By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) - In the serenity of Monaco, U.S. sprinters are striving this week to find ways to end a long 4x100 meters relay jinx, and displace Jamaica's relay kings, their coach says.
"Everyone is looking at times and individual speeds," U.S. relays coach Jon Drummond told Reuters in a phone call from the American camp in Monaco.
"That's not what wins relays. The baton exchange is what wins relays."
So while Jamaica may have the fastest man in the world in Usain Bolt, world champion Yohan Blake and former 100 meters record holder Asafa Powell, Drummond believes he has a unit that can match the world-record holding islanders.
"Absolutely," he said, speaking of a pool that includes the world's second fastest man Tyson Gay, 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin and a mixture of young and experienced sprinters.
Fast guys do not always win, the 2000 Olympic relay gold medallist noted.
"It only takes one interruption to change that dynamic," Drummond said.
"It is not about just four fast guys running. It is about four fast guys being able to get the stick around."
That has been America's downfall. For three successive global meetings, the 2008 Olympic Games and the past two world championships, the United States have either dropped the baton or been disqualified.
"So people can think what they want," Drummond said of a U.S.-Jamaica showdown, "but the race never happened."
The outcry was so great after the U.S. men's and women's 4x100 squads both dropped batons in the 2008 Olympics that America revamped its relay program and appointed Drummond as relays coach in 2011.
Even then misfortune struck as Darvis Patton collided with British anchor Harry Aikines-Aryeetey as he went to exchange the baton at the 2011 world championships.
The mishap marked the sixth time in nine global opportunities since 2000 that the United States men have failed to win athletics' most famous relay. Only once, in the 2004 Games, were they outrun.
"The reality is we had a lot of things happen," Drummond said, noting injuries that forced relay changes not to mention poor exchanges and other problems.
Equally important, the sprinter-turned-coach said, "when you look at the talent around the world, they are catching up and getting better."
Not only have the Jamaicans won the past three global titles, Britain claimed the 2004 Olympic gold, leaving the United States without a Games gold in the 4x100 since Drummond led off the Americans in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The U.S. women must go back even further - to 1996 - for an Olympic 4x100 gold medal. They won world titles in 2007 and 2011.
Success has come more frequently in the 4x400 with the men winning the past six global titles and the women the past four.
Drummond would say little about how he plans to right the shorter relays, especially without injured reigning Olympic double silver medallist Walter Dix who did not make the U.S. team.
The coach declined comment on who would likely anchor any of the relay squads or even who is under consideration.
"I will know who the teams are and who will be running in the finals when we leave here," he said of the camp, which ends on Saturday.
A hint could come on Friday when both the U.S. men and women contest the 4x100 in Monaco's Diamond League meeting.
(Reporting By Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina)