US Olympic track blushes saved in the field

Sports Tokyo 2020

USA's Katie Nageotte won the women's Olympic pole vault title and saved her more celebrated male track team-mates' blushes after they flopped (Andrej ISAKOVIC/AFP)
USA’s Katie Nageotte won the women’s Olympic pole vault title and saved her more celebrated male track team-mates’ blushes after they flopped (Andrej ISAKOVIC/AFP)

Tokyo (AFP)

by Pirate IRWIN

USA field athletes won two Olympic gold medals on Thursday to spare their track team-mates’ blushes as the big names failed to sparkle once again.

Whilst Katie Nageotte celebrated her pole vault title -- the USA’s fifth athletics gold -- Michael Norman and Michael Cherry finished outside the medal places in the men’s 400m.

They were no match for Stephen Gardiner of the Bahamas, who added this title to his world crown in 2019.

Earlier in the evening session at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, USA’s defending 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz finished outside the qualifying spots for Saturday’s final.

It leaves the USA men’s team with just three chances to secure a gold medal in individual events: the 1500m, in the shape of Cole Hocker, 5,000m and marathon.

The morning session had seen a USA one-two in the men’s shot.

World record holder Ryan Crouser retained his title with an Olympic record 23.30 metres on his final attempt team-mate Joe Kovacs hurling 22.65m for silver. New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh took bronze with 22.47m.

As Crouser donned his stetson for the media, the non-qualification of the USA men’s 4x100m relay team was being labelled a “total embarrassment” by track and field legend Carl Lewis.

Steven Gardiner struck gold for the Bahamas in the 400 metres, without a US runner among the medallists (Matthias Hangst/POOL/AFP)
Steven Gardiner struck gold for the Bahamas in the 400 metres, without a US runner among the medallists (Matthias Hangst/POOL/AFP)

The US quartet of Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie trailed in sixth in their race, the first time an American 4x100m squad has failed to make the Olympic final from a completed heat.

Kerley -- who took silver in the individual 100m -- was terse in his assessment of their performance saying: “We just didn’t get the job done today. No excuses.”

Centrowitz, though, refused to accept the team’s performance had been underwhelming.

“I think maybe you guys (the media) just took it for granted all those years,” said the 31-year-old.

“I don’t know what the expectation was. I know we had more medals in 2016, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

‘Surreal for the country’

The USA’s chance of gold in the 110m hurdles disappeared when strong favourite Grant Holloway was caught by Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment as they went over the final flight of barriers.

Holloway may be world champion but the 23-year-old illustrated what a big step up it is to handling the pressure in an Olympic final, even without spectators present.

“I just think the nerves, the big atmosphere got the best of me a little bit,” he said.

Gardiner’s victory -- the first individual Olympic title for a male track and field athlete from the Bahamas -- came in an event the Americans once dominated.

However, they have not won the Olympic title since LaShawn Merritt won the USA’s seventh successive gold in 2008.

Of his rare victory for his tiny nation, Gardiner said: “That’s just amazing, surreal for the country.

“For myself, for me to be the one to be able to do it, I’m just so happy. It’s unreal.”

The Americans might cast an envious glance at their neighbours Canada.

Damian Warner took gold in the decathlon the day after Andre de Grasse triumphed in the 200m to make it two Canadian golds in 24 hours.

For 31-year-old Warner his victory was an example of persistence paying off -- he won Olympic bronze in 2016 and has three minor medals from world championships.

“When I was in grade six I wrote in a school project that I’d be in the Olympics one day, and who would have known that I would be an Olympic gold medallist,” said Warner.

Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam unlike Warner has known what it is like to win titles from the start of her career.

The 26-year-old Belgian added another gold medal to her burgeoning collection as she retained her heptathlon title.

She had to do it without her coach being in Japan to guide and reassure her.

“I am so emotional I can’t describe it,” she said. “I was asking what I am going to do without him.

“But I had a feeling around me telling me I could do it.”

© 2021 AFP

Olympics Athletics AFP Tokyo 2020