U.S. not so far off-track


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BEIJING -- By the numbers, it wasn’t all that bad for USA Track & Field.

Yes, U.S. runners botched baton exchanges in both sprint relays, throwing away two almost certain medals.

Yes, only four of the 22 U.S. men in field events (throws and jumps) made the finals, and three were in one event, the shot put.


Yes, Bernard Lagat, the man of a million excuses, flopped in both the 1,500 (no final) and 5,000 (ninth), the events in which he was the reigning world champion. He cited an Achilles tendon injury after the 1,500, then mentioned a virus after the 5,000 -- this from the man who covered up the date he became a U.S. citizen so he could still compete in the 2004 Olympics for Kenya.

For all that, the U.S. had 23 medals -- seven gold, nine silver, seven bronze. That is just one gold and two total medals fewer than Athens, which had been the best U.S. performance since 1992.

Russia was next with 18 medals, six gold.

Jamaica swept the sprints, and Usain Bolt was not only the star of the track competition (100, 200 and sprint relay golds, all with world records), but in most of the world, he was the star of the Olympics, because far more countries care about track than swimming.

Kenya had a particularly satisfying performance, capped by Samuel Wansiru’s marathon win Sunday in Olympic record time. That gave a country renowned for distance running its first Olympic gold in the marathon. Earlier, Kenyan women had won their first Olympic golds, in the 800 (Pamela Jelimo) and 1,500 (Nancy Langat).

Once again, Ethiopia dominated track distance running. Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba won the 5,000 and 10,000.

For many of these athletes, the season continues full force, with the biggest one-day meet in the world, the Zurich Weltklasse, taking place Friday.


-- Philip Hersh