The theme of the day turned out to be standing alone, whether that meant earning a singular place in history, as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt did by completing an Olympic sprint double for the third straight Games.
Or was it being physically isolated, as the U.S. women’s 400-meter relay team was Thursday when it was granted a rerun of its disastrous first-round heat and had only the clock to beat on an otherwise empty track at Olympic Stadium.
Bolt, relaxed enough to dance and mug for the cameras before he settled into the starting blocks, won the 200-meter dash in a season-best 19.78 seconds to earn his eighth Olympic gold medal. He liked the outcome, but not the time: it wasn’t near his world record of 19.19 set in 2009 or the sub-19 time he mused about, and for that he blamed the ravages of soon turning 30.
“I wanted to go faster,” he said, “but my legs decided it wasn’t happening. I lost my form in the last part of the race. I’m old.”
Though not a world record it was an impressive performance against a tough field. Canada’s Andre De Grasse, the heir apparent to Bolt, was timed in 20.02 and added a silver medal to the bronze he won in the 100. France’s Christophe Lemaitre was third in 20.12, as surprising as American LaShawn Merritt’s sixth-place finish.
“I’ve proven to the world that I’m great and that’s what I came here for and that’s what I did,” Bolt said. “I can’t do anything else.”
There is one more thing: pulling off an unprecedented triple-triple by winning the 400-meter relay Friday.
Standing out also applied to Ashton Eaton, who became the first back-to-back Olympic decathlon champion for the U.S. since Bob Mathias in 1948 and 1952. His total of 8,893 points tied the Olympic record and was sweet because he was sternly pushed by France’s Kevin Mayer, who finished with 8,834 points. Canada’s Damian Warner was third with 8,666.
A tearful Eaton hugged his wife, Canadian heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton, afterward.
“She was a massive inspiration to me,” he said. “For us to have done this together, I can’t word it.”
And there was another first, when Dalilah Muhammad, a four-time all-America at USC, became the first American woman to win the 400-meter hurdles. She was strong from the outset and finished in 53.13 seconds, ahead of Denmark’s Sara Petersen (53.55) and U.S. teammate Ashley Spencer (53.72). That gave the U.S. women five of six medals in the two hurdles races, following a sweep of the 100 hurdles Wednesday.
“I was just happy it was over and relieved to come out with a win. I’m so thankful,” Muhammad said. “I didn’t know Ashley had got third at the time. That she made it too and became an Olympic medalist, I’m so proud of her and of myself. We’re making history out here and I’m just so happy to be a member of that legacy.”
Kerron Clement repeated history by winning the men’s 400-meter hurdles in a season-best 47.73 seconds. He became the 19th American man to win gold in that event in the 25 times it has been run at the Olympics, but it wasn’t easy. “Technically, it was a perfect race,” he said. “The plan was to execute my race the best way I knew how. I fought the last 100 meters because I knew guys were coming.” He held off Boniface Mucheru Tumuti of Kenya (47.78) and Cuba-born Yasmani Copello of Turkey (47.92).
His triumph came in the middle of the women’s 400-meter relay mess. Felix had been bumped by Jamaica’s Kauiza Venancio during the second exchange, to English Gardner, throwing her off stride and leading her to make a faulty handoff. The baton fell and Gardner picked it up, on Felix’s urging, but they finished well off the top times.
“Honestly, I feel like it was a glorified practice. We just had fun out there,” Gardner said. “We already knew we were going to execute the first time, it was just that we had an unforeseen circumstance. All we had to do is the same thing and the same plan that we had the first time — just get out there and absolutely execute it.”
The day was filled with other exceptional performances, including Ryan Crouser setting an Olympic record of 22.52 meters (73 feet, 101/2 inches) in winning the shotput, with compatriot Joe Kovacs second at 21.78 (71-51/2), Kate Grace of Santa Monica running a personal-best 1:58.79 in the 800-meter semifinals to advance to Saturday’s final, and the U.S. men’s 400-meter relay team advancing to Saturday’s final with the top qualifying time, 37.65 seconds.
They stood up and stood alone on a day that demanded nothing less.