moment later, "We are all very upset because of the disqualification."

China, to a great roar, was moved up to second from third, in 38.01. Gatlin earlier in the week had noted the emergence of Chinese sprinters, including Bingtian Su, with a personal-best 9.99 in the 100. It was Su's 26th birthday Saturday, and after the race the crowd at the Bird's Nest serenaded him with a rousing version of "Happy Birthday."

Canada was jumped to third, 38.13.

For Bolt, this relay made for yet another championships triple -- with the exception of his false start at the Daegu 2011 worlds, and that relay in May in the Bahamas, he has won everything at a major meet, Olympics or world championships, since 2008: 100, 200 and the 4x1.

Bolt, later, on the Americans: "It is called pressure. They won the World Relays and the pressure was on them. I told you -- I am coming back here and doing my best."

Echoed Powell, "We came out very strong and I think the U.S. wanted it too bad. They made mistakes," he said, adding,  "We got the stick around, and we won."

Cut Justin Gatlin some slack

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BEIJING — Dear friends and colleagues in the media, especially many of you in the British press: back off. Cut Justin Gatlin some real slack.

Instead of insight and the pursuit of the truth, what far too many of you have delivered instead is a simplistic caricature of events amid the 2015 world track and field championships that, regrettably, has led to the capacity to incite.

This is not good, not good at all, and if something serious happens — the warning shot was a heckler calling out Gatlin’s mom, of all people, while he was on the medal stand Monday night — it’s on you, each and all of you, in your repeated exposition of a binary “good” and “evil” narrative to the men’s 100 meters.

You don’t think such a thing is possible? Review violent events in tennis. All it takes is one crazy person.

Two nights after the epic 100, won by Bolt over Gatlin by one-hundredth of a second, the two were back center stage Tuesday night for the heats of the 200, Bolt winning his race in 20.28, Gatlin his in 20.19, both jogging to the finish.

Justin Gatlin after his 200 heat // Getty Images

Amid the action on the track, Gatlin’s agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, has said that Gatlin is considering a boycott of the British media. Candidly, such action would be fully justified. Generally speaking, their treatment of Gatlin has not just been unfair; it has been mean, indeed venomous.

If much of the British press has collectively decided they have no obligation to be fair to Gatlin — never mind the possibility, no matter how remote, of complimentary — then why would he have an obligation to interact with them?

As Nehemiah said after Sunday's race, in the tunnel underneath the Bird's Nest, "I feel badly about it because the human element is presenting itself in an ugly way. It’s really unfair."

Gatlin is the Athens 2004 Olympic 100 gold medalist, and Nehemiah said, "I just marvel at how prior to his ban and return, everybody loved him. He is a nice guy. He has never changed. Certain people in the media world paint him as an ogre. I’m like -- do you even know this man?"

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a different context but with words so apt here: "A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption."

As the great Jamaican sprint champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce put it after her victory Monday in the women's 100: “My message always is: no matter where you are from, no matter which past you have, it is all about your future and your goals.”

In this instance, an elemental truth ought to be so patently obvious: we do not live in a world where ogres are real, where we have to make up cautionary fairy tales masquerading as "morality plays." The truth itself is good enough, and the truth is that we live in a world that is not binary, not black and white. We live in a world of multilayered grays.

To portray Bolt as “good” and Gatlin, twice banned for doping, as “evil,” is thoroughly and dramatically irresponsible.

Four other guys ran in the 100 semifinals with time off for doping matters: Tyson Gay, Mike Rodgers, Femi Ogunode and Bolt’s own teammate, Asafa Powell. The Jamaicans named Powell a team captain! None of them got anywhere near the same level of vitriol Gatlin did. Why? Because Gatlin is faster?

To be fair: blame hardly rests on everyone in the British media. That would be overly broad. Sean Ingle of the Guardian, for instance, has repeatedly been moderate and straightforward in his reporting, including this report from the 100 final:

"It was inevitable that some would hail this a victory not just for Bolt but for clean athletics. It was understandable too, given Gatlin’s past – which includes a four-year ban for taking the banned steroid testosterone – and his startling present, which has seen him set personal bests in the 100m and 200m at 33.

"The danger is that it is both simplistic and lets other athletes off the hook. Remember 66 athletes at these world championships have served doping bans – including four in the 100m final. One victory from an athlete who has never tested positive will not change that."

This acknowledgement, too, from Tom Fordyce, the BBC's chief sports writer: "This was never good vs evil, as some tried to bill it in advance. Gatlin is a dope cheat, not a serial killer or child abuser."

Let's compare and contrast:

British legend Steve Cram, who has a lifetime of experience in the sport, both as athlete and broadcaster, shouting on the air for the BBC about Bolt’s victory as the Jamaican crossed the line, “Usain Bolt — it’s very, very tight but I think he has done it! He has saved his title, he’s saved his reputation, he may even have saved his sport. A super-hero, if he has won it. He is looking up. Usain Bolt, three times world champion!

“I’m looking around the whole stadium. I’m looking around the media tribunes,” meaning press row. “The former athletes that work in the media. Everybody on their feet.  The result that everybody wanted, except Justin Gatlin, I guess. How could we ever doubt [Bolt]?”

There is so much hyperbole there one hardly knows where to start.

Elsewhere in its pages, The Guardian quoted Cram in the second paragraph of another story on the race, under this headline: “Usain Bolt beats Justin Gatlin to 100m gold in ‘clash of good against evil’ "

More, meantime, from a different wing of the purportedly sober BBC:

No cheering in the press box? Here was the crew from BBC Live 5 Sport:  

The Telegraph, meanwhile, gave play to this tweet from the British 800-meter runner Michael Rimmer, who ran a 1:48.7 in the first round and was out:

The Telegraph, further: “This was a victory that touched a nerve across the sporting world and beyond. Athletics had its hero back and it was time to rejoice.”

