LONDON – The red uniforms kept coming Wednesday night at the Olympic Stadium. Kept coming in waves, and in blurs. Kept running faster, jumping farther, hitting the finish line first – and second, and third.
At the track, the Stars and Stripes were taken on victory laps by three gold, two silver, and two bronze medalists. A few miles away at Horse Guards Parade, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings helped bring an impromptu Fourth of July celebration to London by winning their third straight gold in beach volleyball. In a matter of 45 minutes, the United States added four gold medals to its tally, which helped the Americans vault past the Chinese and into first place in the overall medal count, 81-77.
Most of the catching up was done at the Olympic Stadium, where each time the medalist wrapped in the American flag had a story to tell. In order:
- Silver in the 400-meter hurdles for Lashinda Demus, the mother of 5-year-old twin boys, who were in the stadium to see it happen.
- Gold in the 200 meters for Allyson Felix, the Chosen One who finally won an individual event to fulfill more than eight years of prophecy.
- Bronze in the 200 for Carmelita Jeter, the dual-sprint medalist from California, who became the first American female to medal in the 100 and 200 in the same Olympics since Florence Griffith-Joyner 24 years ago.
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- Gold in the 100 hurdles for Aries Merritt, the Georgian who became a hurdler by "ghetto jumping" a fence one day before track practice as a freshman in high school.
- Silver in the hurdles for Jason Richardson, the dreadlocked Texan who spent most of 2010 sleeping on a friend's couch in Los Angeles as he tried to establish himself as an elite competitor.
- Gold in the long jump for Brittney Reese, the long jumper from Gulfport, Mississippi, who dedicated her medal to Hurricane Katrina victims in her native Gulf Coast.
- Bronze in the long jump for Janay DeLoach, the military brat from Alaska who earned her medal by all of a centimeter.
It was a welcome back for American track (and field) in events that have belonged to others for a long time. Yanks hadn't won the women's 200 since 1992, the women's long jump since '88, or the men's hurdles since '96.
[ Photos: U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix ]
"America has moves like Jagger in track and field," said Jason Richardson, citing lyrics to a Maroon 5 song. "And in the canon of American sports, track and field is one of the top ones."
The Yanks actually moved considerably more swiftly than Mick ever has. And in many ways, it was about time.
Felix's 200 victory was the breakthrough that had been anticipated since 2003, when she was chosen the national Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year. The same year, LeBron James was the Male Athlete of the Year. Nine years later, they both finally won the big one.
"Gosh, it's been a long time coming," said Felix, who finished second in the 200 in both Athens and Beijing – and was in tears after the second silver. "I think the moment that motivated me most was losing on the biggest stage. At the time I said I'd give all my world championship medals [a whopping 10] for that gold. … Now I can say I embraced the journey."
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Felix's first also broke a staggering speed drought for the U.S. women. It was their first victory in one of the dashes since 1996.
Merritt's victory in the 110 hurdles was the first gold of these Olympics for the American men. It came in an event the U.S. has owned like nobody else – 56 medals in the 110 hurdles, with no other country owning more than five – but has not won in a while.
It came in part through attrition – world-record holder and defending Olympic champion Dayron Robles pulled up clutching his leg midway through the race, and Olympic record holder Liu Xiang bowed out with an injury in the preliminaries. That said, Merritt has been the fastest man in the world all year, and he was the fastest in every round of this competition as well.
"Everyone has that moment when they're just sizzling, on fire," he said. "This time it was me."
Reese remembers crying on the ride back from the stadium in Beijing to the athletes' village after finishing fifth in the '08 long jump. She promised herself then that she would never be left off the podium again in a major competition. Four years later, she's on the top step.
"This year it's tears of joy," she said, "not tears of pain."
Reese won despite fouling on four of her six jumps. Her winning mark of 7.12 meters was her second jump of the night, and it was followed by two fouls and a mediocre 6.69-meter effort.
What happened on that one, Brittney?
"I wasn't even ready," she said. "I was too busy cheering Allyson Felix on."
It was that kind of night for the Americans – so much to cheer for, so little time. And you can expect it to continue Thursday, as Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee advance 1-2 into the second day of the decathlon.
For a nation that has long ruled the track, this was a nice welcome back.
"We come from such a rich legacy and history," Felix said. "So to do our part is special."
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