Just as the men’s 400 produced the most exciting result of the opening weekend, the women’s race produced one of Rio’s biggest shocks, as favorite Allyson Felix (49.51) was upset by the lunging/diving finish of Bahamian Shaunae Miller (49.44). While everyone has been focused on the diving finish of Miller, the truth is this race was never supposed to be this close. Felix routinely splits 48’s in the 4×4, and went 47.9 last year at Worlds.
However, as the athletes went down the backstretch, and Felix lost ground to Miller and the field, it was clear that the Achilles injury that stopped Felix from making the 200 team, was still affecting her. Take nothing away from Miller, who like van Niekerk in the men’s race ran like an athlete possessed. She put the kind of pressure on Felix that was required to win. In the end Felix began to surge, and Miller began to falter, and as the finish line approached the drama of the moment became clear – Felix might lose!
Reminding us all that this IS the Olympics, and one should expect the unexpected. Because the slightest faulter can result in defeat. And athletes daring to believe that they too have a shot at gold sometimes find their dreams coming true.
Nowhere was that more evident than the men’s pole vault where Brazil’s own Thiago daSilva found himself going head to head with indoor WR holder and defending Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie. Add the bar continued to climb daSilva found himself attempting heights he’d never cleared before – while Lavillenie was in heights only he among the contestants has cleared previously. Which is why when Lavillenie missed at 6.03m and daSilva cleared for the win, it was every bit as huge a surprise as Felix’ loss earlier in the evening. Two of the biggest surprises ever seen in the sport.
All the surprises were not of the total upset variety however. In the women’s 1500, a pedestrian pace for the first half mile opened the door for Kenyan Faith Kipyegon to outrun favorite Genzebe Dibaba for the win – and America’s best racer Jenny Simpson to score the first medal ever for the US in this even with her fast closing bronze medal run! And while the pace was torrid in the women’s steeplechase, America’s Emma Coburn (9:07.63) set an AR with her bronze medal performance – just missing silver behind the 9:07.12 of Hyvin Kiyeng.
As they say in the 3:00am knife selling infomercials, wait there’s more! Because as big as anything that’s happened in the meet so far, American Evan Jager (8:04.28) took SILVER in the steeplechase to break up the Kenyan juggernaut behind Conseslus Kipruto’s 8:03.28 Olympic record.
Not all defending champions have been unsuccessful by the way. David Rudisha who set an epic 800 WR of 1:40.92 in winning gold in London, became the first defending champion to win since 1964 with his 1:42.15 in Rio!
In the field, jumper supreme Christian Taylor, lead a US 1-2 in the triple jump as he (58’7″) and former University of Florida teammate Will Claye (58’3″) took gold and silver. Not the titanic battle I’d hoped for with Pichardo and Tamgho but then it seems that this pair is always ready when it matters. The real horizontal battle took place in the women’s long jump as rounds four thru six saw the lead exchanged a few times. When the dust settled it was Americans Tianna Bartoletta (23’6.25″) and Brittney Reese (23’5.5″) taking gold and silver just ahead of Ivana Spanovic (23’2.75″) of Serbia.
The surprises continued to come in Rio as World champion Dafne Schippers looked ready to add Rio in the rounds, but 100 champ Elaine Thompson ran away from the field on the turn and Schippers and Bowie couldn’t catch her! Schippers tumbling across the line in the end and coming up short, Thompson (21.78), Schippers (21.88), Bowie (22.15). Thompson becoming the female Bolt of the Games with her Sprint double. The US picking up another medal – and take note, so far Bowie is the only American double medalist!
There were complaints about the US teams in Beijing and London not living up to existence. This team is living up to expectations so far. No where more evident than the double medal performances in the jumps being surpassed by the women hurdlers who swept all three medals in the 100 meter event! Coming in as the best squad on paper – even without the WR holder – Brianna Rollins (12.48), Nia Ali (12.59), and Kristi Castlin (12.61) due what they came to Rio to do and took all three medals.
Looking forward to the final few days, especially with the relays on tap. So far is been a great meet.