The Daily Mail, the day before the race, published a story that said, in the opening paragraph: “ … stand by for sport as a freak show.” In the next paragraph, this reference: “… it’s Usain Bolt against the bearded lady, otherwise known as Justin Gatlin.” Next paragraph: “If Gatlin wins, it will be a terrible indictment of a sport that seems utterly at a loss about how to police itself. If Bolt wins, it will merely reinforce the idea that he is all that stands between athletics and oblivion.”

In its report on the race itself, under a headline that called Gatlin a “drugs cheat,” the Daily Mail declared that “by defeating the unashamed American, banned twice for drugs offenses and utterly repentant, [Bolt] landed a significant blow for clean athletes rallying against the dopers who steal their medals and in turn their money.”

The truth: referring to Gatlin, Nehemiah, speaking in the tunnel under the stadium after the 100 final, stressing, again, "He never stole any money. When he got banned, he never ran another race.”

Let us all be clear:

The best — the very best — that any of us can say about Bolt, who has been a charming and irrepressible champion since his first Olympic gold here at the Bird’s Nest seven years ago, is that he has never tested positive.

We cannot — repeat, not — say with certainty that he is “clean.”

For his part, Gatlin is not “evil.” That is over-the-top ridiculous.

Gatlin is a good guy. He got tagged twice for doping positives. The first, in 2001, came when he was 19, and was for Adderall, the prescription medicine he was taking for the attention-deficit disorder with which he had been diagnosed 10 years before.

The second, in 2006, was for testosterone, and under circumstances that have never been fully explained. The evidence in the matter does not corroborate the story that a massage therapist rubbed steroid cream on Gatlin; that, according to a read of the record, was first suggested by Gatlin’s then-coach Trevor Graham, whose credibility as a central figure in the BALCO matter has to be viewed dimly.

A more likely, if unproven, explanation is that the positive test came from a shot or a pill delivered while Gatlin was under the direct watch of Graham and assistant coach Randall Evans.

This unequivocal acknowledgment: the rules make it plain that Gatlin was liable for what’s in him, however it got there.

The rules were followed. Gatlin was sent away, into the wilderness, for four long years.

A read of the transcripts in the 2007 hearing that followed the 2006 test makes plain — from investigators to the arbitrators themselves — the belief that Gatlin did not knowingly ingest anything illicit.

When he found out he had tested positive, moreover, Gatlin immediately sought to help federal investigator Jeff Novitzky in Novitzky’s investigation of BALCO, agreeing to make undercover phone calls to Graham.

Yet the dozen or so calls Gatlin made got him no credit in his doping case — the rule at the time said that any such “substantial assistance” had to lead directly to an anti-doping agency “discovering or establishing” doping by another person.

Since that didn’t happen, Gatlin got no break.

You can maybe understand why that might -- to those who have long supported Gatlin -- seem a disconnect. Gatlin is a good guy who, when notified he had a problem, tried his very best to help the good guys do the right thing. And what did that get him for his effort? Nothing.

How does that ring in the balance of equities?

The thing about rules is this — without reference to real life, rules can easily become unjust.

This is why the call for lifetime bans is so tiresome.

Sports officials know this full well. Such bans come loaded with an assortment of challenges, including a violation of basic human rights. The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, reminded one and all of this very thing just last Friday, at a news conference here.

We live in the real world, everyone, not a world of judgment and moral high-mindedness where a young man with transgressions in his teens and early 20s has to live, re-live and keep living the past.

Gatlin, again, is now 33.

Who among us has not done things at 19, or 24, that they wish they could replay? Where is that understanding?

Where in the coverage was any attempt to portray the heartbreak Gatlin felt in 2006, and thereafter?

Or the courage it took to remain true to one’s self for the long years he was out of the sport, then the several more it took to build back to world-class speed?

Or Gatlin’s incredibly strong family ties — how his mother and father have been with him throughout the ups, the downs, everything?

That’s also why the heckling of his mother was so very wrong.

As Gatlin said Sunday night when he was asked why he went moments after the race to see his mother, Jeanette, “I didn’t say anything to my mother. Win or lose, that was my plan, to go embrace her. For the simple fact that my mother and my father,” Willie, a Vietnam vet, “have been through my ups and downs with me. For them, it has been a journey. It has been a journey for me. I’m so happy they can be at every championship I have been at. I love them. I love them.”

Where was that? Anywhere?

Or did it cut against the easy caricature of Gatlin as “evil” to write that, in fact, he is a real person, and that each and all of us are on a journey in life fraught with mistakes.

Let the words of Dr. King, as ever, ring out. The beauty — for Justin Gatlin, for all of us — is that life also offers opportunity and redemption.

Usain Bolt: still the 100 king

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BEIJING — Usain Bolt did Sunday night what Usain Bolt does best, winning the men’s 100 meters at the 2015 world track and field championships, crossing just one-hundredth of a second in front of Justin Gatlin.

This was not, for the record, a morality play. This was, simply, an excellent race.

For any and all worried about the future of track and field or who believed that the men’s 100 final at the Bird’s Nest made for a referendum on sport or life itself, be assured — the sun was going to come up Monday morning all over the world, whether Bolt or Gatlin prevailed. All is not right, or wrong, because of one-hundredth of a second.

Usain Bolt crosses just ahead of a flailing Justin Gatlin // Getty Images

And now we all have the delicious anticipation of a year-long build-up to the men’s 100 at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Not to mention the 200 here later this week.

This is all to the good for track and field. Indeed, it’s awesome. The race Sunday drew worldwide attention.

As Gatlin's agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, would say late Sunday night, "It’s what our sport sorely needs. A sport needs a rivalry. A photo finish like that is great for the sport.

"It elevates Bolt even more," Nehemiah said, adding with emphasis, "It elevates Gatlin even more."

