BIRMINGHAM, England — Darvis Patton ran through his list of mishaps in the 400-meter relay, almost reliving each scene with a sense of detachment.
He doesn’t dwell on those misadventures, because it will only hold him back.
In three straight major meets, the sprinter nicknamed “Doc” was at the heart of the squad’s relay woes. He fumbled an exchange at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was part of a lane infraction that disqualified the team in Berlin the following year and then fell down when he was bumped by another sprinter at last year’s world championships in South Korea.
Those are all distant memories.
“I’m resilient,” said the 34-year-old Patton, who’s a member of the relay pool for London. “I want to be out there again.”
Of all the quirky things that have happened to him on the track, what transpired in South Korea was difficult to take.
Heading into that meet, Patton was in a good place. He had just found out his wife was pregnant with their second child and was at peace with past relay failures.
Rounding the final bend that night, all he had to do was hand off the baton and a medal was a lock. That dark cloud hovering over the relay team would finally disperse. It seemed nothing could stop him.
Only something did as Patton bumped into British anchor Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and fell hard to the track.
Yet another relay disaster for the Americans. And another involving Patton.
“If it happened to anyone else, I think it would be considered bad luck or just unfortunate. But it happened to me,” Patton said. “That makes the third consecutive time that Doc Patton has been a part of the ‘mishaps’ of the U.S. relay team. That’s what stinks.”
Patton was lying on the track in agony when the Jamaicans set the world record of 37.04 seconds. He separated his shoulder in that tumble, one that would take six weeks to heal.
Shortly after he returned home, his wife, who was three months along, lost the baby.
“We go in and there was no sign (on the heartbeat monitor), just a solid line. The loudest silence I’ve ever heard,” he said. “It put things in perspective. I had to take care of my wife who was grieving horribly.
“Trying to support someone when you don’t completely understand yourself is one of the toughest things to do in life.”
The relay squads had a trial run last week at a meet in Monaco, with the red squad featuring the likes of Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay holding off the blue team that was led by Patton.
Each team got the baton around the track — and these days, that’s important to note.
“It’s nice, but we’ve got to do it when it counts,” said Patton, who lives in Texas and has a 3-year-old daughter. “Right now, the U.S. wants to see us doing that at the games.”
One of the women’s squads struggled in the relay in Monaco, with Jeneba Tarmoh failing to hand the baton over to Carmelita Jeter on the final leg for the red team. They were disqualified, while the blue squad won.
Because of all the problems in the past, the men’s and women’s relay programs have come under heavy scrutiny. USA Track and Field has restructured the way the team trains for relays to try to ensure more success.
At this point, though, the biggest obstacle may be psychological.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Gay said. “We have a bigger camera lens looking at us versus everyone else. The media is always asking questions about dropping the stick. It kind of sticks in the back of your mind a little bit.”
Patton knows that all too well. He can’t type his name into YouTube without his relay foibles and falls popping up.
But he could get the call to run in London.
No, he expects to get the call in London.
“I do,” Patton said. “If I’m not chosen, I’m there to support them.”
As one of the veterans on the squad, Patton had a chat with the team about that very subject. He told his fellow sprinters that their egos needed to be checked for this relay squad to get back on track.
“Put your pride aside for 37 seconds,” Patton said. “For 37 seconds on the track, we have to be best buds.”
Reflecting on past mishaps is almost therapeutic for Patton. He doesn’t shy away from what went wrong.
In 2008, Patton let go of the baton when he thought it was in Gay’s hand. It wasn’t and clanked to the track.
“Slowest drop in the history of baton drops,” he said. “That’s one I wish I could have back.”
The miscue a year later at the worlds in Berlin was difficult to swallow, too. They were making safe exchanges to simply get the baton around. But the final pass between Shawn Crawford and Patton was determined to have come outside the allowable zone. They were disqualified after a protest was filed by Britain.
“Lane violation,” Patton said, shaking his head. “Officials didn’t see it. It was called by someone else. But we broke the rule.”
And then there was South Korea, when everything was going so well before Patton ran into Aikines-Aryeetey. The U.S. was in line to win a medal, maybe not gold as Usain Bolt led the Jamaicans to a record-setting time, but possibly silver.
Those thoughts soon vanished. Patton was about to hand off to Walter Dix when he suddenly went tumbling head-over-spikes after hitting his knee against the arm of Aikines-Aryeetey.
“The biggest dude in track and field, that’s who I decided to run in to,” Patton said. “But you can’t think about it. Keep moving on. I’m at peace.”
And then there’s this: He and his wife are expecting another baby, which is due in January.
“I’m happy as a pig in mud right now,” Patton said. “Life is good.”
Article courtesy of:
Pat Graham, Sports Writer
The Associated Press