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While an individual athletic event like the 100 metres sprint or the 110 metres hurdles has its own charm, there is nothing quite so exciting as a relay- the 4x 100 is an example. Watching a relay squad combining as a team, retrieving lost ground in future legs and having sychronised exchange of batons from one leg to the next makes for thrilling moments for the spectators. Yet there has to be a great deal of co-ordination between the team members. As kids we were taught that the cardinal sin in running a relay race is to drop the baton. The team gets automatically disqualified and all your efforts go in vain.

It was shocking to see some terrible mix ups in the eagerly awaited 4 x 100 relay for men yesterday at the Beijing Olympics. This was not even the finals of the event but the heats to qualify for a place in the finals. The much vaunted US mens team came a shocker when their anchor, Tyson Gay failed to cleanly pick up the baton from Patton. They dropped more than the baton- they dropped the chance to redeem themselves in the track and field events -where the US has not done as well as expected.

A stunned crowd watched in the same race, Craig Pickering of Great Britain taking off too early and collecting the baton after he had passed the designated space. The result-his team was disqualified too. And they were the winners of the event in the last Olympics at Athens.

We hadn’t seen the last of such mix ups though. Only 25 minutes later, we were horrified to see the US womens team in their 4 x 100 relay do exactly the same thing as the men. They dropped the baton in the transfer to the last leg. Lauryn Williams dropped the baton during her exchange with Torri Edwards and one more event was blown.

They are not novices and these are basics yet how do champion athletes make such mistakes? Is it due to the sheer presure of the occassion or a lack of practice? Is it due to over confidence or complacency that basics are taken for granted.

No one can pin point the real reason for sure but there are lessons to be learnt for all. Even the best of teams can come a cropper due to someone goofing somewhere.

You may have the best potential in the world but that is of no consequence -if you don’t perform.

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This is Post No: 263 of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.

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