Three finals, three golds, three World records. That's an Olympic record not even Carl Lewis could claim, and at the end of the eighth day of athletics competition in Beijing's National Stadium, the easiest way to get a roar from the capacity crowd in the Bird's Nest was to say the words "Usain Bolt" over the public address system.
Jamaica 37.10 WR
Nesta Carter and Michael Frater set up the two fastest 100m men in history for Jamaica's 4x100m relay. Carter got a safe start, made a competent hand-off to Frater, and Frater made sure Usain Bolt got the baton with a lead. Then Bolt, with his long legs already unfurled, ran the second bend, something he does better than anyone else currently running, and handed off to the man whose 100m World Record he broke late in May.
When Asafa Powell stopped the clock at 37.10, it meant a staggering .30 second improvement over the old record, set in 1993 by the World Championship squad of the USA. With the field weakened by numerous disqualifications and dropped batons in the rounds, it also meant the Jamaicans were Olympic champions by almost a full second. Trinidad and Tobago, inside the Jamaicans in lane 4, arrive in Powell's slipstream to clock 38.06; immediately after them, the Japanese quartet clicked 38.15 to bring home a landmark bronze medal for a nation not known for sprinters.
If Bolt hadn't already performed unprecedented feats of speed, Carter to Frater to Bolt to Powell might have established the image of peak performance for the Beijing games. And Powell confirmed a change in athletics government: "Jamaica is the sprint capital of the world."
Jamaica keeps Jamaica from perfection
The sprinters in yellow and green had already made a clean sweep of the four individual sprint records, but before the Jamaican men set their stunning World Record, complete domination of the sprint medals had already slipped from Jamaica's fingers like a relay baton on the second exchange. Exactly like it, in fact, as Jamaica's heavy-metal female foursome (including all three 100m medalists and the 200m gold and bronze medalists) crashed out of their 4x100m relay on the far corner. With Sherone Simpson leading, the handoff to Kerron Stewart bobbled and then went out of the zone.
"I did what I was supposed to do," said Stewart. "She did what she was supposed to do. But it wasn't done."
The medal instead went to the quartet from Russia in 42.31, pressed to the line by Belgium (42.54) and Nigeria (43.04). "Our coach told us we could never accomplish anything," reported the Russian team, "and we told him to go to the devil," the traditional Russian call-and-response of wishing luck without saying so.
Hooker's last-minute pole vault record
The Jamaicans were far from holding a monopoly on records on Friday. As their men's relay celebrated their win, Australia's Steve Hooker, the men's Pole Vault gold meal already in his pocket from an event-winning third-attempt clearance at 5.90m, set the bar at 5.96m. He missed one attempt, accepted a second miss by allowing his attempt timer to run out, and then on his second (but last) attempt got over that bar to better the four-year-old Olympic mark of 5.95m. It was a long vault and tested the patience and stamina of both of the first medalists - Hooker put up his pole twelve times, and silver medalist Evgeniy Lukyanenko (Russia, 5.85m) eleven - to the point where bronze medalist Denys Yurchenko of the Ukraine didn't even finish the competition, giving up with an injury after assuring himself of the bronze medal (5.70m).
After clearing his opening height of 5.60m on the first try, Hooker required three tries to clear 5.80m, 5.85m, and 5.90m. "I should have skipped the second jumps altogether," he joked. "They were not working for me. I should have gone straight to the third," as he did for the record vault.
Schwazer walks to another OR
Italy's Alex Schwazer established another Olympic Record when he cruised in to the Bird's Nest after 24 laps on the matted loop outside. Schwazer was at the forefront of the 50km walk from the beginning of the race. "I didn't want anything but the gold," he explained. Schwazer's 3:37:09 trimmed eighty seconds from the Olympic Record set in Seoul some months before Schwazer's fourth birthday. Australia's Jared Tallent, bronze medalist in the 20km walk earlier this week, picked up silver behind Schwazer in a PB 3:39:27.
Clay's lead unassailable
Bryan Clay started Day Two of the Decathlon with a healthy lead, and he finished it with an even bigger one; in fact, after nine events he had a lead of a staggering 479 points over Krauchanka of Belarus. That he didn't hold that margin to the end - his gold-medal total was 8791 - testified to the battle for silver and bronze which was fought over the final 1,500m. Krauchanka led Russia's Alexander Pogorelov and Cuba's Leonel Suarez by 13 points (after nine events, Pogorelov and Suarez had the same score.) Suarez, a strong runner, attempted to erase Krauchanka's lead, but found the Belarussian kicking by in the homestretch to hang on to silver.
Friday night also brought Beijing one of the more bizarre women's 5,000m finals in Olympic history. After practically jogging through the first kilometer in 3:39.20, a pace more commonly seen in local all-comers meets, the race was set up for the kickers, and as it happened the medals went to three Ethiopian-born women. Tirunesh Dibaba won a 5000m gold to go with her 10,000m title, in 15:41.50, a clocking which wouldn't even qualify her to run in the Olympics and is almost a minute and a half behind her World Record. Silver went to 10,000m silver medalist Elvan Abeylegesse, marking not only the first time the same woman has won both distance events, but the first time the same two women have topped both events.
The women's long jump went to Brazil's Maurren Maggie with a 7.04m leap which was her first of the competition, making it over almost before it began. Triple jump silver medalist Tatyana Lebedeva got out to 7.03m on her final jump to win her first medal's twin. The best story turned out to be for bronze: Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare was 13th in the qualifying round, but was advanced to the final following the doping disqualification of Ukraine's Lyudmila Blonska. The door opened, Okagbare produced a 6.91m leap in the first round which stood up through the competition, taking her from non-qualifier to medalist.
Parker Morse for the IAAF
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