At any point did Rio lost your attention? I didn’t think so! This was the sport at its best – great head to head competition. I can’t state that enough. When you put the best on the track we have the greatest sport on the planet – hands down.
Of course, while there were several events contested over the final days, it was the relays that drew greatest attention. And as usual they lived up to the hype – in ways both good and bad! The relays give the fans a final look at many of the meets top performers, and national rivalries. Before going further, I must say that one of my biggest disappointments was no relay participation from South Africa, as I really wanted to see Wayde van Niekerk in another lap around the track – and possibly a 4×1. That said, we got plenty of excitement and drama – much provided by the US.
The opening relay drama came courtesy of the women’s 4×1 when Allyson Felix wad “hit” by the Brazilian runner heading into her handoff in the opening round. Chaos ensued, the baton went to the ground, and there went hopes of a repeat of the London win for the US – or not. Felix made sure Gardner picked up the baton, got it to Akinosun and the team finished. Then, in an oddity, a protest on impedment was filed and granted – and the squad was allowed a solo run later in the day to qualify on time! I must say I’ve never seen anything like it, but the ran, qualified easily and were granted the inside lane in the final! Setting up a US v Jamaica showdown for the final.
On paper this was a matchup of the two fastest squads to ever go head to head. It was unfortunate that they were separated by half the track. From the gun this was a “cracker” as the Brits would say. But the handoff from Bartoletta to Felix was poetry, and Felix screamed the backstretch to hand off in front. Gardner added around the bend and Bowie flowed home in 41.01 – the #2 time in history – over Jamaica’s 41.36! Hindsight is 20/20 but I think the WR would have fallen with the team in the middle of the track instead of running on the rail.
Next up was the men’s version. In the rounds the US ran a young squad that was minus Gatlin/Bromell, yet ran 37.65. Jamaica also ran a young squad without Bolt and it’s senior members going 37.94. With Jamaica’s senior members having “down” seasons, things looked promising for the final. And take note that Japan was the #2 qualifier at 37.68! A day later we got the final – and things changed.
First off, the US chose to anchor Bromell – who was complaining of ankle pain – so we choose an injured anchor to take on Bolt. Meanwhile Jamaica chose to start Asafa Powell – arguably the world’s best starter – to kick off their title defense! Looking at both lineups on paper (Rodgers-Gatlin-Gay-Bromell v Powell-Blake-Ashmeade-Bolt) Jamaica looked to get out early and run even coming into Bolt – and THAT was the case. As average baton passes and sub par running from all but Gatlin left Bromell getting the stick slightly off the pace with Bolt – AND even with Japan. At that point gold was guaranteed to Jamaica as Bolt ran away from the field to win in 37.27! A weakened Bromell however, was more worried about fending off the challenge of Japan as the Japanese anchor out leaned a falling/faltering Trayvon to take silver in 37.60 with the US relegated to the bronze position.
As if THAT wasn’t ignominious enough, during the medal winners lap of glory, the scoreboard lit up with a “DQ” beside the USA which had been relegated to last! Like last year at Worlds, the quartet had suffered a lane violation – this time BEFORE the zone on the initial pass from Rodgers & Gatlin. I will devote another article to the debacle that has become the US men’s 4×1. Suffice it to say however, that if the women’s team can break records and win gold medals against the best squads ever put on the track, so should the men be able to! That said, major props to the Jamaican team which put it together in spite of down seasons by its individual members. And I bow down to Japan who’s taken over from Britain, Trinidad, and France as the best passing squad on the planet and maximizing it’s available talent!
That left the 4x4s to close things down on the penultimate day of competition. In both the men’s and women’s events the US entered as strong favorites – and both lived up to the expectations. The women put a squad of Okolo-Hastings-Francis-Felix on the track. With Okolo leading off, the squad lead from the gun and never looked back. Jamaica veteran Novleen Williams Mills attempted to challenge Felix on anchor, but when they hit the final straight Felix found THAT gear and won going away 3:19.06 to 3:20.24. A solid win, but I do miss the days of 3:16/3:17 races!
The men’s competition was nearly a carbon copy of the women’s as they went with a squad of Hall-McQuay-Roberts-Merritt to run for the gold. Hall put the team out front from the gun and everyone else was running for the lesser medals. Roberts tightened up in the final straight letting the field close, but Merritt turned it on in the final straight as Jamaican Javon Francis tried to close and ran off for the US 2:57.30 to 2:58.16 win. Again a solid win, but I miss the days of 2:55/2:56 racing!
The final few days were not all relays, but did provide several more highlights for Team USA. In the women’s pole vault, Sandi Morris went down to the final jumps taking a narrow silver at 15’11” to Greek vaulter Ekaterini Stefandi just missing gold on more misses back at 15’5″!
Meanwhile the men were making major middle distance noise. First Matthew Centewitz took advantage of a DAUDLING pace to lead the 1500 final – from beginning to end. Holding his position until the final lap he sprinted and held off the field clocking a 50 point last lap to win the gold medal! The first American gold medallist since 1908! Shortly after, Paul Chelimo rode a great run to a PR 13:03.90 and the silver medal in the 5000 meters! The first medal of any kind since 1964! And on the final day of competition, Galen Rupp took bronze in the marathon – the first American to medal since 2004!
Gotta give props where they are deserved and our middle distance and distance runners came through big time, as did the women. This year’s team gathered 32 total medals – the most since we won 30 back in 1992! Now I’m sure that USATF will want to take credit for this performance, but there is no national program that developed these athletes. These athletes came courtesy of their own hard work, their coaches and the financial support of their sponsors – which sometimes means their families. So a HUGE shout out to the athletes and their support groups for a job well done!
That said, there is still some season left. There are four more Diamond League events and a chance for redemption, and compensation, for those not fortunate enough to compete in Rio – and those that did compete but are looking for better outcomes. In between I have some final thoughts on Rio that I will share soon. The first Diamond League will be Thursday in Lausanne. It’s a great time to be a track fan. Goodbye to Rio. A great meet.