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An Upset in Olympic Track and Field

Posted August. 29, 2004 22:15,   


Up until August 29, 45 out of the 46 track and field gold medals of the Athens Olympics have found their owners except for the men’s marathon. During this Olympic games, the world of track and field has gone through some significant changes, namely the decline of traditional powerhouse, the U.S., and the strong rise of the Asians.

The Americans, who were dominant in the short track events for the past couple of years, seemed quite vulnerable, while China, winning two gold medals in track events, rose as a new Asian track and field power.

The most conspicuous characteristic of the Athens Olympics is the sign of the decline of the track and field superpower, the U.S. The U.S. had won 10 gold medals at the last Olympic games held in Sydney, but in Athens it only won 8. In particular, the U.S. seems vulnerable in the short track events. It failed to win gold in the women’s 100m and 200m races, where gold medal favorite Marion Jones did not participate.

The disappointment continued on to the men’s and women’s 4x100m relay race. The American relay team, composed of Justin Gatlin, Shawn Crawford, Coby Miller, and Maurice Greene, finished with a 38.08 second record at the final round held on August 29, which was one hundredth of a second later than the British team record of 38.07 seconds. The U.S. team failed to defend its gold medal won in Sydney, while the British won the men’s relay for the first time in 92 years, after winning it back in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

The U.S. women’s team, which had won four straight gold medals in the 4x100m relay starting from the 1984 L.A. Olympics, failed to finish the race when its runners made mistakes handling the baton. Hence, they failed to win gold twice since the last Olympics. In the middle of the relatively disappointing American performance, China came out of the shadows to claim its share of fame in track and field.

A day before, Liu Xiang of China had won the men’s 110m hurdles by tying the world record and setting a new Olympic record of 12.91 seconds. He also won the first Chinese men’s gold medal at an Olympic track event. Xiang is only 21 years old and started his career as a high jumper, but later converted into a hurdle sprinter. After a while, he set the new Asian record and the world junior record, and at last year’s world championship held in Paris, he finished third among the world’s best athletes.

China won its other gold medal in track when Xing Huina won the women’s 10,000m with a 30 minute 24.36 second record. It is the second time China has won a women’s gold medal at an Olympic track event, The first was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics where Wang Junxia was the winner of the women’s 5,000m.

On the other hand, the men’s 1,500m winner, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, won another medal in the men’s 5,000m event, becoming only the second athlete in 80 years to win both short and mid-distance events after Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi achieved such feat at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Sang-Ho Kim hyangsan@donga.com