Even the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, weighed in, saying after the race, “Congratulation to Usain Bolt for a historic victory. So great to see him winning in the Bird's Nest stadium again."

Gatlin and Bolt ran together down the track until, just a few meters from the end, a few strides out, Gatlin lost his form — a break in the technique that, all along, he had said was his key. Bolt ran hard to the line while Gatlin sought to keep driving and not wipe out.

Bolt: 9.79.

Gatlin: 9.80.

The American Trayvon Bromell and the Canadian Andre DeGrasse tied for third, at 9.911 — a sign, perhaps, that the next generation has arrived. Both are just 20 years old.

"I definitely think this was my hardest race," Bolt would say later.

Referring to Gatlin, Bolt said, "I could see him stumbling."

He cautioned, "All the stumbling, it could have helped him, momentum-wise. I had to lean at the right time, and I did just that."

Gatlin is now 33. Eleven years ago, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, he won the 100. At the 2005 Helsinki world championships, he won the 100 and 200. The next year, he got tagged with a positive test for testosterone under circumstances still not fully explained.

Gatlin spent four years out of the sport, then started working his way back: bronze in the 100 at the London 2012 Games, silver at the Moscow 2013 worlds, in both instances behind Bolt.

Gatlin — under the tutelage of Dennis Mitchell, himself a former champion sprinter — had not lost in 2014 or 2015.

Bolt, meantime, spent most of 2014 injured — he would run one 400 — and had run a limited number of times in 2015, posting a 9.87 earlier this year in London.

The experts thought it would be Gatlin all the way.

Indeed, Paddy Power, the online bookmaker, had installed Gatlin before Sunday’s semifinals and finals as a 5/6 favorite for victory, with Bolt at 11/10. Shortly before the finals themselves, the odds changed: Gatlin 4/9, Bolt 2/1.

Ato Boldon, himself a former champion sprinter who is now an accomplished broadcaster, had declared Saturday on his Facebook page, “Semi finals for tomorrow. Final will shock everyone (except those with two eyes, who use them),” elaborating for the New York Times, “Gatlin is so head and shoulders above anyone else in this field in terms of execution, fitness and readiness that I find it almost comical that it’s being billed as a big showdown. Gatlin is going to put on a clinic, and everyone who makes that 100 final is invited.”

Bolt ultimately put on the clinic — and yet in far too many quarters of the English-speaking press, particularly the British media, the race was depicted as a straightforward contest of “good” and “evil,” the caricature rendering Gatlin as “evil” and Bolt, who has never tested positive, as “good.”

This tweet, for example, from the track and field writer for the Daily Mail:

Nobody was turning off their sets. Just the opposite. For those who might prefer a more sober approach, here was the BBC:

“… The public wants sport to be entertainment and to provide simple lessons in morality. It wants great stories, and the greatest possible story has an alternative narrative to that proposed by Gatlin and Bolt.

“The public wants Gatlin to be the bad guy and Bolt to be the good guy. That's why hundreds of millions around the world will be watching Sunday's final in Beijing — to see the bad guy get beat.”

For one, Gatlin is not a bad guy. He is a good guy. For real — great with kids and with fans of the sport, with a mission to make track and field as interesting to Americans, in particular, as an NFL game. Gatlin cares deeply about track and field, about his country and about his family.

Moments after the race, Gatlin sought out his mother, Jeannette. Asked what he told her, he replied:

"I didn’t say anything to my mother. Win or lose, that was my plan, to go embrace her. For the simple fact that my mother and my father," Willie, a Vietnam vet, "have been through my ups and downs with me. For them, it has been a journey. It has been a journey for me. I’m so happy they can be at every championship I have been at. I love them. I love them."

For another, the 100 is a footrace, not a marker for world peace.

Larry Eder, editor of the website RunBlogRun, which covers road running and track and field, had written, “I have to admit, I get really tired of the good versus evil and the big bad doper stories. It takes less much more work to write about the the pile of horse manure piled on the sport in recent times, than it does to write about one, how to change it, and two, what is actually going on in Beijing.”

Also Sunday, 13 months after giving birth to a son, Reggie, Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill won gold in the heptathlon; Joe Kovacs won the men’s shot put with a fifth-round throw of 21.93 meters, 71 feet 11-1/2 inches, the first American to win at the worlds in six years and Team USA’s first gold here in Beijing; the rounds of the men’s 400 were super-crazy fast, with 18 guys running under 45 seconds, two under 44; and the American Tori Bowie going 10.88 in the first round of the women’s 100, the fastest first-round time ever in the history of the world championships.

As the BBC noted in even the same piece, the “very idea of Gatlin as some harbinger of death for the sport of athletics is darkly absurd and comical in itself, given that generations of drug cheats have been doing their best to kill the sport for half a century.”

Nonetheless, at the post-race news conference, a reporter asserted that "a few of the other athletes in the race" said it was "important" that Bolt win. What did Gatlin think about that?

He replied, "I'm thankful."

"Anything more? Can you be more specific?"

"Specifically, I'm thankful."

"Is that what you have to say? It's an important issue for me, at least."

"Very important? Then I'm thankful."

Next question, from a different reporter: "Rightly or wrongly, do you think the IAAF are grateful you didn't [win]?"

"I'm thankful."

Nehemiah had said just minutes before, referring to the anti-Gatlin venom infecting so many in the media, "It's unfair. I feel badly for him because I know him personally. As much as I say to him, 'Let your running be your refuge,' he’s human. It’s sad we are reading the lowest common denominator."

He added a moment later, "At some point we need to rise above that. Because he himself doesn’t deserve that."

For those intrigued by numerology, Bolt's 9.79 matched exactly the 9.79 that Ben Johnson, of mega-doping fame, ran in Seoul in 1988. Make of that what you will, if anything.

