Finally, we got Olympic track and field! And despite all the negatives coming in, the athletes didn’t disappoint. Proving my constant point – there’s NOTHING that needs to be changed about track and field other than getting the best athletes on the track (and field). THAT is the challenge of the sport’s leaders – not trying to reinvent meets!
With only three days in the books we’ve already seen two World Records and a plethora of national records. It started in the first final of the opening morning of competition in the women’s 10000 as Almaz Ayana blew away the field and the WR in a stunning 29:17.45! The next twelve women set personal bests – four of them national records including Molly Huddle’s 30:13.17 American Record in sixth.
Now THAT is how you get the Olympics started. Especially for the US team as day one ended with a come from behind victory in the women’s shot put my Michelle Carter in an American Record 67′ 8"! Day two saw another come from behind victory, this time in the men’s long jump as Jeff Henderson’s 27′ 6" leap stole the gold! The first gold in this event since ’04 in an event we’ve traditionally dominated. Ironically Jarrion Lawson nearly stole the gold from Henderson on his final jump, but he dragged his hand in the sand upon landing losing a certain win. Still a solid performance as the US squad showed up to compete.
Galen Rupp’s seasons best was good for fifth in the men’s 10000, while the women’s marathoners were lead by the seasons best 2:25.26 in sixth by Shalane Flanagan who lead a 6, 7, 9 finish. It’s early in the meet, but so far the US team has proven to be competitive – boding well for a great overall medal showing by meets end.
No where was it more evident than the three Marquee finals of the weekend – the two 100 meter finals and the men’s 400 final.
The women’s 100 was loaded. It included defending champion Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, teammate Elaine Thompson, and World medalists Dafne Schippers, and Tori Bowie. The rounds saw all the principles advance to the final including US champion English Gardner. The rounds exposed the weakness of many of these women however, especially Bowie and Schippers, as a poor first 30 meters found most of these women trailing early in their races – only the Jamaicans comfortably engaged thru the first half of the race.
This proved to be the deciding factor in the final as Fraser Pryce and Thompson destroyed the field thru 50 meters. Only the final rush of Tori Bowie (great closing speed) was able to break up the Jamaican duo as Thompson (10.71) ran clear to victory ahead of Bowie (10.83) who continued the American medal haul with silver. Fraser Pryce (10.86) just held off the finish of Michelle Ayhe (10.86) to secure bronze as 7 of the 8 women finished under 11.00. Frazer Pryce was unable to complete the hat trick, but gold remained with Jamaica. If someone wants to stop Jamaica’s run in this event, improvement in the first 30 meters is a MUST!
As exciting as this race was, it was merely the opening act for the evening. I’ve said for months that the men’s 400 could be THE event of the meet. With 3 of history’s 7 fastest ever in the event, the last 2 Olympic champions, and the reigning World champion entered, the potential for something special was imminent. The rounds proved uneventful as the principles – Wayde van Niekerk, LaShawn Merritt, and Kirani James -seemed intent on "keeping their powder dry" for the final. The most significant occurrence being van Niekerk shutting down before the line in his semi and getting second – affecting his lane draw.
That lane draw in the final, found Merritt in 5, just inside James, with van Niekerk outside in lane 8 – a race that already promised to be fast, became faster with van Niekerk poised to be rabbit! And rabbit he did! While Merritt came up on James around the bend, van Niekerk was heading off like a shot around the bend (10.7)and down the backstretch passing 200 in 20.5. We haven’t seen a first 200 like that since Fred Newhouse at the 1972 US Trials!
Except where Newhouse faded, van Niekerk kept his foot on the gas. Coming off the bend, Merritt and James found themselves a couple meters down as van Niekerk (31.0) was still flying! His lead continuing to grow in the stretch as he crossed the line in 43.03 smashing the WR! James (43.76) and Merritt (43.83) battled down the stretch for the remaining medals but were never in the photo as three men ran under 44 for the first time in an Olympic final. Easily the race of the meet – and just about any other meet ever held on the planet.
How do you follow that? Well it’s the Olympics, and the follow up was the rematch between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Both men made easy work of the competition in the rounds. Gatlin controlling his races with superb starts. Bolt dominating by easily coming from behind. Bolt had the faster semi with his 9.83, but was still shy of Gatlin’s world’s leading 9.80. So the stage was set for the rematch.
And the race went to form as Gatlin burst from the blocks and forged a lead even larger than last year’s World Championships. There was no photo finish this time however, as Gatlin was clearly looking for Bolt to arrive. By 50 meters Gatlin’s stride changed, he began overstriding and Mr Bolt ran right past! Game over and Bolt had won his third consecutive gold medal in the 100 meters.
Now before I continue, let me say that as quiet as it’s kept, Gatlin has the second best record ever in the Olympic 100 meters, with a full compliment of medals – a gold, a silver, and a bronze – to his credit. No one in history has medals in three Olympics 100’s – except Bolt. Making Gatlin the #2 100 sprinter in Olympic history!
That said, it just demonstrates the enormity of Bolt’s three golds – two of them against Gatlin. Only Ralph Metcalf, Lennox Miller, Valery Borzov and Maurice Greene have two medals – Borzov and Greene a gold and a bronze, Metcalf two silvers, Miller a silver and bronze. Carl Lewis has two golds, but one was awarded after the disqualification of Ben Johnson. An asterisk for me as he didn’t actually win the race – sorry Carl.
Competing at the intense level of the Olympics is difficult in one Olympiad, let alone multiple. Three gold in the same event is an extraordinary feat. There are a handful of athletes that have done it in four – including Carl Lewis in the long jump. But they were all in field events where you get multiple attempts – and all needed those attempts to win! On the track, you get one shot, and one shot only. No best two out of three; oops let me try again; wait I have one more attempt. And while many have done it twice on the track, none has done it three times. Though I will throw out there that if not for the boycott in 1980 Edwin Moses would have accomplished a three peat. I think that’s safe to say given he was undefeated for a decade with over 100 finals victories in a row!
To mention Bolt in that vein says it all!
So, quite a first few days. There’s so much more to come. Allyson Felix in the 400. The men’s high jump competition. Rudisha defending in the 800. Christian Taylor and the Triple Jump. The women’s 200. Relays. Men and women’s 1500s. It’s the Olympics, it’s ALL good. And the US Team looks to be in prime position to win many more medals. Back in a couple of days.