(Reuters) - When relay teams drop batons and make other costly mistakes, they are usually criticized for lack of practice.
U.S. teams have suffered from a number of high-profile gaffes in recent Olympics and world championships but American great Carl Lewis, who won five global gold medals in the 4x100 meters relay, says practice is not the key.
”Everyone thinks it is about practice,“ Lewis told Reuters. ”It is not about practice, it’s about understanding the system and then doing it in front of a live audience.
“It’s more important to get races than it is to get practice.”
That is one reason the University of Houston coach, along with new U.S. relays coach Orin Richburg, is a strong advocate of expanding top U.S. sprinters’ participation in domestic relays during the American spring.
“You need to do it in live meets,” said Lewis, whose Houston men’s 4x100m relay team ranks among the nation’s top five.
As the athletes run around the track you will not hear Lewis’s charges call “stick” as they prepare to pass the baton.
“That is too much to listen for,” said Lewis.
”If you are calling stick, then your mind is worrying about something behind you. The race is in front of you.
“We do a blind pass. It’s all designed for the outgoing person to run to a spot and the incoming person to try to beat him to that spot.”
Lewis is no fan either of resting sprinters on U.S. relay teams, changing the order of runners and using alternates in the early rounds of global competitions.
Noting today’s sprinters face fewer rounds than in his day when he said he regularly ran four 100s, four 200s, two days of long jumping and all three relay rounds, Lewis questioned how they can be tired.
”I don’t like it,“ said Lewis. ”Because what they do is (have) every agent screaming to get their kid in to run.
“What it is about is trying to get someone a medal. We should be focused on winning.”
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond