Doc Patton, After the Fall: A Bleacher Report Q & A
Somewhere I'm sure—likely in a sports bar or in a blogger's basement—a dart board with the hastily-glued-on image of Darvis "Doc" Patton hangs on a wall in effigy.
In some circles, Patton has become the face of all that is wrong with USA's 4x100m relay teams. In the last three global championships, Doc Patton has played an unfortunate and uncanny role in the drama that has become the US men's 4x100 relay program.
In all three instances, the USA has failed to complete the race and in all three instances—at fault or not—Patton's hand has been on the stick in the critical moment of unraveling.
The most recent misadventure came in the 4x100 finals of last week's World Championships when Patton made contact with a British runner and fell to the track just before his hand-off to anchor, Walter Dix. Obviously, Team USA did not finish and Jamaica rode Usain Bolt's sizzling anchor leg to a new world record, 37.04.
The collision also negated the fortunes of the British and the Trinidad-and-Tobago teams.
As the final track event of the championships, it left a lingering bitterness in the craw of many American track fans.
Suffering a separated collarbone, Patton had to be lifted off the track. But beyond his obvious physical pain, Patton's aching soul was the component most in need of a lift. He and his teammates had been counting on this race as a chance at redemption.
For Patton, it was an agonizing ordeal which he eloquently articulated in his blog, Stuck Between the Lines.
What gets lost in the fickle passion and second-guessing of the casual fan, however, is Patton's sterling record as an athlete and relay runner.
He was part of the gold medal 4x100 relay team as well as the 200m silver medalist at the 2003 World Championships. In the 2004 Olympics, Patton's relay team brought home silver. And again in the 2007 World Championships, he helped his 4x100 team to another gold medal.
As a collegian at TCU, his 4x100 relay team finished first in the NCAA Championships and he has a 26' - 7" long jump to his credit.
Patton is also a two-time USA national champion in the 200m
With those credentials, who wouldn't consider Doc for relay duty at the top level?
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Doc Patton a few relevant questions, via email.
Here is that interview:
Bleacher Report: Doc, how are you coming along in your recovery (separated collarbone) from the fall?
Doc Patton: My recovery is progressing as well as can be expected. The good news is that I should be back in action in 4-6 weeks instead of 6-8 weeks like I originally thought. I know it is only two weeks difference, but every little bit helps. The other good news (I guess) is that a collarbone separation is a fairly typical injury when a fall is involved - it's just a random kind of injury for a guy in track and field.
BR: Where did the nickname “Doc” originate?
DP: I probably should call my mom on this one because I've heard about three stories in my lifetime and I'm honestly not sure which one is right, lol. The story that sticks in my head the most is that my nickname came from a family friend. Supposedly I was sitting on the floor watching TV when he called my name. I never responded, so he said, "Doc!" And I turned around. And I swear there were some McDonald's french fries involved in there somewhere lol! Either way you slice it, I knew Doc before I knew Darvis.
BR: Talk briefly about Jon Drummond’s relay camp…
DP: The relay camp was about three things. 1) perfecting exchanges 2) building morale and 3) establishing some team camaraderie. We worked hard and I think that the camp was time well spent. All of those elements were in place on September 4...all the way up until two and half exchanges.
BR: You had a disappointing finish in the 200m semis. Were you able to shake that off a day before the 4x1 relay final?
DP: I was definitely dissatisfied with my performance in the 200m semis and I took time to blow off that steam. I felt great after the heats - I literally jogged 20.80 - I felt great warming up, and then I just burned too much gas on the curve. Bouncing back was a must. I had to be ready for the 4x1, you know? It is one thing to compete individually in track and field - it is an individual sport - so when you have the opportunity...the privilege to compete as part of a team event like the relay, it isn't about YOU anymore. It takes four guys to get that stick around and your head has to be in the game. You have to be committed to doing your part for your team and your country, so there's no time for feeling sorry for yourself. What makes track different from every other sport is that we have one opportunity to make something happen. You either do or you don't, but you still have one chance. I couldn't let my disappointment ruin that chance - especially with all that was riding on this year's relay. The world was waiting for a match up and we were ready to give it them.
Who wins the 2012 London Games men's 4x100m final?
BR: Considering the three gold medals and that the men’s 4x1 mishap was not related to the actual baton exchange, what is the current state of our relays program?
DP: I think your answer is in the question. This year's debacle had nothing to do with our program. It had everything to do with extremely bad, untimely luck. Our relay program is great - and it is where it needs to be. I think folks feel obligated to rehash and reevaluate things when they don't go perfectly. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with looking for opportunities to get better - that type of diligence is what sustains success. But at some point you have to realize that sport happens. It is unscripted and you cannot plan for every single contingency. Our relay team works hard. And if anything, our performance, albeit abbreviated, proved that out. The exchanges were smooth. The speed was there, and so was the focus. We just hit a bump in the road - literally.
