Published January 13, 2015
When it comes to Olympic sprints, nobody does it better than the Jamaicans. Yeah, mon.
The Caribbean island of 2.8 million people capped the first gold-medal sweep of men's and women's 100-meter dashes since 1912 with a rare 1-2-2 sweep of the women's race. After never winning Olympic gold in the 100, Jamaica got two in as many days.
Shelly-Ann Fraser won the women's dash Sunday, pumping her fist as she was clocked in 10.78 seconds. Teammates Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart finished in a dead heat for the silver, 0.20 second back — the same margin Jamaica's Usain Bolt won by Friday night when he hot-dogged to the finish in 9.69.
Fraser knew she had won and smiled wide, showing those braces, and then went to pick up the green, yellow and black Jamaican flag. It was the widest margin of victory in an Olympic women's 100 final since 1988, when Florence Griffith-Joyner set the world record.
"When I was thinking about it, I was getting ahead of myself," Fraser said about a gold medal. "I was like, 'Calm down. First you need to go out there and do it."'
She did, and after she crossed the finish line more than a body length in the lead, reggae music played in the background during a three-minute delay while judges looked at the photo finish. There was no way to split the difference, so Jamaica got the top three spots and didn't even have to settle for a bronze.
"It's about time," Stewart said when asked what the sweep meant. "We've been waiting on this. So many great athletes have come so close."
Jamaica's big win turned into a giant disappointment for the United States. Lauryn Williams finished fourth, Muna Lee fifth and Torri Edwards last. Lee, the only one of that U.S. trio with another chance for an individual medal — in the 200 — said she thought there was a false start.
Edwards herself said she thought she had false-started.
The American team filed a protest, though it was swiftly rejected.
"It was a flagrant and a blatant false start that was not recalled and had tremendous impact on the race," said Lee's coach, Vince Anderson, just before the rejection. "But they're not going to rerun the Olympic 100. Anyone who knows anything knows that."
Williams didn't sound like someone who felt she had been cheated.
"We've dominated for years, and now it's their time," Williams said.
Making it even more impressive is that the woman widely considered Jamaica's best at this distance, defending world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, wasn't even in the field, after failing to qualify at the country's Olympic trials.
Her spot essentially went to Fraser, the least accomplished of the Jamaican sprinters — at least until now. She is only 21 — same age as Bolt — and didn't have a time under 11 seconds before this year. The highlight on her resume before now was the silver medal she won as part of the Jamaican relay team at last year's world championships.
Speaking of relays — it's not hard to pick a favorite for that women's 400 relay Friday.
Simpson and Campbell were part of a gold-medal team in Athens four years ago, though it was hard to know whether Jamaica was truly the fastest team because Williams and Marion Jones botched their handoff and the traditionally strong American team didn't finish the race.
The women's 100 wasn't the only U.S. disappointment at the Bird's Nest on the third day of the Olympic track meet.
In the men's 1,500, the American success story of Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano and U.S. team flagbearer Lopez Lomong — all naturalized citizens competing for their new country for the first time at the Olympics — came to a sudden halt. All three failed to advance to the final.
Lomong and Manzano each finished last in their semifinals. Lagat, the reigning world champion, finished sixth in his — one place out of the final automatic spot and .02 second behind the final wild-card qualifier.
It was a stunning setback for Lagat, who won a bronze and silver medal in the event at the last two Olympics for Kenya. He still has a chance in the 5,000, but his opportunity to become the first American to win both races at the Olympics is gone.
"There was a lot of boxing and a lot of pushing," said Lagat, never able to put on his trademark kick. "I was worried about someone going down. I gave everything I had."
In other preliminaries, Americans LoLo Jones, Dawn Harper and Damu Cherry also made it through the first round of women's 100-meter hurdles — with Cherry overcoming flu-like symptoms to earn a wild-card spot and the other two making it by finishing in the top two.
In the women's 400, three-time U.S. national champion Sanya Richards won her semifinal in 49.90 seconds to move into Tuesday's finals, where she'll go for an individual gold to go with the relay gold she won at the Athens Olympics. Americans Mary Wineberg and Dee Dee Trotter each failed to advance.
The night also brought the second world record of the 10-day meet, when Gulnara Galkina-Samitova of Russia finished the first Olympic women's 3,000-meter steeplechase final in 8 minutes, 58.81 seconds to beat the mark she already held by nearly 3 seconds.
In the night's final event, the men's 10,000 meters, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia defended his title, finishing in an Olympic record 27 minutes, 1.17 seconds to beat countryman Sileshi Sihine. Haile Gebrselassie, the 1996 and 2000 champion, finished in sixth — unable to cash in on his decision to skip the marathon because of Beijing's pollution and focus on the shorter race.
Conditions were ideal — weather was clear and breezy with temperatures in the low 70s. The temperature wasn't much different from earlier in the day, when Romania's Constantina Tomescu-Dita won the marathon in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 44 seconds.
So much has been made of the weather in Beijing, especially for the long-distance races, but it turned out to not be a problem.
A light rain on the course that began near Tiananmen Square and wound around the Forbidden City before ending at the stadium was a blessing for the runners, who came in ready for muggy air and smog.
"The weather helped me a lot," said Tomescu-Dita, the 2005 world championship bronze medalist who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo. "I'm very happy because it's not very, very hot."