Back in the real world, the unrelenting emphasis from the Daily Mail and others:

Four of Saturday’s seven prelims were won by athletes with doping records: Gatlin, who in addition to his 2006 difficulties also tested positive in 2001 for trace amounts of amphetamine owing to the use of Adderall, his prescription medicine for ADD; the American Tyson Gay, a one-year suspension for steroid use; Femi Ogunode, the Nigerian-born runner who runs for Qatar, two years for a stimulant; and Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, six months for a stimulant.

Another American, Mike Rodgers, also qualified into Sunday’s semifinal; he got nine months off for a stimulant.

All but Ogunode would make it through to Sunday’s final.

In the first of Sunday night’s three semifinals, Bolt almost tripped coming out of the blocks — it looked like his bright yellow shoes with the green stripe on the side were maybe a stitch too long in front — and had to dig to win the heat, which he did in 9.96. DeGrasse, the Pan Am Games and NCAA champ, also crossed in 9.96.

Bromell finished third, in 9.99. Bingtan Su, fourth, became the first Chinese ever to go sub-10, also timed in 9.99.

"As an athlete, you can ask any athlete, any top athlete, if you start doubting yourself, you have already lost the race," Bolt said when asked if the semifinal stumble weighed on him going into the final, adding, "I never doubt myself."

All Gatlin did in the next semifinal was rip off the fastest worlds non-final time ever, 9.77. And he was taking it easy at the end, slowing with 10 meters to go.

Rodgers flashed across second, in a season-best 9.86.

Ogunode took third, in 10-flat.

In the third semi, it was Gay in 9.96, Powell in 9.97.

Thus, into the final, all four Americans: Gatlin, Gay, Rodgers, Bromell.

In the final, Gatlin drew Lane 5, Bolt 7, Gay between them in 6.

Mugging for the cameras before the start, Bolt smiled and made the kind of motion with his hands you might make on Halloween, as if to say, who’s scared?

Gatlin blew two kisses, then — as he had in the prelims and semis — made a show of strength with both fists.

Bolt, since his false start in the 100 at the 2011 Daegu worlds, has been a cautious starter. On Sunday, though, he was out of the blocks in 0.159 seconds; Gatlin, in 0.165.

Gatlin drew ahead, and stayed ahead, until about 80 meters. Then it got tight.

And then Gatlin gave the race away. As he said in a news conference, aiming for the line, he was "trying to get my momentum forward." He got too forward, and lost control.

It made for Gatlin’s first loss since Sept. 6, 2013.

Asked if he believed Gatlin pressed, knowing that Bolt was right there, Nehemiah said, "Extremely. Lost concentration."

He also said, meaning the race itself, "I still think it was epic for the fans."

Bolt, meanwhile, has to be given enormous credit for his performance come championship time — and his ability to keep on being the best in the world over a sustained period. He is now the 100 champion at the 2008 (and 2012) Olympics, and at the 2009, 2013 and 2015 worlds.

Bolt with his meme // Getty Images

He also just turned 29 — two days ago.

And still the king. After the race, camera crews urged him into his “To Di World” pose.

Asked about the difference between 2009, when he ran a world-record 9.58, and now, Bolt said, "I’m the same person. I’m just getting older. It’s about trying to get everything together throughout the season. It’s hard."

And it's going to keep getting harder.

Nehemiah, once more, referring to next year in Rio: "We could still have the ending we want. If [Gatlin] wins that, people will forget about Beijing."

Mo Farah: long-running king of his domain

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BEIJING — The 10,000 meters is why track fans who are track fans are, really, track fans and those who are not track fans, well, aren’t.

It’s 25 laps around the track. The best men in the world run it in about 27 minutes.

It starts slow and finishes fast. Really fast.

It’s a race of will, skill, tactics, tenacity and great theater.

On Saturday at the Bird’s Nest, the first night of the Beijing 2015 world championships, Britain’s Mo Farah affirmed his standing as the best in the world, winning the 10k in 27:01.13. Two Kenyans, Geoffrey Kamworor and Paul Tanui, took second and third. The American Galen Rupp finished fifth.

To the beat of 16 drummers banging on giant red drums along the homestretch, Farah — in his typical style — unleashed a ferocious kick over the last lap and particularly the final 100 to claim his fourth world championship gold. The winning time made for a Bird’s Nest record, by three-hundredths of a second.

Britain's Mo Farah sprinting to victory in the men's 10k // Getty Images

The 10k went down after an evening that saw another jaw-dropping Bird's Nest opening ceremony — no drums this time, as at the start of the Beijing Olympics seven years ago, but plenty of dancing, singing and more — and, then, the first rounds of the men’s 100, dominated by Justin Gatlin in a (slightly) wind-aided 9.83 seconds.

In women’s shot put, Michelle Carter took third, just the second-ever American woman ever to win a medal in the event -- and the American team's first medal of the championships. Germany’s Christina Schwanitz won, China’s Lijiao Gona grabbed second.

The drumbeat heading into Saturday at the Bird's Nest had been doping, doping, doping -- and not much else.

Rupp and the Somali-born Farah, training partners at The Oregon Project under Alberto Salazar, have for months been fending off doping-related inquiries.

Gatlin, in the minds of many in the press, particularly the feral British media, came here as the symbol of a sport ever-afflicted by doping, the consequence of his two failed tests, the first for ADD medication in 2001, the second for a testosterone bust in 2006 — even though a read of the record makes it abundantly plain such a characterization is entirely unfair.

Bolt, meanwhile, returning to the scene of the first of his Olympic golds and his 9.69, then a world record (he would lower it the next year at the Berlin 2009 worlds to 9.58), was cast as all-around good guy, maybe even savior of the sport — a role he explicitly, at a pre-meet news conference, declined.

Even the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, was asked about doping, and not just once, at a Friday news conference.

Bach's answers, meantime, ought to serve as a vivid reminder that the world can be fraught with moral judgments that don’t serve to accomplish much of anything. As Bach made plain, we live in a world of grays, not black and white — of rules, laws, transgressions, sanctions, redemption and opportunity.

