‘No excuse’: high expectations for US men’s track fall flat in Tokyo
American runners are facing their worst Olympic Games in history after failing to win a single gold medal on the track at the Tokyo Games.
When the curtain came down on the World Championships in Doha two years ago, the United States looked set for a new era of dominance.
Christian Coleman had bagged the 100m gold, Noah Lyles had claimed an emphatic victory in the 200m, and the American team departed Qatar with an impressive haul of 14 gold medals.
But fast forward two years and the Americans are facing an inquest into what has gone wrong in Tokyo, where there is every chance the US men could fail to win an individual running gold medal for the first time in Olympic history.
While the US women have contributed two gold medals on the track, through 400m hurdler Sydney McLaughlin and teenage 800m star Athing Mu, the men have so far come away empty-handed.
Across the board, the US men’s medal hopes have wilted in the fierce sun in the Olympic Stadium.
Trayvon Bromell arrived in Tokyo as heavy favourite to become the first American winner of the 100m gold medal since 2004 but failed to even reach the final.
World champion Lyles was similarly favoured to claim the 200m crown, but had to settle for bronze.
In the 110m hurdles, another world champion, Grant Holloway, was upset by Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment, while in the 400m hurdles, Rai Benjamin was undone by the brilliance of Norway’s Karsten Warholm.
In the 800m, an event won by the USA’s Donavan Brazier in Doha, who failed to qualify for Tokyo, Clayton Murphy finished last.
The dismal run continued in the 1,500m, where Matthew Centrowitz, the 2016 Olympic gold medallist, was eliminated in the semi-finals.
Arguably the nadir came on Thursday, when the men’s 4x100m relay team were knocked out in the semi-finals after an error-strewn performance left them in sixth.
It was the first time in Olympic history the US 4x100 had failed to qualify for the final from a completed heat.
US sprinting greats Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson were aghast at the relay display.
“It was a total embarrassment and completely unacceptable for a USA team...” Lewis wrote on Twitter, while Johnson later branded the showing “embarrassing and ridiculous.”
The USA team did everything wrong in the men's relay. The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw .— Carl Lewis (@Carl_Lewis) August 5, 2021
US athletes themselves have been at a loss to explain what has gone wrong in Tokyo.
Some wonder if the US decision to cancel a pre-Olympic training camp in Japan due to Covid-19 concerns undermined the team’s preparations.
“We haven’t been here that long, we got here on short notice,” US 400m runner Michael Cherry said Thursday after a fourth place finish in Thursday’s final.
“Every other team had training camp, but that’s no excuse. We are still expected to come out here and execute how we are supposed to. It’s just not happening right now.”
Lack of practice was cited as a factor by sprinter Ronnie Baker after a poor baton handover between him and team-mate Fred Kerley had contributed to the US exit in the relay.
“We are all running fast right now,” Baker said. “Fred is running 9.8sec and I am running 9.8sec. Trying to time that up perfectly with a couple of practices is tough.”
Others point to the challenge US athletes face in attempting to peak for two major championships—the US Olympic trials and the Olympics—within weeks of each other.
In 2019, the US squad benefited from an interval of more than two months between the trials and world championships in Doha.
Even so, not everyone is convinced scheduling is an issue.
“It really depends on how you plan your season out,” said 110m hurdler Devon Allen after finishing fourth in Thursday’s final.
“To peak for four weeks, for five weeks, like we do for the trials and the Olympics isn’t really that tough.”
Other athletes suggested the US may have had overblown medal expectations for the Olympics.
“I think maybe you guys just took it for granted all those years,” eliminated 1,500m champion Centrowitz told reporters on Thursday.
“Before 2012, no one was winning and I wouldn’t even say a lot have been winning. I don’t know what the expectation was. I know we had more medals in 2016, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
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