Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Clank. The American men dropped the baton.

Ping. The American women did, too.

Dang. This Olympic track meet is turning into a downright disaster for the Stars & Stripes.

Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay misconnected on the final pass in preliminaries of the 400-meter relay Thursday. Then, Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams did the same thing for the women's team.

Two American gold-medal contenders didn't even advance to the finals. Two more chances for the U.S. track team to turn around a disappointing Olympics were lost on the rain-soaked track at the Bird's Nest.

"I take full blame for it," Gay said of his bad exchange with Patton. "I kind of feel I let them down."

The drop means Gay, the defending world champion in the 100 and 200, will leave Beijing not just empty-handed, but without even running in a final.

And Williams will now go down as the American involved in not one but two faulty Olympic exchanges that cost her team medals. In 2004, she misconnected with Marion Jones in the final and the Americans were disqualified for making the exchange outside the 20-meter handoff zone.

"If people want to assess the blame to me, that's OK," Williams said. "I mean, I can take whatever it is that people are going to dish out. We had good chemistry. The hand was back there. She was there. I don't know what happened."

Had they advanced in either race, the Americans may not have been favored to win gold considering the world records Jamaica's Usain Bolt has set over the past week at the Bird's Nest and the way Jamaica has dominated the women's sprints as well.

Still, they would have been an interesting races.

Not anymore.

Moments before the relay, American Allyson Felix finished second behind Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown in the women's 200, adding her name to a long list of U.S. favorites who have disappointed.

Felix (200), Gay (100, 200), Bernard Lagat (1,500), Brad Walker (pole vault) and Reese Hoffa (shot put) are American 2007 world champions who failed to win gold in their events this year. Of that list, only Felix got any kind of medal. Lolo Jones and Sanya Richards were other American favorites who came up short.

Now add the men's relay team, which failed to reach the Olympic final for the first time since 1912. And the women, who missed for the first time since 1948.

For teams like the United States, first-round relay heats are supposed to be about as routine as making the bed, filled with safe passes and no risks.

In the men's race, things were going smoothly for the United States through the first two legs. But when Patton closed in on Gay and Gay reached backward, they couldn't connect. Patton made a final lunge to get the stick to Gay before he ran out of the passing zone, but as Gay's hand closed, the stick wasn't in it. It bounced off the rain-slickened track, and the crowd gasped.

Patton leaned over and retrieved the stick. He and Gay spoke. Gay walked away, then Travis Padgett came over to talk to Patton, who carried the baton off the track to make room for the next race.

Gay said he felt the baton.

"Then I went to grab it and there was nothing," he said. "It's kind of the way it's been happening to me this Olympics."

The women were also in good shape heading into the final exchange, but Williams didn't receive the baton from Edwards. It fell to the ground as Edwards yelled and covered her face with her hands. Williams went back to retrieve it and finished the race — but the Americans were dead last.

Gay, meanwhile, may not have even been running in the first round had he done better in the men's 100. But he failed to make it out of semifinals — a stunner of sorts and a sign that the hamstring he hurt at Olympic trials may not be fully healed.

Gay skipped the American training camp in Dalian, China, earlier this month where the team spent two long sessions working on handoffs. American coaches said it was no big deal. Gay said he and Patton worked on exchanges in Beijing and didn't miss a single handoff in practice.

Patton said he was every bit as much to blame.

"That's Tyson Gay," he said. "He's a humble guy, but I know it's my job to get the guy the baton and I didn't do that."