Bach was asked whether he — emotionally — could get behind a lifetime ban for doping.

“If you ask me about my emotions,” he said, “I would say clearly yes, a lifetime ban I would still support.”

But, he went on, “I had to learn from different courts and lawyers, like [IAAF president-elect] Sebastian Coe and others who were asking for this, that this is legally just not possible. A lifelong ban would not stand any kind of challenge. We have to accept this.

“… If you have an athlete who has served his suspension, then he has the right to participate in championships. There I can remind you that we made an effort once to change this, for the Olympic Games, with the so-called ‘Osaka rule,’ “ which would have barred participation in the next edition of the Games for an offender, “and again we lost the court case — that this is not possible.

“The suspension is there and afterwards we have to treat these athletes in the same way like the others.”

A few moments later, Bach was given this example — if a civil servant makes a mistake, he or she is out of a job. Why not the same for an elite athlete?

“This is a different kettle of fish,” he said.

“We have had examples for the sentences, the judgments made by courts. It’s a legal question. We are not allowed to go further to take stricter sanctions. It’s a question of human rights. I’m not going to give you a lecture here. It’s a question of human rights, and we must admit these facts.

“Also, we must be conscious of the fact that the fight against doping is not only a question of sanctions. It’s also a question of efficiency of test systems, it’s prevention as well and other measures.”

Doping, doping, doping — and then, finally, Saturday night, some running and throwing. Would it quiet the chatter?

Not on your life.

Gatlin, asked the inevitable question in a post-race interview, said, “Understand it has been 10 years since I’ve done that. It has been 10 years since that happened to me. And I’m here doing better things. So everybody needs to drop it.”

In the first heat of the men’s 100, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, in the inside lane, went 9.95 — the 91st official sub-10 of his career. (Only a skeptic would note that Powell, a former 100 world record-holder, himself served a doping ban.)

Next heat: the American Tyson Gay, into a slight headwind, 10.11 for the victory. (Attention, skeptics: Gay, the American record holder, 9.69, has also served a doping ban.)

Third: Femi Ogunode, the Nigerian-born sprinter who runs for Qatar, took the heat, in 9.99. (Skeptics: Ogunode served a two-year doping ban that ended January, 2014.)

Fourth: the American Trayvon Bromell, in his second international meet, his first major meet, rocked the occasion by bringing back the short shorts. In the outside lane, he eased up and still went 9.91 for the win. Yow.

Fifth: France’s Jimmy Vicault in an easy 9.92, Canadian Andre DeGrasse — the Pan Am Games and NCAA champion from USC — in 9.99.

Sixth: Gatlin gave the camera two kisses, then two fists together in a show of strength, then — in the outside lane — ripped off a wind-aided 9.83. Wind-aided but just barely — the wind .1 over the limit at 2.1 meters per second. The last few meters — Gatlin didn’t even run hard.

“I just did what my coach said," Gatlin said afterward, a reference to Dennis Mitchell, "and go out there and dominate the first part of the race.”

Justin Gatlin cruising to victory in the heats in round one of the men's 100. That's South Africa's Henricho Bruintjies also in the frame, who would finish third in the heat, 24-hundredths  back // Getty Images

Seventh: Bolt made a show for the cameras of “running” with his fingers. Settling in to the blocks, he crossed himself, then pointed to the sky. He then lumbered out of the blocks and jogged to victory in 9.96. The American Mike Rodgers (skeptics — Rodgers also served time off for doping) took second, in 9.97.

Bolt, afterward: “Overall, it was good,” fifth-best overall in qualifying, then conceded not “as great as I want it to be.”

That 9.96 was, for Bolt, fast for an opening round. At those 2009 worlds in Berlin, he went 10.2 in the first round; 2011 worlds in Daegu, South Korea, 10.1; at the London 2012 Olympics, 10.09; at the 2013 worlds in Moscow, 10.07.

Ultimately: Berlin, world record; Daegu, false start and DQ; London, gold; Moscow, gold.

Gatlin took third in 2012, second in 2013.

Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt after round one of the men's 100 // Getty Images

Bolt also said, “I know Gatlin was running very easy but that is how it is. I am not worried.”

Gatlin on Bolt: “He did the same thing in 2012. He ran kind of slow in the first round, picked it up in the semis, first in the finals.”

That’s exactly it — for all the intrigue of the first round, the semifinal heats will be far more telling.

As Maurice Greene, the Sydney 2000 100 gold medalist here as a broadcaster, had said Friday, “The semis is going to be able to tell a lot. It’s really going to show you if Bolt is really ready. Then you will be able to make your decision about the final.”

The 10k is, of course, far too demanding for rounds. It’s one shot, and one shot only.

In Daegu, Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeylan ran the last lap in 52.7; Farah, 53.36. Farah’s silver made for Britain’s first-ever medal in the 10k — but Jeylan was the winner, in 27:13.81.

Since then, in international majors, the 10k has been all Farah: gold in London, gold in Moscow. In 2013, Jeylan took second. The difference: Farah kicked the final 100 in 12.82, Jeylan 13.15.

In London, Rupp took silver; he had been eighth in Berlin in 2009, seventh in Daegu; then took fourth in Moscow.

No non-African born runner had won a medal at a 10k worlds since 1987, when Francesco Panetta of Italy took silver. Could Rupp?

Farah, meanwhile, was seeking to become the first non-Ethiopian multiple worlds 10k winner.

The first lap Saturday went 68:39. Typical.

The field went through one kilometer in 2:52.7, two in 5:32.1, three in 8:15 — a very quick 27:30 pace.

At 5k, 13:40, Rupp running sixth, Farah seventh.

At 6k, 16:22, Rupp up to third, Farah fourth.

