Friday, October 15

The once great US men’s track team failed to win a solo gold in Tokyo. Why? | Tokyo 2020 Olympics

When Noah Lyles finished third in this week’s 200-meter final, he called his hardware “boring.” When Grant Holloway took silver in the 110-meter hurdles, he repeatedly used the word “sucks” with reporters after the race.

Both men looked sad, disappointed. They had lost. They had failed. It doesn’t matter that Lyles’ time was the fastest he has run all season, that only 16 men have finished the race faster than him this week. And we should totally ignore the fact that Holloway’s finish was 50 milliseconds slower than the gold medal time.

Or … should we? Lyles and Holloway’s failures loom, perhaps more than they should, because the US men’s track team will return from Tokyo without a single individual gold medal for the first time in modern Olympic history. (That’s with the exception of 1980, when the US did not attend and consequently received no medals.) And while it is possible to wonder how that happened, it is also important to remember: this is far from being a failure.

These Olympics have been a hotbed of self-flagellation in many sports. Shoichiro Mukai, a member of the Japan judo team, apologized after winning a silver medal. Kenichiro Fumita, a Japanese wrestler, sobbed after a loss in the gold medal match, a loss that earned him a silver. And British boxer Ben Whittaker also shed tears in coming second, calling himself a failure.

The Americans have not gone that far in their public disappointment, and I hope they will not. They won individual medals in the 100m, 200m (silver and bronze!), 5000m, 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles (where Rai Benjamin broke the previous world record). And they ended their meeting with a gold relay in the 4x400m. The US track and field team as a whole won the most golds of any team in these games, with seven. In all, they won 26 medals in total, 17 more than Jamaica, Kenya and Poland, which are tied for second place, although six of the seven United States gold medals were won by the women’s team.

They have been dominant, but not as dominant as usual, as expected.

At the last Olympic Games, in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, USA, he took home 32 track and field medals, 13 of them gold. Even with Usain Bolt maintaining his dominance in the sprints, the American men took gold in the 1500m, the 400m hurdles and the 4x400m relay. The previous Olympics, in London, the men only won one gold on the track, when Aries Merritt won the 110 meters hurdles, but there was a good explanation: Bolt was in his prime and the USA team also had to compete with the British Mo Farah. and David Rudisha from Kenya in medium distance events.

This time, however, the gold medal drought feels different, in large part because American men were the favorites in most of the sprints and medium-distance races coming to Tokyo; Team USA’s roster featured the world’s fastest men in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. And in the most recent world championships, they won the 100, 200, 800 and 110 meters hurdles, which does not indicate that their talent is wearing thin anytime soon.

And maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps other countries just came one step closer, and in sports ruled by milliseconds, the country with the most collective track talent was outdone by some stellar performances. After all, the United States still won the most medals overall in men’s sprints, and the men’s track golds went not to one or two powerful countries, but to a few: Italy, Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Norway.

Following this week’s list of less-than-perfect results, some American athletes have expressed disgust at the lack of an Olympic training ground and the tight shift between testing and the Games, by-products of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Officials prohibited athletes from moving to the Olympic Village more than five days before competing, and the US chose not to establish its own camp for track and field athletes, which some other nations did. It was a decision that was made with the health and safety of the athletes in mind, but the training and acclimatization of the athletes to a foreign country may also have failed.

And there are other explanations for the gold medal drought, too. Christian Coleman, the fastest man on Team USA, was kicked out of the Games after he missed a drug test in late 2019. He would have been highly favored in the 100 meters and could have given the men’s relay from 4×100 meters, which did not achieve the medal. after a failed transfer, an impulse.

Team USA also has relatively little experience, and in a sport where stars often compete in two, three, four, or even (in Allyson Felix’s case) five Games, youth can sometimes be a disadvantage. . In 2016, more than half of the gold medalists in men’s track events had prior Olympic experience.

Much of the USA team should return by 2024, due to their age and the shorter response time between Games. They will go out to show that this summer was just an aberration, and before overreacting, maybe they, and we, should listen to Michael Cherry, the sprinter who finished fourth in the 400 meters and then won gold in the relay of 4×400 meters.

“An Olympic medal is an Olympic medal,” he told reporters after the race. “You want gold, but if you can get something that’s great.”

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