Olympic track program was a gold medal effort all around
Energy, excellence and large crowds were the rule all week long
The first thing that Germantown boys track coach Jared Foerch noticed about the London Olympic results was one item obvious to track junkies like myself and him if not to the public at large:
The American men were able to successfully finish the 400-meter relay.
"Finally," laughed Foerch, noting that in recent Olympics and World Championships, the American men, in long what has been a signature event for them, have had an impressively difficult time just getting the baton from person to person, resulting in disqualifications.
New national record
And the Americans managed a new national 400 relay record at these Olympics, which would have been great if not for the Jamaican sprint juggernaut that completed a sweep of the major sprint events (100 and 200 and the 400 relay) with a stunning world record.
There is after all, only one Usain Bolt, and thank goodness track is his sport. The 6-foot, 5-inch Jamaican superstar is worth every bit of the $10 million to $20 million he earns every year in endorsements and appearance fees. He drew massive crowds wherever he went and the energy in Olympic Stadium, brilliant all week, was like the release of a powerful thunderstorm whenever the starting gun went off.
He is an athlete who boasts, but he is an athlete who delivers. Six races over the last two Olympics, six gold medals. The greatest sprinter who ever lived.
"A whole different animal," said Foerch, who knows great sprinting when he sees it. Still, Foerch was pleased that American 400 relay anchor runner Ryan Bailey "hung with Bolt for as long as he could."
Bolt was the alpha of a spectacular week of track for these Olympics, but there were plenty of those vying for omega status.
American women shine
While the American men's sprint apparatus showed itself to be a creaking, aging and injury-prone beast (only one finalist combined and no medalists in either the 200 or 400, which is unheard of); the American female sprinters, behind Allyson Felix (three golds including the 200), Sanya Richards-Ross (two golds) and Carmelita Jeter (three medals, one of each color), showed themselves to be vibrant, healthy and dominant, shooing aside their own Jamaican challenge as if it were a fly.
Their world record in the 400 relay, which blew past an East German mark that was close to three decades old, was a thing of joyous perfection, anchored by the ebullient, charming Jeter. It was matched almost to a note by the jazz-like radiance of the 1,600 relay, during which Felix, just a day removed from the 400 relay final, ran a blistering 47.8 400 leg to erase any doubt and helped allow the grateful Richards-Ross to run an easy anchor leg home.
"I was just very impressed by the women," said Foerch. "They, and especially Felix, were just killing it all week."
The grace notes of the track were everywhere. Great Britain's Mo Farah won the extraordinarily difficult 5,000-10,000-meter double, highlighted by one of the great moments in Olympic history. The crowd usually sits on its hands and goes to the bathroom during the 27-minute 10,000 race, but during this particular race on Aug. 4, the highly-partisan British crowd was roaring Farah home with every stride.
It was a sustained burst of adulation that reached nuclear blast proportions as Farah crossed the finish line and then in stunned amazement bowed to the fans over and over again, as his American training partner and silver medalist Galen Rupp celebrated with him. With Farah's every movement, the noise just got louder.
A sublime, powerful moment of the gratitude sport can offer.
Sportsmanship still here
Falling right in step with that was the quiet moment of sportsmanship offered at the end of the men's 400 semifinal, where eventual champion Kirani James of the island nation of Grenada exchanged racing bibs with South Africa's Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius, the double-amputee "blade runner" and James, the only medalist for Grenada, each regarded the other as heroes, handling themselves with dignity and class throughout. Questions still remain whether Pistorius gains an advantage through his high-technology "legs" but there was no question about the enormous lift he gave to all would-be athletes world over who face physical challenges.
"Yes" he said over and over again with every stride he took, "You can do this too."
"It was a moment that gave me chills," said Foerch of the bib exchange. "It epitomized everything that the Olympics are supposed to be about."
James' eventual gold medal effort in the 400 was one of four golds won by track athletes that proved to be their country's only medals of the Olympics, including the Bahamas (the men's 1,600 relay), Algeria (men's 1,500) and Uganda (men's marathon).
Other shoutouts go to the American men's distance running team. Medals in the 1,500 (the first in 44 years) and 10,000 (the first in 48 years) and strong representative finishes in the 800 (two runners under 1:43) and the 5,000 gave proof to that a decades-long resurgence has finally reached an apex.
Also we can give it up for the American men in the 110 high hurdles, triple jump and decathlon events where they went one-two in each. A special shoutout to decathlon champ Ashton Eaton, who was smart enough to note the historic significance of his winning the decathlon in its 100th anniversary of competition.
He cited the great American athlete Jim Thorpe, who won that first decathlon in 1912, as a major influence.
That kind of effort and respect was emblematic of the excellent meet that the American track program had in general. A goal was set of 30 medals and they came up just one short of that mark. It is widely regarded as the best effort at an Olympics for the Americans since 1992 and sets a good tone moving forward for a sport that gets attention really only every four years.
That the entire international track program largely went well and was well received was also not lost on Foerch.
"It was good that the sport got it right and on the biggest stage too," he said.
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