By 7k, the 22-year-old Kamworor had made a move into the lead, at 19:06. He is the 2015 world cross-country champion, the 2014 world half-marathon winner. Tanui was second, Farah third, Rupp fourth.

At 8k, Kamworor was timed in 21:49.99, Farah 26 seconds back, Tanui 26-hundredths back. A third Kenyan, Bedan Karoki Muchiri, was 46-hundredths back. Rupp, 62-hundredths. Everyone else — far behind.

With three laps to go, Farah moved to the lead. Kamworor immediately took it back.

They stayed that way with two to go. On the homestretch, the drummers started pounding.

One lap: Farah in front, Kamworor on his shoulder, and the lapped runners getting in the way, Farah stumbling ever-so-much with perhaps 350 meters to go but just as quickly recovering.

Down the homestretch, Farah pulled away. That winning time again: 27:01.13.

Farah in victory // Getty Images

Kamworor — still learning how to run on the track and so a force with which to be reckoned come next year, and the Rio Games — crossed 63-hundredths back.

Kamworor joined two legends of the sport, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe and Kenya’s Paul Tergat, as the only runners to win worlds cross-country gold, worlds half-marathon gold and worlds 10k silver. No one has ever won gold in all three races.

Tanui took third, 1.70 behind.

"We worked as a team trying to beat Mo Farah," Kamworor said. "But he is a tough guy to beat. I learned a lot from this race. It was very tactical, very slow from the beginning but getting faster and faster.

"I must say I am happy for our performance, medal counts, and with such a fierce competitor as Farah, silver counts."

 Muchiri ran a season-best 27:04.77 for fourth, Rupp a season-best 27:08.91 for fifth.

"I'm definitely disappointed," Rupp said, adding, "I just didn't have it today."

Farah ran the last kilometer in 2:28.81, Kamworor in 2:29.46.

"I nearly went down," he said, "but I managed to stay on my feet, thank God, and win the race. I just get to keep doing what I'm good at, and that is running and winning medals for my country.

"I just have to concentrate on winning my races. I do it for my family and the people behind me, for my wife and my kids."

Farah ran the first 5k in 13:40, the second in 13:21.

Seven years ago in Beijing, knocked out of his Olympic heat, Farah ran 13:50.

His last lap Saturday: 54.14 seconds.

Talk amongst yourselves. The 100 final goes down Sunday night.

Hey, maybe USATF is building something big!

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NASSAU, Bahamas — At a team meeting Friday night, before this second edition of the IAAF World Relays got underway, Dennis Mitchell, one of the American team coaches, urged the U.S. runners to consider that each of them was a hammer and this, these Relays, was a construction project. Use your hammer, he said. Build something big. That they did.

The U.S. team dominated these Relays, winning all but three events.

Ben Blankenship of the United States winning the distance medley relay // photo Getty Images and IAAF

On Sunday:

— the women’s 4x8 team won in 8:00.62, a national record and the fastest time in the world in 22 years;

— the women’s 4x4 killed it in a championship-record 3:19.39, with Sanya Richards-Ross running her leg, the third, in 48.79, looking maybe even better than she did in her Olympic-gold year;

— the men’s distance-medley team beat back the Kenyans, winning in a world-record 9:15.5 (it’s a new event);

— the men’s 4x4 team, just like last year, disappointed the home crowd by turning back the Golden Knights of the Bahamas, crossing the line in 2:58.43.

All that followed Saturday’s performance, in which the U.S. men won the 4x1, taking down Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans; the U.S. men won the 4x8, beating the Kenyans; and, of course, the U.S. women set a world record in the (once more, the new event of the) distance medley relay, 10:36.5.

Saturday would have been a perfect 4-for-4 if the U.S. women had won the 4x2. They were way ahead when Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix could not complete the final pass and tumbled to the track; Nigeria ended up winning, in 1:30.52.

On Sunday, the U.S. men’s 4x2 team was DQ’d when Isiah Young and Curtis Mitchell, Man 2 to 3, botched their pass, and the blue baton went skittering to the track and rolled two lanes over.

For the record:

Of the last 11 championships dating back to 2003, world or Olympic, including these Relays, the U.S. men’s 4x1 or 4x2 relay team has been DQ’d or DNF’d eight times — again, eight out of 11.

It’s nine of 12 if you include the retroactive doping DQ for the 2001 4x1 team.

The two bad relay passes aside, a longstanding problem, obviously — could it be that, big-picture, USA Track & Field has its stuff together not just financially but on the track, and in two ways?

One, the decision to send an A-team here to the Bahamas, where it matters to matter?

For those who might say that Kyle Merber, Bryce Spratling, Brandon Johnson and Ben Blankenship — who ran the 1200, 400, 800 and 1600 in the distance medley — aren’t exactly household names, there’s this: the U.S. is so deep, who says these guys aren’t the A team? Let’s see who makes it to Rio come Eugene in 2016.

Two, the on-track performance this early in the 2015 season — not just from the athletes but from the coaches and the behind-the-scenes support staff was, clearly, world class.

The storyline heading out of here is not just that the Americans are good.

It’s that the Americans are, on the track, badass.

So what are the Jamaicans, in particular, going to do about it? The Jamaicans spent a lot of time off the track doing a lot of talking. And?

Yes, the Jamaicans won the 4x2. Awesome.

Also, the Jamaican women, with Veronica Campbell-Brown anchoring, took down Carmelita Jeter and the Americans in the 4x1. The winning time: 42.14. The U.S. women in second: 42.32.

This is all great stuff for track and field. The sport needs rivalry. Now it has one, and it has characters to fulfill that rivalry, all the way through the world championships in late August in Beijing.

