RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Ashton Eaton retained his title as the best all-around athlete in the world by tying the decathlon Olympic record and, within minutes, had stepped back for track and field’s ultimate superstar to take center stage again.
What more could the now two-time Olympic champion Eaton do on Thursday night to get just a sliver of the limelight that shines so brightly wherever Usain Bolt goes.
Eaton made it back-to-back Olympic and world titles in the decathlon, an event the 28-year-old American has ruled since he rebounded from silver at the worlds in 2011 to claim the next four major gold medals available. From throwing, to jumping, to running, Eaton can do it all.
But then Bolt – the Jamaican who just deals in speed – roared around the bend at the Olympic Stadium to win the 200 meters in 19.78 seconds, completing act two of his three-part quest for gold and history in Rio.
The 4×100-meter relay final is all that’s left now between Bolt and an historic triple of three gold medals at three straight Olympics. Concentrating on not messing that up for Bolt, a Jamaica team led by Asafa Powell got into the final, but only finished second in their heat behind Japan.
“There was some pressure to make it to the finals,” Powell said, clearly relieved he didn’t have to deliver any bad news to his friend, who was busy preparing for the 200 final.
The American men’s 4×100 team qualified fastest for the relay final with a season’s-best 37.65.
Wednesday delivered an “awesome hour” for the American team on the track. By Thursday night, that had evolved into a pretty great 24 hours.
Alongside Eaton’s triumph, Ryan Crouser led an American one-two in the shot put, also setting an Olympic record of 22.52 meters to beat world champion Joe Kovacs. Tomas Walsh of New Zealand won bronze.
Dalilah Muhammad kept the U.S. total ticking with gold in the women’s 400-meter hurdles and Ashley Spencer added a bronze, with another American 1-2 in that race only just thwarted by Denmark’s Sara Slott Petersen. Earlier, Kerron Clement won his first individual gold at the Olympics in the men’s 400 hurdles.
“We are making history out here,” Muhammad said of the U.S. team’s gold rush.
With three days of competition to come, the United States was up to 24 medals in track and field, including eight gold.
For a few short moments on Day 7 the track and field competition, the U.S. women’s 4×100 relay team was a little like Bolt: They were the only ones everyone was looking at.
Tianna Bartoletta nestled into the starting blocks in lane 2 for the U.S. team’s re-run – on their own and against the clock only – after they fumbled the baton in their original qualifier, but got another chance following a protest.
With just the clock and the crowd for company, they took the baton around in 41.77 seconds to knock slowest-qualifier China out the final.
“We were laughing and joking out there,” English Gardner said. “Our coach said before we went out there, ‘It’s just like practice, just the whole world will be watching. Be patient, stay patient with each other, and just do your job.”
Eaton finished with 8,893 points, incredibly matching exactly the Olympic record after 10 energy-sapping events. He finished third in the last event, the 1,500, to win gold from France’s Kevin Mayer on 8,834 points. Canada’s Damian Warner took the bronze.
Eaton has confirmed his status at the dominant decathlete of his time.
“To win two Olympic golds in a row like Daley Thompson is very special,” he said, referring to the great British decathlete who won in 1980 and ’84.
Eaton had briefly darted away from the decathlon in the morning session to congratulate Clement as his teammate knelt exhausted in the midday sun after the hurdles final. Clement was so confident of a first Olympic individual gold, he had his mother, Claudette, bring a star-spangled banner so he could drape it over his shoulders.
“We had a flag at home and I told her to bring the flag. I knew I was going to win,” Clement said.
Boniface Mucheru Tumuti of Kenya took silver, 0.05 behind, and Cuban-born Yasmani Copello of Turkey won bronze in 47.92, both in national records.
South Africa’s Caster Semenya, the outright favorite for the women’s 800-meter title, qualified for the final as she breezed to victory in her semifinal heat, pretty much unchallenged, in 1 minute 58.15 seconds.
Croatia’s Sara Kolak won the women’s javelin, another first-time Olympic champion like Crouser. Sunette Viljoen took silver and Barbora Spotakova bronze.
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