Posted by: Joe English | August 19, 2008

Olympics: Taylor leads US sweep of 400 hurdles; Brown wins first women’s discus gold since ’32

BEIJING – Team USA’s first gold medal in these Beijing Olympic Games came from a most unexpected source, but it opened the floodgates as Team USA more than doubled its medal count Monday night at the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium. A sweep in the men’s 400m hurdles, gold in the women’s discus and silver in the women’s pole vault propelled the team medal count from four to nine in a single night.

U.S. scores fifth 400H sweep; Taylor wins second gold
Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson had talked about an Olympic sweep in the 400m hurdles as long ago at the Olympic Trials, and on Monday that plan played out to perfection. Taylor (Decatur, Ga.) won his second Olympic gold in the event, leading from start to finish in a personal-best time of 47.25. The 2000 gold medalist in Sydney, where he ran out of lane 1, Taylor duplicates a feat achieved only by Edwin Moses in this event, winning gold medals eight years apart.

The 2007 World Outdoor champion, Clement (Los Angeles) came off the final curve just slightly behind Taylor, and he held on to take the silver in 47.98. The 2005 World Outdoor Champion, Bershawn Jackson (Raleigh, N.C.) overcame a sluggish middle portion of the race to move up to third in the homestretch, finishing in 48.06. It marked the fifth time that the United States has swept the hurdles at the Olympics, also doing it in 1904, 1920, 1956 and 1960.

Historic gold for Brown Trafton
It was Stephanie Brown Trafton (Galt, Calif.) who got the medal avalanche going, turning in the most surprising performance of the meet thus far by an American. The 2007 NACAC champion won the United States’ first gold medal in the women’s discus since Lillian Copeland in 1932, and the first medal of any kind since Leslie Jean Deniz won silver in the boycott-afflicted 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. It was a significant personal victory for the 6-foot-4, 28-year-old Brown, who has never finished higher than second at a U.S. national championship.

Brown Trafton stood in first place after the first round of throwing, popping off a strong throw of 64.74m/212-5, less than five feet off her personal best. She threw into the net on her next two attempts but remained in the lead as the field was cut from 12 to eight after three throws. Team USA captain Aretha Thurmond had a best mark of 59.80m/196-2 and did not make that cut, finishing 10th.

As the fourth and fifth rounds concluded, Brown Trafton was still in the lead with her first-round mark. With just three throwers remaining in the competition, Brown was still in first, and assured of a medal. By the time she entered the ring for the last time, the gold was hers. Cuban silver medalist Yarelys Barrios was second with 63.64m/208-9, and Olena Antonova of Ukraine was third with a 62.59m/205-4 effort.

Stuczynski soars to silver in pole vault
Jenn Stuczynski (Churchville, N.Y.) lived up to being the #2 women’s pole vaulter of all time, taking the silver medal behind the top women’s vaulter of all time, Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia. The American record holder cleared 4.55m/14-11 on her first try, then passed 4.65 before clearing 4.70/15-5 on her first go as well. She cleared 4.75m/15-7 on her second attempt, then 4.80m/15-9 on her first to solidify the silver. Four misses at 4.90m/16-0.75 – she protested a miss on her second attempt because officials had given her only two minutes between jumps rather than the required three, and she was granted another try – ended her evening. Isinbayeva went on to clear a world-record height of 5.05m/16-6.75, breaking her own WR by 1 cm. Olympic Trials runner-up April Steiner Bennett (Springdale, Ark.) cleared 4.55m/14-11 to place eighth.

Anthony Famiglietti (Knoxville, Tenn.) made a run for it in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase final. Knowing that running from the front has been his most successful tactic, Fam was fourth with four laps remaining and moved to the lead with 3.5 laps to go. The field was quick to respond, and he was overtaken one lap later, fading to 13th in 8:31.21. Brimin Kipruto of Kenya won in 8:10.34, with Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France second in 8:10.49 and Richard Mateelong of Kenya third in 8:11.01.

Team USA’s first six medalists at these Games – Christian Cantwell, Shalane Flanagan, Hyleas Fountain, Walter Dix, Brown Trafton and Stuczynski – all were first-time medalists on the World Outdoor or Olympic stage.

Semifinal success
Americans were outstanding in the women’s 100m hurdles semifinal. Olympic Trials champion Lolo Jones (Baton Rouge, La.) won heat 1 in a 2008 world-leading time of 12.43 (+0.2mps), while Damu Cherry (Winter Garden, Fla.) won heat 2 in 12.62 with Dawn Harper (Los Angeles) second in 12.66 as the Americans posted the three fastest times of the round.

After barely advancing to the semifinal round, 2004 Olympic Trials champion Sheena Tosta (Chula Vista, Calif.) came back with a vengeance in Monday’s semis of the women’s 400m hurdles, winning the first heat in 54.07, the fastest time of the day. 2008 Trials champion Tiffany Ross-Williams was third in heat 2 in 54.99 to make the final, with Queen Harrison (Mechanicsville, Va.) in seventh and failing to move on in 55.88.

Men’s 200 quarterfinals
All three U.S. men in the 200m quarterfinals advanced by virtue of placing second in their heats. Reigning gold medalist Shawn Crawford (Los Angeles) was second in heat 1 to 100m world record holder Usain Bolt in an easy 20.42; 100m bronze medalist Walter Dix (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) was second in heat 2 in 20.27; and 2007 World Outdoor bronze medalist Wallace Spearmon (Fayetteville, Ark.) was second in heat 4 in 20.39.

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