LONDON – Turkey had a surprising 1-2 finish in the women’s 1,500 to steal some of the spotlight from two of Friday night’s marquee events: the women’s 5,000, featuring a star-studded cast of world-class runners, and the women’s 4×100 relay at the Olympic Stadium.
Asli Cakir Alptekin edged teammate Gamze Bulut to secure the gold, running the four laps in 4 minute, 10.23 seconds. Bulut was clocked in 4:10.40 and Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal took bronze in 4:10.74.
Turkey had never won an Olympic track or field gold medal, male or female, before Cakir Alptekin crossed the finish line in first place.
“We came here to take the gold and silver for this competition,” Cakir Alptekin said. “We wanted two medals and we got them. It’s like gaining two gold medals. Every athlete dreams of a medal in the Olympic Games. This is Turkish power.”
The difference between second and third came down to this: “In my last 150 meters, I made a small mistake and bumped into her (Bulut), so I had to start (my stride) again,” said Jamal.
In other big news, the Bahamas held off a solid challenge from Team USA to capture the men’s 4×400 gold. Led by second runner Demetrius Pinder’s 43.5 seconds, the Bahamas clocked a national record 2:56.72.
The United States earned the silver in 2:57.05, while Trinidad and Tobago placed third in 2:59.40. Great Britain missed out on a medal, but did run a season-best 2:59.53.
“Now matter how small an axe, you can always bring down a fig tree,” said an ecstatic Chris Brown, who ran the first leg for the Bahamas. “We are a little axe and America is a giant tree, but we have done it.
“I’m so proud to be a Bahamian right now. It feels great to be a champion. We knew we could do it although we are only a small country and it has taken us a while.”
Americans Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter teamed up for a gold medal-winning 4×100 in a world-record 40.82 seconds. The previous mark (41.37) had stood for 27 years, established by an East German quartet.
Anchor Jeter was given a substantial lead by the time Knight handed her the baton, and Jeter zoomed to the finish line to complete the gold-medal effort.
“I knew that these girls were going to run their hearts out,” said Jeter. “I knew we were running fast. I was already pointing at the clock, saying, ‘there it is.’ There was a cloud hanging over us, with people saying ‘they can’t do this, they’re going to drop the stick,’ but we did it.”
Jeter spoke in reference to Team USA’s botched exchanged in the 4×100 semifinals at the 2008 Beijing Games that cost the U.S. quartet, not comprised of all the same members, a shot at competing for a medal.
Felix, who won the 200-meter gold earlier this week, reacted as expected after the Americans’ first 4×100 gold since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“It’s a relief,” she said. “When we went into this, we were the most comfortable I have seen this team. We were laughing, we were smiling and I have never seen the team like that.
“It’s an honor to be part of this team,” she added. “Who would have thought that we would have had a world record tonight? Our names are going down in history.”
Jamaican sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown was gracious in defeat.
“I’m happy and pleased America broke the record,” Campbell-Brown said. “We are happy for them. Females are gaining recognition from their male compatriots.”
The women’s 5,000 meters showcased the remarkable talents of African rivals Kenya and Ethiopia, with the top six finishers coming from the two countries, three apiece.
Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar, who had captured gold at the 2004 Athens Games, returned to the top by holding off a formidable challenge from Kenyan Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot, the London Games’ 10,000-meter bronze medalist.
Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, the double gold medalist at 5,000 and 10,000 at the 2008 Beijing Games and 10-km champion here, finished third. Kenya’s Sally Jepkosgei Kipyego, the London 10-km silver medalist, was fourth.
Defar, 28, had a strong finish over the final 1,000 meters to clinch the victory in 15:04.25. Cheruiyot was clocked in 15:04.73 and Dibaba, who had led at the 4,000-meter mark, in 15:05.15.
“Today, after eight years, I have won gold again,” said an emotional Defar, who finished third in the race in Beijing. “It’s a great achievement. I feel as if I’m born again.
“To win a gold medal in your third Olympics is tough. . . . For me, today was an important day. It was a very special day and there were very few people who expected me to do well in this race. When God gave me this victory, my emotions were beyond my control.”
Dibaba struggled to express her feelings after the race.
“I’m not very pleased today,” she said. “I gave it a good shot, but I wasn’t aiming for bronze. I’m a bit disappointed, but in a way I’m not sad because I did finish in a medal position.”
Russia’s Tatyana Lysenko took the gold in the women’s hammer throw, beating the field with a throw of 78.18 meters, an Olympic record.
France’s Renaud Lavillenie set another Olympic record in the men’s pole vault, soaring 5.97 meters over the horizontal bar to claim the gold.
Also Friday, the United States qualified first for the men’s 4×100 in 37.38 seconds, running in the second heat.
The Jamaican quartet of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake and Kemar Bailey-Cole ran in the first heat in a season-best 37.39 seconds and will be the favorite for Saturday’s final with two-time double sprint champion Usain Bolt back in the lineup after a day off on Friday following his 200-meter triumph on Thursday night.