Australia's Sally Pearson held off a furious closing challenge from U.S. national champion Dawn Harper in the finals of the women's Olympic 100 meter hurdles today.
It took a season's best and Olympic record 12.35 seconds to do it, and in the doing, Harper (12.37) and teammate Kellie Wells (12.48) were pulled along to new personal best times.
Lady Fate almost had us believing that through Lolo Jones' three narrow escapes from the precipice of elimination, there might be the finger of favor on her shoulder.
Twice in the U.S. Olympic trials and again today in the semifinals, Jones barely squeaked through as the final entrant. But today, finishing fourth, fate again proved her fickleness.
For the next few days at least, the headlines belong to Pearson.
In the men's 1500 meters final, it was the North Africans—not the expected East Africans—who dominated. Algeria's Taoufic Makhloufi captured gold in an almost pedestrian 3 minutes, 34.08 seconds. USA's Leonel Manzano got the silver in 3:34.79, followed by Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco (3:35.13).
The favored Kenyans, Silas Kiplagat and Asbel Kiprop finished far back in the pack.
The Russian men's team picked up some much-needed steam as Ivan Ukhov won the high jump at 7 feet, nine inches. Erik Kynard leaped 7'-8" for silver. One of the favorites, USA's Jesse Williams ended up in ninth place.
It was a close finish in the men's discus, as the top three throws were all within 12 inches. Robert Harting of Germany got the gold however, with his 224' effort. Iran's Ehsan Hadadi took silver and Estonia's Gerd Kanter, the bronze.
So let's apply our scoring method to today's finals action to see how the standings have changed.
|Men's Team||Women's Team||Overall Team|
| USA 77 || USA 62 || USA 139
| Great Britain 29 || Russia 44 || Ethiopia 58
| Kenya 24 || Ethiopia 38 || Russia 56
| Germany 22 || Kenya 30 || Great Britain 55
| Ethiopia 20 || Germany 25 || Kenya 54
| China 19 || Great Britain, Jamaica 24 || Germany 48
| Jamaica 18 || China 20 || Jamaica 42
| Dominican Republic 15 || Ukraine 17 || China 39
| Russia 12 || Australia, Belarus 8 || Ukraine 27
Note: we're using an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system
The real movement in the chart today came in the women's points race. USA, on the strength of its 2-3-4 finish in the 100 hurdles overtook Russia, who had no opportunity to score.
The USA men just keep rolling, even with a bit of a disappointment in the high jump.
The fact that these misfires (such as the no-show in the men's 400) don't even seem to slow the steady climb in the men's standings simply demonstrates the team depth. Of course, other teams' failure to step up (are you listening, Russia and Kenya?) is a factor.
Speaking of Kenya, it had to be another huge letdown in the men's 1500. I'll bet Athletics Kenya is having a serious board meeting as I write.
Something to ponder: Although track and field is comprised of many individual events, at every level through college, almost every track meet is a scored meet. In this sense it is very much a team sport. Hence, at the end of every meet, the athletes know which team won and which didn't.
When an athlete turns pro, everything changes.
The focus, understandably, is turned almost entirely upon the individual athlete—how to survive financially, how to market himself, develop his brand, polish his image...until a major global championship meet comes around—like the World Championships or the Olympics.
Then, much is made of the "team" concept (e.g. Team USA) again.
But when the dust settles, do we know—apart from the medal count—which team won and which didn't? Is it something we just "sense" from having been observers? Is the medal count, which makes only the top three finishers relevant—enough? Or is it even important to have a definitive answer as to which team won?
I do know this: one of the most thrilling moments in a common track meet occurs when we realize the final event will decide not just the winner of the event, but of the meet itself. And without a score, that moment would not be possible.
Plenty of action Wednesday to keep the women's points race hot.
In the women's long jump final, it will likely come down to the American contingent, led by Brittney Reese, against the Russian squad, led by Anna Nazarov.
Then again, in the women's 400-meter hurdles final, a likely battle between the two former super powers is brewing as well. USA will bring Lashinda Demus, T'erea Brown and Georganne Moline, while Russian Natalya Antyukh will seek to break up the American conglomerate.
Next, the race of the night will cover half a lap. I'll just throw out the names—you make the call:
Allyson Felix, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Carmelita Jeter, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Sandra Richards-Ross. Now there's a garage full of Ferraris!
The men's 110-meter hurdles final lost a little luster as China's Liu Xiang aborted his qualifying heat with an Achilles tendon problem. If defending Olympic champion Dayron Robles and Americans Aires Merritt and Jason Richardson make it through the morning semis, the evening finale will still be a great race.
And just a reminder that Day One of the decathlon begins Wednesday as well. I'll have the updated scores, standings and a recap ready then.
Enjoy the Games!