U.S. men fail to medal again in the 400 meters
The American men’s problems in the Olympic sprints continued in the 400-meter final Thursday night when Team USA failed to make the medal podium for the second time in three Games.
Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas, the reigning world champion, added the Olympic title to his résumé, finishing in 43.85. Behind him, Colombia’s Anthony Jose Zambrano (44.08) and Kirani James (44.19) claimed the silver and bronze medals.
Michael Cherry was the top U.S. finisher at fourth in 44.21. Olympic Trials winner Michael Norman, the former USC NCAA champion, faded to fifth in 44.31 after leading for the first 260 meters.
Team USA’s much-ballyhooed re-emergence as the preeminent global sprint super power in the post-Bolt era never materialized in Tokyo. Instead, the U.S. men for the first time failed to win a gold medal in the five shortest races – the 100, 200, 400, 110 high hurdles and 400 hurdles – at an Olympic Games.
So what happened?
“I am not sure,” Cherry said. “We haven’t been here that long, we got here on short notice. 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.”
Norman walked through the post-race mix zone Thursday night but did not stop to speak to reporters.
It wasn’t all bad news for the U.S. on Thursday night at Olympic Stadium, as Katie Nageotte won a ragged pole vault competition.
Eleven vaulters were eliminated at just the second bar, 15 feet, 5 inches. Nageotte, coached by Brad Walker, a world outdoor and indoor champion out of Washington, was down to her final attempt on the opening height, 14-9, and needed two attempts to clear 15-5. But she took the lead when she cleared 16-0 3/4 on her second attempt.
When Russia’s Anzhelika Sidorova missed at 16-2 ¾ after passing on her final attempt at 16-0 ¾ following two misses, the gold medal was Nageotte’s. She took one distracted attempt at 16-5 ¼, a half-inch above the American record, before calling it a night.
“This is the biggest dream I have ever had for myself,” Nageotte said. “And here I am living the dream.”
For the U.S. men’s sprinters, the night was just another in a series of nightmares.
The latest debacle in the 4×100 relay earlier in the day was predictable, especially given that the team didn’t have a training camp and after Kenny Bednarek, the silver medalist in the 200 and a member of the relay pool, revealed the night before that he hadn’t been involved in practicing exchanges.
The 400, however, had always been a lifeline in troubled times for American sprinters. Between 1920 and 2008, the U.S. won the event 19 times. Team USA won seven consecutive Olympic 400s after the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, 12 of 13 since 1956.
But out of the nine medals awarded in the 400 at the last three Olympics, only one has gone to the U.S. – LaShawn Merritt’s bronze four years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
Earlier Thursday night, Team USA’s Matthew Centrowitz, the defending Olympic 1,500-meter champion, ran a season-best 3:33.69 in the semifinals, but it was still only good enough for a non-qualifying ninth.
Oregon freshman Cole Hocker ran slower in his semifinal, 3:33.87, but advanced to Saturday’s final, with his second-place finish in the first semifinal.
“There really is no excuse with fitness or injuries,” Centrowitz said. “I think it was just poor execution and not being able to relax. I was just fighting myself the whole way.