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No field day for U.S. track team

Women's marathon is just the start; from the 100 meters to the high jump, Americans falter in several events.

August 18, 2008|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

BEIJING -- It was barely 8 a.m. Sunday when 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor dropped out of the marathon after only three miles because of what turned out to be a broken foot.

That was only the first setback of a day in which the U.S. track team had one failure follow another for 15 hours.

"The sky is not falling, but it's not a good start," said Doug Logan, who took over as chief executive of USA Track and Field a month ago.

"It is early in my tenure, it is early in the Games, but as a fan of U.S. track and field, of course I'm concerned."

This is why:

* No medal in the women's 100, as Jamaica became the first country to sweep the event, while defending silver medalist Lauryn Williams of the U.S. took fourth.

* No finalist in the men's 1,500, as reigning world champion Bernard Lagat did not get out of the Sunday semifinals, and his U.S. teammates, flag-bearer Lopez Lomong and Leonel Manzano, each finished last in his heat.

* No finalist in the men's high jump final for the first time in Olympic history, other than the boycotted 1980 Games, as top U.S. jumper Andra Manson was 13th in qualifying for a 12-person final.

* Only one woman, Sanya Richards, moved into the final of the 400 meters, a race in which the U.S. had the maximum three finalists in the 2004 Olympics.

* A halt to the progress the United States has been making in distance running, as Galen Rupp's team-leading 13th in the men's 10,000 meters was lower than the best U.S. finish in the last two Olympics.

* Saturday, the leading U.S. finisher in the men's long jump qualified 18th, meaning no finalist in that event for the first time in non-boycotted history.

"It is very humbling," Williams said. "We're getting a pretty good taste of what it's like to be at the bottom, and it's going to make us hungry to get back to the top.

"We are always in the forefront of the sprints, and for Jamaica to take it over from us, we're not going to take that lightly."

Shelly-Ann Fraser joined another 21-year-old, men's winner Usain Bolt, as the first Jamaicans to win Olympic 100-meter titles. Fraser had a personal-best 10.78 seconds in the women's final, while Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart tied for second in 10.98.

Williams (11.03) finished just ahead of U.S. Olympic trials winner Muna Lee (11.07). Torri Edwards, who had the world's fastest time this season coming into the Olympics, was last in 11.20.

"It stinks," Lee said, "but we will bounce back."

To Logan, having Jamaica sweep the U.S. in the 100 was "more meaningful than the other disappointments."

This was the first time -- without an asterisk -- that no U.S. woman wound up with a medal in the Olympic 100 since 1976. Marion Jones won the 2000 gold, only to lose it when she finally admitted to doping last year, and the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

"It's quite bizarre," British sprinter Jeannette Kwakye, who finished sixth, said of the U.S. medal shutout.

"We definitely need something to turn our morale around," Williams said.

That could come tonight, when the U.S. men have a chance to sweep the 400-meter hurdles.

When Friday's opening day of Olympic track ended with Shalane Flanagan's surprise bronze medal in the 10,000, it was easy to forget an earlier subpar performance in the shotput.

U.S. men recently had been dominating the event to the point that there was talk of a sweep, but Christian Cantwell wound up salvaging a medal with a final throw that moved him from fifth to second.

"We have to reflect on what went wrong after getting spanked like this," Cantwell said.

Blake Russell (27th) was the only U.S. finisher in the marathon, won by Romania's Constantina Tomescu-Dita. The third U.S. entrant, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, dropped out after 12 miles because of stiffness in her knee.

Although Lagat had struggled in Friday's opening round, his elimination in the semis still was stunning, even if he missed advancing by only .02 of a second while finishing sixth in his heat.

He spent too much energy trying to get out of trouble in both rounds and simply lacked the kick that helped him win 2007 world titles in the 1,500 and 5,000.

Lagat made tactical miscalculations rare for a runner who dictated the way races were run a year ago, and his body did not respond the way he needed. That has left him wondering whether to run the 5,000 beginning Wednesday.

"I had my strategy going in," Lagat said, "but things didn't fall into place."

Not on a day when one thing after another fell apart for Team USA.


Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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