LONDON – The two most recognizable stars heading into the 2012 London Olympics were American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Over the week, British runner Mo Farah and American sprinter Allyson Felix have propelled themselves to the top of the Olympic who’s who list, too.
Farah finished his golden double, winning the 10,000 meters on Saturday at Olympic Stadium a week after a spellbinding triumph in the 5,000.
Felix ran the second leg for the United States in the women’s 4×400-meter relay that obliterated the field, clocking 3 minutes, 16.87 seconds and beating runnerup Russia by more than 3 seconds.
“I was pumped up. I was running on adrenaline tonight,” Felix said.
Felix, gold medalist in the 200 meters and a part of Team USA’s world record-breaking 4×100 (40.82) on Friday, secured her third gold of the London Games by running her 400 meters in 47.8 seconds, or 1.8 seconds faster than Russia’s Antonina Krivoshapka, as the U.S. built an insurmountable lead against the field midway through the race.
“The other girls made it too easy for me,” American anchor Sanya Richards-Ross said. “I always thought it was going to be a great race between us and the Russians. We have had a lot of success at 4×400 and I figured we would be successful tonight as long as we planned it the way we did.
“To be a part of a group like this, of dominating women, has been great. I just hope we can inspire a new generation.”
Interestingly enough, the U.S., Russia and Jamaica placed 1-2-3 for the third straight Olympics in the event.
And what about Bolt?
Oh, it was simply another day at the office for the World’s Fastest Man.
Bolt, now with six gold medals on his resume (6-for-6 in Olympic finals) anchored Jamaica’s world record-breaking 4×100 sprint, teaming up with Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Yohan Blake for a stunning 36.84-seconds effort in the final event of the last day of track and field competition at the London Games. The United States set a national record in 37.04 seconds to claim the silver and Trinidad and Tobago took third, followed by France and Japan.
It was a fitting conclusion to nine thrilling days of competition at Olympic Stadium; the men’s marathon was still on the docket on Sunday, final day of the London Games.
“There was no way anyone was going to beat Usain,” said Frater, who ran the second leg. “I knew once he had the stick, it was over. I knew we had to break the world record if we were to beat the USA.
“I don’t think any of these guys went out there to lose this race tonight. It was about determination.”
Bolt will leave London having successfully defended his 100 and 200 titles and helped Jamaica retain its 4×100 gold in record-setting time.
As he looked back on the race, Bolt pointed to Blake, the runnerup in the 100 and 200, sealing the deal as he outran American Tyson Gay on the third leg.
“When I saw Yohan go past Tyson, I knew it was over because I knew (Ryan) Bailey couldn’t outrun me on the straight,” Bolt said confidently.
The only problem Bolt had came after the race, when he tried to keep the baton.
“I wanted the baton because I wanted everyone to sign it, but they (Olympic officials) told me they needed it again or something. It was a rule,” Bolt said. “But I said ‘you need to give me that baton.’ “
Officials later relented and returned the baton to Bolt.
Russia’s Mariya Savinova won the women’s 800 in 1:56.19. South Africa’s Caster Semenya earned the silver in 1:57.23 and Russia’s Ekaterina Poistogova was third in 1:57.53.
“Of course I controlled the situation, I didn’t try to go too quickly from the beginning,” Savinova said.
“I didn’t feel any pressure, I understand that people hoped for me to win but there was not any pressure and I did my best.”
In the men’s javelin, Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott was the surprise winner. Only 19, he is the youngest javelin gold medalist in history. His top mark was 84.58 meters. Ukraine’s Oleksandr Pyatnytsya took second at 84.51 and Finland’s Antti Ruskanen was third at 84.12. Olympic debutant Genki Dean of Japan placed 10th.
“I’ve been doing javelin for four years,” Walcott said. “I got into javelin after playing cricket. I stuck with the javelin because I realized I was better at it in some way. At my first competition I finished 16th, and decided right there I would not go through that again, and I would train harder. I wasn’t really that good (at cricket), I was a bowler and my action is a bit similar to javelin throwing, so I got into javelin after that.”
