Team USA sweeps 4x400s, sits atop medal table

08-23-2008

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Jill Geer
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USA Track & Field
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BEIJING - Team USA proved stronger than ever in the 4x400-meter relays, winning both events and setting an Olympic record in Saturday evening action at the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium.

With only the men's marathon remaining on Sunday morning, Team USA tops the medal table with 23 total and seven gold. Russia is next with 18 medals and 6 gold; Jamaica has 11 medals and 6 gold. Team USA's women finish with nine medals, their best total since 1992 and their third-highest total in history.

Relay power

The relays provided redemption for anchor legs Sanya Richards (Austin, Texas) and Jeremy Wariner (Waco, Texas), who had been disappointed with their third and second place finishes, respectively, in the women's and men's 400 meters.

On Saturday, they put on world-beating performances.

The women were first up on the track. Mary Wineberg (Cincinnati, Ohio) clocked 51.0 for her opening leg, positioning the U.S. just behind Russia, along with Jamaica and Great Britain. At the stagger break, Jamaica was in the lead, followed by Allyson Felix (Los Angeles) running for the USA, and Russia. The 200m silver medalist, Felix moved into the lead around the curve and handed off to 2004 Olympic relay gold medalist Monique Henderson, having clocked a blistering leg of 48.55. Henderson (Chula Vista, Calif.) turned in a 50.06 split but was passed by Russia with 20 meters left in her leg.

When Richards took the baton, she trailed Russia by approximately three meters. Biding her time, she waited until the final straight to move into first, turning in a 48.93 leg and crossing the line in 3:18.54, the fastest time in the world since 1993. Russia was second in 3:18.82 and Jamaica third in 3:20.40.

The men's race was never in doubt. 400-meter gold medalist LaShawn Merritt opened with a 44.35 leg, and at the break, 400m hurdles gold medalist Angelo Taylor (Decatur, Ga.) had gapped the field by seven meters. After a 43.70 leg by Taylor, 400m bronze medalist David Neville added to the U.S. lead and clocked 44.16 in handing off to 2004 400m gold medalist and 2008 silver medalist Wariner.

Running with the same passion and determination of Richards and all his teammates, Wariner blazed a 43.16 leg and finished in 2:55.39 to break the Olympic record. The previous mark of 2:55.74 was set by Americans Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Michael Johnson and Steve Lewis in 1992, and was a world record at the time it was set. The Bahamas were a distant second in 2:58.03 and Russia was third in 2:58.06.

Howard sixth in high jump

Olympic Trials champion Chaunte Howard finished sixth in the women's high jump in her second trip to the Olympic Games. The 24-year-old mother cleared 1.85m/6-0.75 and 1.89m/6-2.25 on her first tries. She made the next two heights - 1.93m/6-4 and 1.96m/6-5 - on her second attempts, then got over a season-best height of 1.99m/6-6.25 on her third attempt. Three tries at 2.01m/6-7 were unsuccessful.

Tia Hellebaut of Belgium pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the Games, defeating the dominant Blanka Vlasic of Croatia for the gold. Both women cleared 2.05m/6-8.75, but Hellebaut did it on her first try, while Vlasic required two attempts. The height was a national record for Belgium. Anna Chicherova of Russia came third with 2.03m/6-8.

Rowbury 7th in 1500

Olympic Trials champion Shannon Rowbury (San Francisco, Calif.) turned in the top performance ever by an American woman in the Olympic 1,500m final. Rowbury ran a smart race from the gun, positioning herself in the top six and out of trouble as the pace came through at 65.90 for 400m and 2:13.70 for 800m. With 500 meters left in the race, world champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain picked up the pace, stringing out the pack. Rowbury was in fourth at the break as Jamal came through 1200m in 3:16.41.