BR: What criteria were used to select the 4x100 finals team?
DP: There are several factors that go into selecting a relay pool. A lot of folks figure that you can just slap your four fastest 100m guys on the track and BOOM you've got a winning team. In some cases, that scenario may work, but more often than not, there's a lot more to consider than speed. Fortunately for Team USA, we have depth in the sprints - the 100m and the 200m - and having specialists from both disciplines makes for a great 4x1. I was not the coach, but I know that those factors played a huge role in the team selection, along with general relay and major championship experience. And when you have rounds and several athletes competing in individual events, you have to consider their legs. You can't run your guys or girls into the ground. You have to rotate folks in and out so that you have fresh legs and focus when the rubber meets the road.
BR: After replaying the video of that incident at the end of your 4x1 leg, I found it to be inconclusive. What actually happened down there?
DP: As I was coming around the curve approaching the final exchange zone, Great Britain's outgoing sprinter left two steps too early and when he took off he inadvertently swung his arm into my lane, which completely knocked me off balance and caused me to fall. Just like that it was over. A few fractions of a second, the slight of a hand, and things changed for us.
BR: From your perspective, did the first two exchanges (Kimmons to Gatlin, Gatlin to Patton) go well?
DP: I've been told if the exchange is made - it is a good one. Now slow motion replay and freeze frames have changed that perspective over the years, lol but yes - our exchanges were very good - efficient - and they helped put us in a great position to contend for and win the relay.
BR: It appeared you were running about even with Yohan Blake coming into that final exchange. What were your thoughts just before contact with Aikines-Aryeetey?
DP: My thoughts? Get my guy the stick and give him a chance to win this thing for us. Those were my thoughts exactly - especially since I had the opportunity to talk to Dennis Mitchell - one of the greatest 3rd leg runners in history - right before I went out onto the track. He pulled me to the side and told me that it was my job to make sure my guy got the stick in the lead, that third leg was the hardest leg to run, and that it was up to me to make the difference...so I had a different kind of fire in me when I was coming around that curve. I was trying to make things happen for my team.
BR: Considering the global spotlight, many athletes would find the weight of these recent disappointments almost too much to bear. How have you managed to hold up?
DP: Trust me, I had my meltdown. I was frustrated and angry and I felt like "why me again?" But you know, in this sport - in life for that matter - you have to know how to build a sturdy bridge and get over stuff. You don't do yourself any justice by harping on the should've, would've, could haves. You live, you learn, and you move on understanding that you have another chance at greatness somewhere in your future. And truth be told, I have family and friends - great family and friends - that truly support me, no matter the outcome of my competitions. So when you have that kind of love in your life, getting over disappointments and letdowns is that much easier, and I know I'm blessed to have people like that in my corner.
BR: In the short relay, do you prefer to run the straight or the turn?
DP: They call me a hybrid - I have run all four legs on the international stage - but I prefer 3rd leg. I feel like it is the difference-maker leg.
BR: Doc, at 34, you’ve been around sprinting for awhile now – and some say you’re a late bloomer. Is there still time for you to find redemption on the track?
DP: I will concede, I am a veteran - I think that is the only thing I can call myself after 11 years on the track - but I'm only 33, [oops...sorry, Doc ] and I will be for another three months lol. Honestly, I don't think I'm a late bloomer. I've had a fairly successful and consistent career while healthy. Injury is really the only thing that has gotten in my way over the years. But redemption? Maybe that isn't the right word. Either way, trust me I still have a lot left in the tank and if God says the same, I'll be on the podium again in 2012.
BR: Who do you see as the future of the short sprints?
DP: The future? That's a broad question. We've got a ton a great guys in the sprints and I can name more than a few dudes under 25 who are poised to make a mark in the 100m and 200m. Many of them are already doing it. You've got Usain Bolt, Walter Dix, Yohan Blake, Christophe Lemaitre...man the list goes on. Track and field is an exciting place to be right now and I'm looking forward to watching these guys do their thing.
BR: Name your top three favorite track venues.
DP: My top three venues are Zurich, Brussels, and Stockholm.
BR: You be the coach. Assuming everyone is healthy, and using currently active runners, assemble for me your best USA 4x100 relay team.
DP: There are enough chefs in the kitchen, so I'll leave the relay team assembly to the coaches. I'll just be ready to go if and when they call me to spike it up.
BR: Thanks, Doc!
Doc Patton lives with his wife Crystal and daughter Dakota in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Visit Doc's cool website.
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