BEIJING DISPATCH: U.S. performing poorly on the track

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There will be no tours of Beijing or the countryside today.  Our focus will be on serious issues involving track and field competitions at the Summer Games last night (Sunday) and today (Monday). 

Yesterday morning began with a preview of what was to follow during the evening hours.  Deena Kastor, 2004 Bronze medalist in the Olympic marathon, finished the 2008 Summer Games riding in a bus.  As she neared the 5K mark, Kastor felt a “pop” in her right foot.  Her manager later stated that x-rays revealed her right foot was broken.  Romania’s Constantina Tomescu finished the women’s marathon in a time of 26 minutes, 44 seconds.

Caribbean sprinters made it a dream team for their nation by sweeping the medals in the women’s 100 meters.  Prior to the event, many people believed that the U.S. women might claim all of the medals in this event.  However, after a poor showing, the Americans found themselves shut out of the 100m, medal ceremonies.  A challenge filed by the U.S. delegation was rejected. Some observers saw movement before the start and believed that Lee and Edwards both settled back in their blocks and waited for a false start to be called.  If true, this fact only partially explains why all of our 100m women’s team underperformed.

It was exciting to watch Slovenia win their first gold medal in track and field.  Primoz Kozma threw a 269-1 in the lively  hammer throw competition, which earned him a first-place finish. During the hammer throw competition I was both shocked and alarmed to witness award ceremonies taking place just a few feet away from the boundary lines. Anyone who has been on the infield during track and field competitions realizes how dangerous the infield environment can be, especially when implements are being tossed (ie., javelin, discus, shot put and hammer).  Whoever was in charge of the infield was obviously absent from the field last night or did not understand the inherent danger in having unsuspecting bystanders standing, with their backs to the throw area, so close to the throwing area.

Poor performances of U.S. track and field athletes last night were punctuated by the failure of Bernard Lagat (pictured at right), three-time world champion and two-time Olympic medalist to advance to the finals in the men’s 1500 meters.  Lagat, who spotted his 2-year-old son among the throng of 91,000 screaming fans just before the start of the race, failed to keep the promise he made to his mother four years ago, after winning the silver medal.  He promised her he would turn silver into gold.  His performance can only be described as disastrous.  He ran mid-pack and attempted a kick at the end but had nothing in reserve. Lopez Lomong, one of the lost boys of the Sudan, the flag bearer for the U.S. Olympic Team and a recently naturalized U.S. citizen ran an inexplicable 3:41.00.  Leonel Manzano ran only 3:50.33.  The U.S. is out of the running in the men’s 1500 meters.

In the 10,000 meter run Kenenisa Bekele, from Ethiopia, thrilled the crowd when he ran an Olympic record in a gold-medal time of 27:02.77. Galen Rupp, (pictured at left) University of Oregon 10K record holder, in an incredible performance, finished 13th in 27:36.99.

In the men’s high jump, none of the U.S. athletes advanced beyond the qualifying rounds. Jesse Williams, Eugene resident and U.S. 2008 Olympic Trials Champion, jumped the qualifying height of 7-4½ but failed to advance because of too many misses.  In one of the evenings’ highlights Jenny Barringer placed 9th in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and broke the American Record with a 9:22.26 performance.

BREAKING NEWS: A major setback for China track and field came this morning with news of the withdrawal of Liu Xiang, defending 110 meter hurdles Olympic champion and China track icon.  Xiang stepped up to the blocks.  After another competitor committed a false start, Xiang grimaced, held his leg and limped in obvious pain into the exit tunnel.  Xiang has been under tremendous pressure in China and many believed that he was China’s best chance for a gold medal in track and field. As he slowly walked off the field, a collective gasp could be heard from the fans in the stadium.  Their hero, who was the hope for over one billion people, was human, after all!

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