The U.S. women's 4x400 meter relay team was disqualified from their opening-round heat at the World Athletics Championships after an inexcusable baton pass from third runner Quanera Hayes to anchor 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 the chance to compete in the medal race on Sunday in Budapest, Hungary.
As any 4x400 relay runner knows, the baton passes are visual exchanges. It is far easier than the handoff for the 4x100m relay, which is a blind pass and requires a good deal of practice to get a sense of comfort and timing between sprinters.
Great Britain win the final women's 4x400m qualifying heat. The United States finished second, but were disqualified for an exchange outside of the zone.#WorldAthleticsChamps pic.twitter.com/WLcyNmuyNl
— NBC Olympics & Paralympics (@NBCOlympics) August 26, 2023
Yet somehow, as Hayes came to the exchange zone, Holmes looked back briefly and had the baton touch her fingers but didn't come close to fully grasping it before she turned away and looked forward. By the time she realized she didn't have the baton and Hayes got it to her, they were well outside the exchange zone, an automatic disqualification.
Holmes, who was part of the gold medal-winning mixed 4x400 team earlier in the week, did finish the race, but it didn't matter.
Chatting with NBC Sports' Lewis Johnson after the race and knowing they'd been ousted, the women were oddly blasé about things. It's possible it hadn't quite sunk in, but Holmes did not take responsibility and instead tried to say that perhaps the team hadn't had enough practice together. But again — the number one rule in the 4x400 is to see the baton into your hand before you turn back forward to sprint. Holmes has almost certainly been running this relay for years, back to her high school days, and knows that.
"This is our first time doing handoffs together on a big stage and it was close between us and Britain, so maybe we just panicked a little bit, I don't know," Holmes said.
Hayes countered, "It was a mishap in the moment. We practiced."
The disqualification means that not only did those four women rob themselves of a global medal, but it also cost teammates like Gabby Thomas or Shamier Little, who may have run the final.