In the last week-plus of Olympic competition in track and field, perception and reality have collided for Team USA.
The perception is that we've managed to muck up several key events. Some people have taken that "key event letdown" and applied it, somewhat unfairly, to the entire team.
The reality is that, at the close of competition Thursday night, we had 20 medals, which was exactly twice that of the second-best team. We are likely to match our medal total from the 1996 Olympics Games - one that was considered a huge success for Team USA - and far exceed that of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Our women, in particular, have done extremely well. They already have won eight medals, which more than they won in all of '96 (seven), 2000 (four) and 2004 (six).
But we won't have nearly as many gold medals as we've won the last two World Championships, and gold is what gets it done.
The other reality is, we could win the gold medal in every single track and field event, but if we don't win a single thing in the sprints and relays, the public will view our performance as a disaster. When we drop the baton in back-to-back relay races, the public views our performance as a disaster.
The Olympics are about good timing, good luck, good preparation and good execution. All those things have to come together. There is no denying we have had more than our share of bad luck. Several medal-contending athletes got hurt at or right before these Games, but they're not the only ones. Think Liu Xiang, Susanna Kallur and Paula Radcliffe. The public sometimes sees these things and sees only failure, rather than the nature of the Games.
In the men's and women's 200, I'm not sure there was any stopping the Jamaican juggernaut, at least not when it comes to gold medals. Nobody from any country was going to beat 9.69 and 19.30. The women's 200 was won in the fastest time this century.
The relays and the overall perception of our weak points are another matter.
I have received emails from people across the country, particularly about the relays. They all say more or less the same thing: the dropped batons were reflective of a lack of preparation, lack of professionalism, and of leadership. I agree. Dropping a baton isn't bad luck, it's bad execution. Responsibility for the relay debacle lies with many people and many groups, from administration to coaches to athletes. That's why, when these Games are completed, we will conduct a comprehensive review of all our programs. It will include assessments from inside and outside the USATF family, and included in the assessment will be the way in which we select, train and coach our relays.
Ultimately, the athletes on the track are the only ones who can successfully pass the stick around the track. But they need the proper leadership and preparation. These are professional athletes who are the best in their field, and anybody who ever ran a high school relay cringes when that baton hits the track. It reminds me of NBA players who have horrendous free-throw percentages. All it takes is repetition, preparation and focus to make a free throw. The same goes for baton-passing. As an organization, we owe it to our athletes to provide the preparation they need to succeed. We will do everything we can to figure out what went wrong and to make sure it doesn't happen again.
In the next three days, I will watch the remainder of track competition as a fan and as the person responsible for leading the programs that produce the World's #1 Track & Field Team. When the men's marathon concludes on Sunday, we'll still be the World's #1 Team in terms of medal count. We can be a much better team. And we will be.