We’re roughly half way through with the track and field portion of the Games and though there has been a medal here and there,US troops haven’t really gotten untracked – until today. The team that’s expected to leave with the most medals in t&f, had struggled a bit to this point, as several athletes didn’t quite hit the mark. That happens in big time meets as we’ve seen with athletes from many countries, but you had to figure that at some point things would change – today was that day.
I knew it would be a good day when I looked at the schedule and saw that the morning would start with the decathlon, because that means WR holder Ashton Eaton and World champion Trey Hardee. Both competed true to form going one, two in the 100 to take the lead in the multi, and finishing the day that way as Eaton (4661) & Hardee (4441) lead the way into day two of competition.
In between that opening 100 and the closing 400 of the decathlon, there were more qualifying rounds and a few more finals. In qualifying, the men got another glimpse of the sprinters as the 200 semis were run with no surprises as Jamaicans Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and WarrenWeir moved on to the final along with Wallace Spearmon (USA), Christophe Lemaitre (Fra), and Churandy Martina (NED) – the other men that will be in medal contention. The final will be easy to call as the three Jamaicans will be burning the turn, with the other three chasing in the stretch – a bad strategy for the three chasers! The rounds have found the Jamaicans using the turn to build momentum and relaxing in the straight to qualify easily. Left unchecked on the turn they could sweep – because there will be no relaxing tomorrow. Anyone wanting to be in the medal chase better start their chasing on the turn – poor it’s turn out the lights the party’s over!
There was also qualifying in the women’s 800, with the primary athletes making it through including Americans Alysia Montano and Geena Gall who both moved on to the semis. Then in the women’s 1500 semis Morgan Uceny stayed near the front of semi one from the start then finished in second to move on to the final. Just behind her Shannon Rowbury moved up mid race then finished fifth to also automatically move to the final – giving the US two women in the final of what should be a fast and close affair, with a good shot to see an American medal. Finally in the men’s 5000 meters, all three Americans moved on to the finals as Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lamong and Galen Rupp look to repeat the success we saw in the 10000 meters. Still a very good day of qualifying for the US contingent. A good day that spilled over to the finals – some very hot finals.
First up was the women’s 400H where Lashinda Demus was looking to match her World Championships gold with Olympic gold. Demus went strong down the backstretch as usual, but Russian Natalya Antyuhk was also flying, and came off the turn ahead of Demus. Demus fought hard in the straight and slowly closed the gap, but Antyuhk would not let her by, crossing the line in 52.70 just ahead of Demus’ 52.77. The time was the fastest in the world this year and just missed the OR of 52.64. It was the closest finish since Flintoff King (53.17) v Ledovskaya (53.18) in Seoul ’88, and every bit as exciting. Behind them the top five women all scored seasons or personal bests with Zuzana Hejnova (CZE, 53.38), Kaliese Spencer (JAM, 53.66) and Georgeanne Moline (USA, 53.92) all running under 54 seconds -equaling Sydney ’00 and Athens ’04 for depth.
That was just the beginning, because next up was the highly anticipated showdown in the women’s 200 where Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) was looking for her third straight title and Allyson Felix (USA) was looking to upgrade from two previous silvers. To add to the drama, both had been in the 100 where VCB took bronze and Felix fifth. They would be joined by 100 gold and silver medalists Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce (JAM) and Carmelita Jeter (USA) AND 400 meter champion Sanya Richards Ross. Now that’s the definition of a loaded field. The key was the turn and the best were Felix and Fraser Pryce, as they scorched the bend and left the others to fight for bronze. Mid way up the stretch, Felix took over the fight for gold, powering across the line in a swift 21.88. Fraser Pryce took silver in a PR 22.09, once again, as in the 100, just ahead of Jeter at 22.14. This time VCB finished outside the medals in 4th with Richards Ross in 5th.
The final race on the track was the men’s 110H, and with Liu Xiang (CHN) injured in the rounds, the medals looked to be decided among WR holder and defending champion Dayron Robles (CUB), World champion Jason Richardson (USA), and yearly leader Aries Merritt (USA). The race for gold was decided almost immediately as Merritt burst from the blocks and surged ahead – and never looked back. The battle for silver took an ugly turn mid race as Robles pulled up with a hamstring injury, leaving Richardson to run free behind Merritt. Merritt crossed the line in 12.92 – just missing the OR of 12.91 set by Liu in Athens. Richardson earned silver in 13.04 with Jamaican Hansle Parchment getting bronze in an NR 13.12. The time was the 5th sub 13 for Merritt as the Big Three at the start of the year has become the Dynamic Duo of Merritt & Richardson. Oh, this time the hurdler will get the headlines unlike ’96 when the sprinter Johnson stole the headlines from the hurdler Johnson as this Merritt moves from the shadow of the sprinter Merritt!
The last final to be decided was the women’s long jump where favorite Brittney Reese nailed things down early hitting her winning leap of 7.12m/23′ 4.25″ in the second round on her first legal jump. Only silver medalist Elena Sokolova jumped over 7m going 7.07m/23′ 2.25″ in the second round just before Reese closed the door. Reese moved up from her fifth place finish in Beijing, and added to titles she won in Berlin and Daegu. To end the day on a good note for the US, teammate Janay Deloach came through in the fifth round to take the bronze – the seventh medal won by the US on Wednesday. It was a good day.
Let’s see how good tomorrow is, because it’s going to be another hot day. The final five events of the decathlon. Qualifying begins in the men’s 4×4 and women’s 4×1. And huge finals in the men’s triple jump, 800, and 200 – that means Christian Taylor & Will Claye, David Rudisha, and Usain Bolt. So, another late night to see what gets to NBC, then 2am to catch the early London action.