Shouting Across The Islands
On Sunday night surely they were celebrating in Kingston after the Jamaican heroes Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake went 1-2 in the men’s 100, relegating the Americans to third, fourth and fifth. That’s assuming they had recovered from Saturday night, after Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown went gold-bronze in the women’s 100.
But on Monday, the 2012 Olympic track and field party moved to Santo Domingo, Havana, San Juan, Port of Spain and St. Georges, as competitors from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Grenada all won medals.
The Dominican Republic won two medals — equaling the U.S. total for the day — with victory in the 400 hurdles by New York’s own Felix Sanchez and silver in the flat 400 by Luguelin Santos, who at 18 is half Sanchez’s age. Sanchez was born in Washington Heights in 1977 to Dominican parents before moving to Southern California, where he attended high school and later graduated from USC.
Santos was part of a medal sweep in the one-lapper by Caribbean athletes, as the Grenadian teenager Kirani James ran away with it in 43.94, becoming the first non-U.S. quartermiler to break 44 seconds, and surprising Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad & Tobago — also a New Yorker — took the bronze. It was the first Olympic medal ever for Grenada. In addition, two Bahamians, Chris Brown and Demetrius Pinder, finished fourth and seventh.
“Grenadians in the capital, St. Georges, danced through the streets, jumping up and down and waving flags in celebration,” reported The Star. “His triumph also set off exuberant scenes in his hometown, the west coast fishing village of Gouyave, where thousands had gathered to watch the event on big screens.”
Santos actually had the 44-second breakthrough in mind already but lost that moment to James. “I can remember exactly when I made up my mind that I wanted to be the best in the world, not just in the Dominican Republic,” he told Phil Minshull of the IAAF earlier this season. “It was after the national school championships in 2008,” when Santos was 14.
“I want to be the only non-American to run 43 seconds. So far only Americans have finished in under 44 seconds. I want to be the first from somewhere else.” Santos, who turns 19 in November, lives in Bayaguana, not far from the capital of Santo Domingo. He won the World Juniors last month in Barcelona, broke the national record by running 44.45, and ran 44.46 for second in Monday’s 400 final, behind James and just ahead of Gordon, who ran a lifetime-best 44.52 for third.
Santos ran 44.71 at age 17 and 46.19 at 16, winning the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010.
It was not much different in the men’s IH, where Sanchez returned from an eight-year absence to win his second gold medal, matching the one he won in Athens in 2004, and in third was Javier Culson, winning Puerto Rico’s first-ever Olympic track medal.
Jehue Gordon of Trinidad was sixth, Leford Green of Jamaica seventh and Kerron Clement, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Trinidad, eighth.
Cuba’s medal came in a surprising event, the women’s pole vault, where unknown Yarisley Silva battled it out with the two titans of the event, Yelena Isinbayeva, the two-time Olympic champion, and the American Jenn Suhr.
Suhr, from upstate New York, prevailed in a tense battle on a windy, rainy night, beating Silva on misses at 15-7. Isinbayeva got the bronze, clearing 15-5. Silva had the last vault of the competition, and had she made her third attempt at 15-9, she would have won. After nervously watching Silva’s last miss, Suhr had a tearful celebration at the grandstand with her husband-coach, Rick Suhr. “It’s very emotional,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so bad.”
The other U.S. medal on Monday was silver in the men’s IH by Michael Tinsley. His teammate Angelo Taylor, two-time winner of the event, was in contention but faded to fifth.
The men’s 400 was a different story, where the U.S. had no finalists, the first time that has happened — with the exception of the 1980 boycott Games — in Olympic history. It is the first time the U.S. has failed to win a medal in the event since 1920, the year Frank Shea finished fourth.
Plenty of Americans advanced in qualifying on Monday, however, including three each in the women’s 100 hurdles, 400 hurdles, 200 and 1,500.
Four finals are scheduled for Tuesday, culminated by the men’s 1,500 final, in which the U.S. has two entries, Matthew Centrowitz and Leo Manzano. No American has medaled in the 1,500 since Jim Ryun won the silver in 1968, and they haven’t won the event since Mel Sheppard took the gold medal in London 104 years ago, in 1908.