This is what's called 'rivalry': the winning Jamaican 4x2 team, Nickel Ashmeade, Rasheed Dwyer, Jason Livermore, Warren Weir, standing up for Usain Bolt on the podium // photo Getty Images and IAAF

Because let’s be real — this first day of the Relays got all of one paragraph in the New York Times, and filed by the Associated Press, at that. To be taken seriously, and on a day when Mayweather-Pacquiao, the Kentucky Derby, the NBA and NHL playoffs and even more crowded for space on the sports calendar, track and field needs to be noticed.

If it was an interesting choice of sportsmanship, to say the least, for Ryan Bailey to have gone all Bolt lightning-pose and then throat-slash at the end of the 4x1 Saturday night, well, what’s done is done.

Remember, it was Bolt who called out Justin Gatlin in particular at the news conference the day before these Relays, suggesting that Gatlin had a penchant for doing a lot of talking but not saying a lot. And it was Bolt, a well-known advocate of lifetime bans for doping cheats, who about 10 days ago said that in his opinion the reduced one-year sanction Tyson Gay received in 2013 for a doping offense — after cooperating with authorities — was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Bolt also said in that report, “I feel like he let me down, and he let the sport down.”

At a late-night news conference Saturday, Gay — with Bolt listening — said, among other things, “I ask for forgiveness for a mistake.”

Bolt was in no mood Saturday for lightheartedness. He spent most of the news conference with his arms and legs crossed, his body language signaling that while the Americans might have won this round, there is more to come.

Indeed, the stats showed that while Bailey ran an 8.83 anchor, Bolt — who is still far from in top shape — ran an 8.65.

If those times seem like freak-of-nature times for both, there’s this: the batons at these Relays had transponders in them.

The precision for which that allows may be such that all of us have to recalibrate the way we think of relay splits going forward.

A focused, determined Bolt can only be good for track and field.

Plus, a Bolt who has the support of his team — all the better.

This from Warren Weir on Twitter:

  Followed by this:

Also, this from Asafa Powell on Twitter:

Ah, Powell.

In a world in which you’re going to argue that a doping offense deserves a lifetime ban, where does Powell fall? His 18-month ban for oxilofrine in a supplement called Epiphany D1 was cut to six, and he returned to action last year; this weekend, he ran at a meet in Guadalupe, running a windy 10.08 in the 100.

Theory in dealing with doping stuff is one thing. Dealing with real-world problems on the track is another.

The Jamaicans have to confront a challenge with the U.S. men’s 4x1 relay, and surely they know it.

Bolt is the fastest man in history in the 100, at 9.58.

But Gay is tied for second-fastest, at 9.69, and Gatlin is fifth-fastest, at 9.77. Mike Rodgers, who ran the lead-off leg Saturday, is in a three-way tie for the 12th-fastest 100 of all-time, at 9.85.

The strategy is clearly this: give Bailey a big-enough lead so that not even Bolt can catch up.

What are the Jamaicans to do? They are now playing catch-up. Who are they going to counter with?

Blake has also run a 9.69. Powell has a 9.72 and a 9.74, but those times were seven and eight years ago, respectively.

If the Jamaicans keep Nesta Carter in the lead, and then — to counter Gatlin and Gay in positions two and three — run Bolt and Blake in their two and three spots, who would run anchor? Weir?

Warren Weir after the winning 4x2 // photo Getty Images and IAAF

Given a chance to run Bolt Sunday night in the anchor slot against Gatlin in the 4x2, the Jamaicans put in Weir. Bolt did not run at all on Sunday.

There are lots and lots of reasons why that could, and plausibly should, be the case.

There’s this, though — for track and field to be the real deal again, it needs its biggest stars to run against its each other, and as much as possible.

What the U.S. men’s 4x2 DQ Sunday obscured is this: Gatlin got the stick in seventh. He finished in third.

Oh, to have seen Gatlin run clean against Weir, right? Or … Bolt.

The championships in Bejing go down in late August.

Let’s get it on.

Bolt gets crowd love, a dose of U.S. "respect"

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NASSAU, Bahamas — It’s better, as the saying goes, in the Bahamas. They held the first edition of the IAAF World Relays here last year, to resounding success, such success that they resolved to do it all over again. They needed just one more thing, really, to make the show even bigger and better, the biggest star of them all, the guy who is, more or less track and field in these first years of the 21st century, and when Usain Bolt took the baton and kicked it into gear on the blue Mondo track, you would have thought Thomas A. Robinson Stadium was going to lift off into the moonlit sky.

“Success is a powerful magnet,” Lamine Diack, the president of the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, had said Friday, at a news conference, adding that officials were “therefore delighted” that Bolt was on hand for this second edition of the Relays.

Usain Bolt running Saturday in the World Relays // photo Getty Images

Make no mistake — Bolt’s appearance this year is testament not only to his desire to gear up for the world championships in August in Beijing but, as well, to last year’s demonstrated success of the Relays and the word-of-mouth on the circuit of how much fun the event is for all involved.

When the junkanoo band is rocking, as it was for the men’s 4x800, and it’s the last lap and Robbie Andrews of the United States is kicking like his hair is on fire, and he crosses the line in a competition-record 7:04.84, pointing the baton in victory at his teammates, and fireworks go off — this is what track and field not only should be, but could be, all the time.

Same just a few minutes later when the U.S. women — with but one Olympic champion in the event, Sanya Richards-Ross, the 400-meter specialist — blows away the field to set a new world record, 10:36.5, in the distance medley, which goes 1200, 400, 800, 1600. The other three: Treniere Moser, Ajee Wilson, Shannon Rowbury.

Even the losers — well, the non-winners — almost always have a great time at the Relays. The Canadian men’s 4x100 team was disqualified for the tiny matter of not having the baton that they give you at the beginning of the race and insist you have at the end. Said anchorman Justyn Warner: “I didn’t have a stick with me. It stayed somewhere in the beginning of the race. I just ran for fun. It is a great meet!”

Remember, that’s almost always. On the final handoff of what looked like a sure U.S. win in the women’s 4x2, Jeneba Tarmoh and Felix could not execute and both tumbled to the track. Nigeria won, in 1:30.52.