“I can’t believe what I’ve just done, I’m just enjoying the moment right now,” he admitted. “Coming here my goal was to get a PB (personal best). My coach said just to enjoy competing, so making the final and throwing a PB in my first throw was great for me. Then in the second throw I got a national record. But it was frightening going into the last throw knowing I was in the gold-medal position.
“I’m grateful for the achievement, I’m thankful. The country is not known for javelin throwers so hopefully in the future more kids will throw (the javelin).”
Russia grabbed the gold and bronze in the women’s high jump, with Anna Chicherova taking the spot (2.05 meters) and Svetlana Shkolina settling for third (2.03). USA’s Brigetta Barrett received the silver.
For Farah, producing Great Britain’s crowning Olympic achievement on Saturday, the last lap proved to be his time to outshine the 14 other competitors in the 5,000. In a slow race that built up intensity for the final few laps, Farah again showed he doesn’t need to be the pace-setter or near the front of the pack for much of the race to be in a position to win it.
Kenya’s Isiah Kiplangat Koech at 1,000 meters, USA’s Lopez Lomong at 2,000, Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew at 3,000 and Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel at 4,000 were in the lead, but couldn’t maintain those positions as Farah jockeyed for position and made his move, pulling into fifth place near the 3,000-meter mark, then creeping into medal contention with the crowd backing him 100 percent, then into second behind Alamirew.
But the race was far from over.
The order would change several times over the final 2,000 meters, and Farah gained power and speed the rest of the way. With about 700 meters remaining, Farah pulled ahead and stayed in that position, holding off all challengers. He ran a 4-minute mile — Britain’s Roger Bannister, the first 4-minute miler in history, must be honored by that juicy tidbit that an entire nation will remember — to close out the race, including 52.94 seconds on the last lap.
Farah sprinted to the finish line and raised both arms to celebrate the victory along with the ecstatic crowd of 80,000, taking the gold in 13:41.66. Gebremeskel placed second in 13:41.98 and Kenya’s Thomas Pkemei Logosiwa was third in 13:42.36. Bernard Lagat, the oldest competitor in the race at 37, took fourth in 13:42.99.
This was Farah’s night, and he knew it.
“There’s no way to describe it,” he said moments after giving Lagat, a naturalized American who was born in Kenya, a big hug on the track. “You imagine being Olympic champion once, and then it happens twice. Often we don’t get it right, but we got this one right.”
“But once I won my first gold, I really wanted another.”
Farah’s wife, Tania, is due to give birth to twins any day now. Having won the first gold on Super Saturday, aka Aug. 4, Farah considered it a duty to deliver another golden win a week later.
“I was a little bit worried,” he said, explaining how his wife’s pregnancy has given him conflicting emotions. “As a parent you want to be there for your kids. I was worried for my wife, I really want two medals for them.
“I got twins, so once I got one (medal), you can’t leave the other one out.”
The roar of the crowd, though, eased his mind, but at the same time, fired him up as the 5,000 reached its climax.
“I wasn’t thinking about Dejen,” Farah said. “I was thinking that no one was going to pass me. It was just getting louder and louder, really like the Emirates (the home ground Premier League club Arsenal). I only knew I had won it two or three yards from the line.”
British sports fans will surely say that Farah has achieved legendary status for his heroics in the 2012 London Games, but he’s not ready to make that claim, not ready to lump himself into the same elite status as Bolt.
“No, I’m not a legend. (But) I’ve known him for a long time,” Farah said of the Jamaican sprint superstar.
Offering a fun post-race flair for the dramatic, Farah opted to do some situps in an ode to Bolt, who memorably completed five pushups after his fifth gold medal — the 200-meter repeat that he said cemented his status as a legend — on Thursday at Olympic Stadium.
Now, Farah said he’s eager for the new challenges that await him in the future.
“There’s a lot of stuff to be achieved,” he said. “I want to do more track and, maybe, move up to marathon. My next race is in Birmingham and then the Great North Run (in Newcastle).”
A nation will eye his every move.