Wednesday proved to be a very successful day for the USA’s track and field team, in what has been an underwhelming meet for them thus far. There were medals up for grabs in the women’s 200-meter, men’s 110-meter hurdles, women’s 400-meter hurdles and in the men’s high jump final.
The race of the night was the women’s 400-meter hurdles. Russia’s Natalya Antyukh was the pre-race favourite, but it was envisioned she would be pushed all the way by Lashinda Demus of the United States. And so it proved in an exciting race.
Antyukh in Lane 5 started strongly as anticipated with Demus just a fraction ahead as they jumped the first hurdle. In the outside lane, Jamaica’s Kaliese Spencer also started brightly. Antyukh began to eat up Demus’s slender advantage as the stagger unwound.
She was surging ahead on the final bend, with Demus desperately trying to stay in touch as they hit the home straight. At this stage, it now looked like Antyukh’s gold to lose, but Demus showed great strength and tenacity to claw her way back into contention over the final 50 meters.
Antyukh lost her fluidity and stride pattern over the last two hurdles. Demus was moving fluently on the flat. Antyukh did not take the last hurdle well, and Demus was gaining with every stride on the final flat stretch.
The Russian cast an anxious glance at the big screen after she crossed the line. Antyukh just about managed to hold on to win gold in a time of 52.70 seconds. Another stride and Demus would surely have passed her. As it was she had to be content with silver in a time of 52:77. The Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova was some way back, earning in bronze in 53:38.
The men’s 110-meter hurdles final was billed as a showdown between defending Olympic champion Dayron Robles from Cuba and the fastest man in the world this year, Aries Merritt of the United States. Robles started brilliantly, exploding out of the blocks and clearing the first hurdle with a narrow lead over Merritt. Merritt came back strongly from the third hurdle and had taken the lead at the fourth.
He had left some daylight between the rest of the field and himself by the time Robles pulled up after jumping the sixth hurdle, clutching his hamstring. Merritt powered home in a time of 12:92. It was the first time the United States had won gold in this event since 1996. Jason Richardson took silver with a time of 13:04, to give the United States a one-two on the medal stand. Hansle Parchment won bronze for Jamaica in 13:12.
The women’s 200-meter was an eagerly awaited tussle between the United States and Jamaica. The USA’s Allyson Felix was in Lane 7, with her compatriot Carmelita Jeter in the outside lane. The Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Frazer-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown lined up in Lanes 4 and 5.
Campbell-Brown and Felix had won gold and silver respectively in the previous two Olympics and the question was could Felix turn the tables on her rival this time or would Campbell-Brown make history and win three consecutive golds?
Shelly-Ann Frazer-Pryce got off to a terrific start, and Campbell-Brown was soon running down 400-meter champion Sanya Richards-Ross. As they rounded the bend and the stagger unwound, Frazer-Pryce, Campbell-Brown, Jeter and Felix were neck and neck. Felix was running beautifully with a long elegant stride devouring the distance to the line.
She took the bend well and managed to squeeze out a slight advantage as they hit the home straight. Campbell-Brown began to fade out of contention over the last 70 meters. However, Frazer-Pryce was coming back strongly on Felix, pushing her hard and matching her stride for stride. The race was in the balance until the last 30 meters.
Felix strode home in a fantastic time of 21:88, her strength for 400 meters proving crucial at the end. Frazer-Pryce took silver in 22:09 and Jeter got up to take bronze in 22:14.
Tomorrow all eyes will be on the men’s 200-meter final and the attempts of one Mr. Usain Bolt to rewrite the history books. Bolt qualified for the final with his usual nonchalant ease. His training partner Yohan Blake was fractionally quicker, but Bolt could have eaten a Big Mac and still won his race, such was his dominance.
Can Bolt break his world record of 19:19 or even run sub 19 seconds in what would be the defining moment of these games? Yes, he can! It’s unlikely we will see such a barrier fall on this track, but you can never tell with Bolt. Here’s hoping for something special!