The torrid pace caught up with Jamal, and she was passed with authority in the final 200 meters by Nancy Jebet Langat of Kenya, who won in 4:00.23. Iryna Lishchynska moved up to second in 4:01.63, with Nataliya Tobias of Ukraine third in 4:01.78. Rowbury finished seventh in 4:03.58, the highest placing for an American in this event. On three other occasions, Americans had been eighth: Ruth Wysocki in 1984, Mary Decker Slaney in 1988, and Marla Runyan in 2000. Jamal faded to fifth in 4:02.71.

Lagat ninth in 5,000m

Unlike the slow, tactical race of the 2007 World Championships, the Olympic men's 5,000m was an honest pace from the start, leading to a fantastic finish. Three Ethiopians - Kenenisa Bekele, Tariku Bekele and Abreham Cherkos - traded the lead for the first several laps. As the field came through 1 km in 2:45.49 and 2 km in 5:22.29, world champion Bernard Lagat (Tucson, Ariz.) ran comfortably in fifth or sixth place, as Matt Tegenkamp (Madison, Wis.) settled in ninth.

With five laps remaining, Kenenisa Bekele took the pace out, covering the next 400 meters in 60.2 seconds and stringing out the field. With three laps to go, Lagat was fourth and Tegenkamp remained ninth. Shortly after, Lagat began to fade and Bekele continued to push. At the finish, Kenenisa Bekele broke the Olympic record and added the 5,000m gold to the 10,000 title he already won here in Beijing. His winning time was 12:57.82, and he was followed to the finish by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya (13:02.80) and Edwin Cheruiyot Soi of Kenya (13:06.22). Lagat was ninth in 13:26.89 and Tegenkamp 13th in 13:33.13.

For more information on Team USA at the Olympic Games, including athlete quotes, event schedule, TV schedule and complete results, visit www.usatf.org

Team USA medal table, 2008 Olympic Games

Gold (7)

Stephanie Brown Trafton (Galt, Calif.), women's discus, 64.74m/212-5

Angelo Taylor (Decatur, Ga.), men's 400m hurdles, 47.25

Dawn Harper (Los Angeles), women's 100m hurdles, 12.54

LaShawn Merritt (Suffolk, Va.), men's 400m, 43.75

Bryan Clay (Glendora, Calif.), decathlon, 8,791

Women's 4x400m relay: Mary Wineberg (Cincinnati, Ohio), Allyson Felix (Los Angeles), Monique Henderson (Chula Vista, Calif.), Sanya Richards (Austin, Texas), 3:18.54

Men's 4x400m relay: LaShawn Merritt (Suffolk, Va.), Angelo Taylor (Decatur, Ga.), David Neville (Los Angeles), Jeremy Wariner (Waco, Texas), 2:55.39 OLYMPIC RECORD

Silver (9)

Christian Cantwell (Columbia, Mo.), men's shot put, 21.09m/69-2.5

Hyleas Fountain (Kettering, Ohio), women's heptathlon, 6619 points

Jenn Stuczynski (Churchville, N.Y.), women's pole vault, 4.80m/15-9

Kerron Clement (Los Angeles), men's 400m hurdles, 47.98

Sheena Johnson Tosta (Chula Vista, Calif.), women's 400m hurdles, 53.70.

Shawn Crawford (Los Angeles), men's 200m, 19.96

Jeremy Wariner (Waco, Texas), men's 400m, 44.74

David Payne (Hampton, Va.), men's 110m hurdles, 13.17

Allyson Felix (Los Angeles), women's 200, 21.93

Bronze (7)

Shalane Flanagan (Pittsboro, N.C.), women's 10,000m, 30:22.22AR

Walter Dix (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), men's 100m, 9.91

Bershawn Jackson (Raleigh, N.C.), men's 400m hurdles, 48.06

Sanya Richards (Austin, Texas), women's 400m, 49.93

Walter Dix (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), men's 200m, 19.98

David Neville (Los Angeles), men's 400m, 44.80

David Oliver (Kissimmee, Fla.), men's 110m hurdles, 13.18