BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis harshly criticized U.S. track and field relays on Tuesday.
U.S. 4x100m and 4x400m relays have struggled with coaching controversies and changes and declining results at recent major championships.
“USATF needs to stop the joking, stop the crap,” Lewis said at a U.S. Olympic Committee media summit. “What they need to do is get a retired college coach who is going to tell an agent that gets off, who is going to tell the athlete to get in line and know how to put together a 4×100 and know how to put together a relay. I don’t care if he’s 75. Get a retired college coach. And that’s it. Stop these little games with the people that are spinning. It’s crap. It’s embarrassing what’s happened with the relay program. It’s embarrassing we can’t even get a baton around.”
Lewis, now a coach where he used to sprint at the University of Houston, said he’s also coached athletes ages 6 to 18 and never seen a baton hit the ground at a meet.
“America can’t cross the line, so something’s going on here,” Lewis said. “Nine-year-olds never drop the stick.”
A U.S. relay hasn’t dropped a baton at an Olympics or Worlds since 2009, but other problems have led to defeats, in particular poor handoffs. Jamaica’s rise in the last decade hasn’t helped, either.
Last week, USA Track and Field said Lewis’ 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic teammate Dennis Mitchell resigned as a national team relays coach due to a new rule that prohibits the coach of an athlete likely to be part of the relay pool from coaching a relay.
Mitchell coaches the U.S.’ top male sprinter, Justin Gatlin.
“USATF’s High Performance Executive Committee revised the criteria for our relay coach selection in recent months,” USATF spokesperson Jill Geer said in an email. “Since that time, they have been active in leading the new process and direction for the relays, including coaching roles and responsibilities.”
USATF has not announced a replacement for Mitchell. Lewis said he’s never been interested.
“I don’t have the time to do it,” Lewis said, adding that USATF has never asked if he’s interested in coaching relays.
Lewis did not specifically mention Mitchell on Tuesday.
“The focus is not on being the best team,” Lewis said. “It’s all the drama. The agents in the middle. It’s a mess. Somebody needs to tell them all to go sit in the stands.”
Lewis said college coaches are a good option because “they’re not mixed in the middle of the mess.”
Mitchell coached the U.S. sprint relays at the IAAF World Relays in 2014 and 2015 and was the relays head coach at the August 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
In August, the U.S. earned one of a possible four gold medals in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays at the World Championships for a second straight time.
Mitchell’s original appointment as relays coach in 2014 was a controversial one, as during his sprint career he served a two-year ban for testing positive for testosterone in 1998.
In 2012, a U.S. Olympic relays coach was another of Lewis’ Olympic teammates — Jon Drummond. In 2014, Drummond was banned eight years after arbitrators found he assisted two-time Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay‘s use of banned substances.