LONDON — Finally. After six days of Olympic track and field competition, the US regained its swagger. Collecting medal after medal after medal after medal in quick succession can do that.
Of the 12 medals available Wednesday, American athletes claimed seven in 90 minutes, including gold for Allyson Felix in the women’s 200, gold for Brittney Reese in the women’s long jump, and gold for Aries Merritt in the men’s 110 hurdles. It was the most dominant Olympic night for US track and field in more than 20 years, since the team won nine medals Aug. 6, 1992 at the Barcelona Games. And it quickly silenced critics who talked about the death of US track and field after the British, then Jamaicans, provided most of the drama at the Olympic Stadium.
Until Wednesday, there were concerns the team’s disappointing, 23-medal performance at the 2008 Beijing Games might be duplicated. The US track medal total stands at 20, with 17 finals left at the stadium. And equally significant, the latest medal haul vaulted the US over China in the total medal count, a fact not lost on athletes who spend careers calculating heights and distances and deciding races by hundredths of a second.
“We come from such a rich legacy and history, so to just do our part and come out on top is special,” said Felix, the newly-crowned Olympic 200-meter champion. “You want to take care of business for the country and represent well.”
Seeking the first individual Olympic gold of her long and otherwise decorated career, Felix looked tense and focused as she settled into her blocks in Lane 7. She held a slight lead coming off the bend, then found herself battling with Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce down the final stretch. With 50 meters remaining, Felix gained a stride on the field, capturing gold in 21.88 seconds. With her victory, Felix, 26, became the most decorated women in 200 history with seven Olympic and World Championship medals, including four gold.
But in her previous two Olympic appearances, the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games, she took home silver. Her runner-up finish in Beijing left her in tears.
“The moments that motivated me the most were losing on the biggest stages and just never forgetting that feeling,” said Felix, 200-meter World Champion in 2005, 2007, and 2009. “I don’t know if I would’ve had success, if it would be the same, would I push as hard. At the time, I said I would give all those world championship medals for the gold. Now, I’m able to say I embrace that journey. Now, I embrace the defeats because that’s what has pushed me all these years. It made tonight very, very sweet.”
Winner of the 100, Fraser-Price ran a personal best 22.09 for silver. American Carmelita Jeter earned bronze in 22.14. With her silver in the 100, Jeter became the first American since Florence Griffith-Joyner in the 1988 Seoul Games to medal in both the 100 and 200 at the Olympics.
“We definitely knew that we had to step our medal count up,” said Jeter. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I knew I had to go out there and get on that podium for us and get us another medal. I’m glad I was able to do that.”
The 11 medals won by American women is the second-highest Olympic total, trailing only the 16 collected at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
On the men’s side, Merritt started to pull away from the field at the third hurdle. He appeared in perfect rhythm as he accelerated over the final barriers and finished in a personal best 12.92. American teammate and reigning world champion Jason Richardson picked up silver in 13.04. Jamaican Hansle Parchment set a national record winning bronze in 13.12
“Anyone is a threat in the hurdles because in the hurdles you have to stay on your feet,” said Merritt. “If you don’t stay on your feet then you don’t make the podium. If you don’t run a clean race, then it costs you. So you want to try to execute to the best of your ability and I think I did that today.
“I was really pleased that the race had finally come to an end with me the victor when I finally crossed the line. I’ve worked so hard for this moment and who knows if I’ll ever get this chance again. It’s a once in a lifetime moment and I’m just going to live it.”
The sprint drama resumes Thursday night with the men’s 200-meter final, though Wallace Spearmon is the only American to qualify for a showdown with Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. As Bolt addressed reporters, Spearmon stood in the media interview area and listened, making the Jamaican superstar break out in laughter every couple of sentences. Then, turning serious, Bolt talked about Spearmon’s medal chances.
“Spearmon has been here before, so he knows what it takes,” said Bolt. “There’s a lot of people that could spoil the party.”
At the moment, it’s the Americans’ party on the track and Spearmon believes he has as good a chance at gold as anybody. And there might be good reason to listen to him. Before the flood of American medals, Spearmon was asked about the “death” of US track. He took exception to the question.
“Death?” said Spearmon. “We’ll see what happens. Right now, people have their opinions, but you don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s finished.”
And it appears the US is ready to finish strong.