The United States women’s 4×400-meter relay team has been disqualified from the opening heat at the World Championships in Athletics after third-runner Quanera Hayes’ unexplained baton pass to announcer Alexis Holmes.
The DQ means the American women, who have won gold in the event at every world championships since 2015 and 10 times in total, will not get a chance to compete in Sunday’s medal race in Budapest, Hungary.
As any 4×400 relay runner knows, baton passes are visual exchanges. It’s much easier than the handoff in the 4 x 100m relay, which is a blind pass and requires quite a bit of practice to get a sense of comfort and timing between the runners.
Yet somehow, when Hayes reached the exchange, Holmes looked back briefly and made the stick touch her fingers but did not come close to fully grasping them before turning and looking ahead. By the time she realized she didn’t have the wand and Hayes gave it to her, they were both out of the exchange area, which meant an automatic disqualification.
Holmes, who was part of the gold-medal-winning mixed 4×400 team earlier in the week, finished the race, but it didn’t matter.
Chatting with NBC Sports’ Louis Johnson after the race and learning they were both fired, the women were strangely uninterested in things. It is possible that it did not quite settle down, but Holmes did not take responsibility and instead tried to say that perhaps the team had not had enough training together. But then again, the first rule of 4×400 racing is to see the stick in your hand before you come back forward for a sprint. Holmes has almost certainly been running that relay for years, since her high school days, and she knows it.
Holmes said: “This is the first time we’ve distributed hands together on a big stage, and it was close between us and Britain, so maybe we panicked a bit, I don’t know.”
Hayes responded, “It was an unfortunate accident at that moment. We rehearsed.”
The disqualification means that these four women have not only denied themselves a world class medal, but also cost their teammates such as Gabby Thomas or Shamir Little, who might have made it to the final.