For those keeping score: that’s 2-for-2 for the U.S. women in botched exchanges at the World Relays, one this year and one in 2014. Last year, Katie Mackey fell down after a collision with the Australians.

More scoreboard: of 11 major championships dating to the Paris 2003 worlds, the U.S. woman have had relay screw-ups in five. Add in the retroactive doping DQ from Edmonton 2001, and it’s six of 12. That’s not good math.

Back to the positive: these Relays provide evidence of how a win-win can work all around.

For track and field, it’s evidence of how innovation can spin the sport forward. The IAAF took a chance in adding an event to the calendar — amid grumbling that it was too early in the year, that a relay-only event was too novel, that overall it came with too many risks.

“This is an event on which we took a chance,” Frankie Fredericks, the great 1990s sprinter from the west African nation of Namibia who is now a member of both the policy-making IAAF council and the International Olympic Committee. “We need to take more chances in our sport.”

Credit Diack, in particular, with pushing ahead.

He said the Relays make for “the latest example of [track and field’s] continued evolution as a sport.”

Last year’s meet saw three world records and 37 national marks. The Jamaican 4x200 team, with Yohan Blake anchoring, lowered the world record to 1:18.63, taking five-hundredths off a mark that had stood for 20 years — by a Santa Monica Track Club team anchored by none other than Carl Lewis.

Blake is not here this year. Bolt is.

The pre-meet news conference Friday — spurred by last year’s success perhaps, maybe by the draw of Bolt — drew double the reporters it saw last year.

For the government and businesses of the Bahamas, meanwhile, the Relays are pure gold.

Last year, the Robinson track had to be resurfaced and various other capital improvements had to be made, Lionel Haven, the managing director of the local organizing committee said. All told, investment totaled $9 million. Balanced against that: a survey done after the meet by a Canadian firm totaled positive economic impact at $26 million.

That is pretty easy math.

Last year, Haven said, was a “unique year,” because of the various start-up investments — which, obviously won’t be required this time around.

You can almost hear the cash registers cha-chinging around Nassau.

At the same time, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. So the third edition of the Relays won’t go down until 2017, again back here in Nassau.

“It’s going to become even better,” year by year, Fredericks said, adding, “Now people realize this is serious.”

And, at the same time, serious fun — the very thing track and field needs.

As Bolt said Friday, “Any time I compete in the Caribbean, I get so much love.”

The scene at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium as Bolt runs in the heats // photo Getty Images

He made his first on-track appearance, for the first heats of the men’s 4x1, at 7:37 p.m.

The crowd, sensing a disturbance in the force, went nuts.

Ever the showman, Bolt played to the audience, walking up and down the backstretch, waving a little bit, before taking up his position at the top of the stretch in Lane 8. When the camera showed him on the big screen, he smiled a big smile and blew a kiss. That drew a big roar.

The locals saved a bigger roar for the Bahamas team, which by unfortunate luck drew Heat 1, against the Jamaicans.

Alfred Higgs of the Bahamas, a 23-year-old who three years ago ran a personal-best 10.4 in the 100, can one day tell his grandchildren he ran against Bolt.

As they lined it up, and Bolt was blowing them that big kiss, the crowd yelled, “242!” — the area code for the Bahamas, showing some local love. Bingo the Potcake dog, the 2015 Relays mascot, sporting a “242” headband, shook it down.

Alas for the men from the Bahamas, they finished sixth in a field of seven, in 39.32, and would not qualify for the finals.

Bolt had an easy jog across the line in first, the Jamaicans finishing a world-leading 38.07.

In the third of the three heats, the Americans — with Mike Rodgers running the first leg, Justin Gatlin the second, Tyson Gay the third, something of a three-way doping redemption tour in under 40 seconds — took back the world lead, in 37.87, Ryan Bailey (no doping issues) way ahead by the time he got the baton for the anchor leg.

This proved a marked improvement over 2014, when the U.S. 4x1 team had been disqualified in the heats, the result of a bad pass, Trell Kimmons to Rakieem Salaam, Man 2 to 3 on the backstretch.

The final saw the same four Americans in Lane 5.

The Jamaicans — the same four as well, Nesta Carter, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Nickel Ashmeade, Bolt — lined up in Lane 4.

As the gun went off, Bolt waited, hands on his hips. The noise in the stadium: 242-style loud.

At 300, he settled into position.

He never had a chance.

Rodgers to Gatlin to Gay had put Bailey in such a commanding lead — through 300, the U.S. was at 28.55 — and then Bailey ripped off an 8.83-second finishing leg. The batons this year have transponders in them so the timing is incredibly precise.

The Americans won in 37.38, Bolt — who, incredibly, was gaining on Bailey — and Jamaicans second in 37.68.

Candidly, both teams executed below-average passes as the stick went around the track. But there were no drops.

Who, meanwhile, was that at the finish line doing a brief exposition of the famed “lightning Bolt” phase? Could that have been Bailey? And was that, at the end, the briefest turn into a throat slash?

“It felt great,” Bailey said.

“I mean, victory always feels good,” Gay said.

Gatlin, whom Bolt had singled out before the race for talking, and a lot, spoke afterward only of how the Americans and Jamaicans had mutual “respect.”

That was for public consumption, of course.

Here was Bolt: “It’s not the first time I’ve come second.”

Here was the real tell: in the news conference, as he listened to questions and answers, Bolt’s body language said more than any words. His arms and legs were crossed. He is angry, frustrated and determined.

Bolt, second from right, at the closing news conference

That is all good stuff.

You think Saturday night was good for track and field?

It was great.

“All it says,” Bolt said when asked what second-place here means, “is we need to go back to the drawing board.

“All it says is we are excited for the showdown in Berlin.” He quickly realized his mistake and threw his hands above his head. “Beijing, sorry.”