RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It shouldn't be that hard. The Americans make it look that way.
The latest U.S. debacle in the Olympic relays reached its end point Saturday, when track officials rejected the protest from the American team and upheld their disqualification from the 4x100-meter men's relay race from the night before. The United States crossed the line third, but Canada keeps the bronze medal.
At issue: The baton exchange between Mike Rodgers and Justin Gatlin between the first and second legs.
According to rule 170.7 of the track and field handbook, it's illegal for the baton to touch the second runner's hand before it passes the yellow line that marks the start of the zone. Overhead shots of the exchange show Gatlin doing just that.
The U.S. men now are medal-less in the last three Olympics in a race that was virtually made for the country with the deepest collection of sprint talent, even with Usain Bolt running against them. Tyson Gay and Darvis "Doc" Patton fumbled the baton in 2008. In 2012, the U.S. held on for silver, only to get that one stripped because of Gay's subsequent doping positive.
In all, this equals 10 finishes outside the medals since 1995 in either world championships or the Olympics.
"I couldn't even shed a tear I was so shocked," said Gay, who has been around for many of the most recent failures. "I couldn't even cry. Damn, bad luck again. It's weird. I don't get it."
It gets shoved in their face, time and time again. In a feature previewing the race, NBC had four of the U.S. sprinters look at some of the nightmares that have preceded them.
"Unfortunately, we've come to be defined by failure," said the coach, Dennis Mitchell.
Mitchell's naming to his post raised some eyebrows, not only because he's been part of the problems of the recent past, but because he has a doping history, too.
Carl Lewis, who won two Olympic relay golds, has been a longtime critic of the way USA Track and Field does relays. Asked about the issue in March, he laid out the problems, saying the U.S. relay game is fraught with infighting among agents, volunteers and administration.
"USATF needs to stop the joking, stop the crap," Lewis said. "What they need to do is get a retired college coach who's going to tell the agent to kiss off, who's going to tell the athletes to get in line and who knows how to put together a relay."
Some say the pressure of holding off Bolt, year in and year out, takes its toll and takes people out of their comfort zone.
True, but there was one little problem with that Friday.
"Take Bolt out of it, and we still would've been beaten by Japan," said Mike Tucci, a high school coach in Delaware, who has produced champion after champion, often by not even using his fastest runners.
Not a single man on Japan's second-place team made an individual sprint final at the Olympics. Japan focused on winning a medal in the relays, perfected the handoff and took it to the line. Legally.
Not that all has gone wrong for the United States, either in the relays or the track meet itself. Even without the men's relay, the United States entered the weekend with 27 medals, on pace to surpass the 29 it took home from London four years ago.
The women's team won the 4x100, but it overcame a lot along the way.
First, there was a dropped baton in preliminaries that came because a Brazilian runner bumped Allyson Felix in the passing zone. That led to a protest, then a bizarre rerun of the heat, alone on the track.
The U.S. made the final, and Tianna Bartoletta, Felix, English Gardner and Tori Bowie blew away Jamaica for gold. They recorded the second-fastest time in history (41.01 seconds) despite a less-than-perfect exchange between Gardner and Bowie, who had to reach back twice to get the baton.
It helps being so much faster, and USATF was touting the success story with this fun anecdote: Shortly before the warm-up, Gardner opened her bag to discover there was only one shoe in there. As luck had it, Felix had an extra pair — although a half-size bigger — and loaned it to Gardner.
That's a great story, but only because they won.
For the men, let the second-guessing begin.
"Some of my kids are coming up to me mad, saying 'Why do we keep losing?'" said Tucci, the high school coach. "When it happens once, it's a mental thing or a goofy situation. When it's twice, you cringe a little bit. When it happens three or four times, you start thinking it's systematic."