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27 Oct 2016
IOC News , RIO 2016 , Athletics

Sprint stars strut their stuff at Rio 2016

In the men’s sprinting events in Rio, Usain Bolt claimed three more golds to cement his status as the greatest sprinter of all time while South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk broke a 17-year-old world record in the 400m. In the women’s competitions, Bolt’s compatriot Elaine Thompson took a sprint double in the 100m and 200m while Allyson Felix of the USA became the most decorated female athlete of all time.

On 13 August, Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson became the new Olympic women’s 100m champion. Finishing with a season-best time of 10.71 seconds, 24-year-old finished ahead of American Tori Bowie and compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Two-time champion Fraser-Pryce, 29, was looking for a third gold that would have seen her become the first woman to win three Olympic athletics titles in the same individual event. Instead, youth prevailed as Thompson cancelled out Bowie’s flying start to emerge as a comfortable winner after hitting the front at halfway. Fraser-Pryce was equally impressive in the first half of the race before falling away, but still finished with a season-best time of 10.86 seconds. 

With Thompson’s victory, Jamaica extended a run of 100m wins in the women’s event that dates back to 2004, with Veronica Campbell-Brown holding the crown before Fraser-Pryce’s first gold. “When I crossed the line and glanced across to see if I was clear, I didn’t quite know how to celebrate,” Thompson explained. “Of course, I used to watch Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce when I was younger and I remember seeing her at London 2012. I’m from a place that isn’t particularly well-known in Jamaica, but I’m proud of that.”

Fraser-Pryce was happy to finish with the bronze: “It’s been quite the journey,” she said. “I’ve really had to work hard to get here. I knew the situation and I’m happy.”

Van Niekerk smashes world record to win 400m gold
On the third day of track and field competitions, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk ran the fastest single lap in history to win Olympic 400m gold. Finishing in 43.03 seconds, he broke Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record. 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada won silver in 43.76, with 2008 champion LaShawn Merritt of the USA third with a time of 43.85.
I’ve dreamed of this medal since forever and I’m still pinching myself. When I crossed the line, I looked to my left and there was nobody there. I thought that somebody was going to catch me during the race. Wayde van Niekerk South Africa

Racing blind in lane eight, Van Niekerk had a tough task to beat the record time set by Johnson at the 1999 World Championships in Seville. Racing in lanes five and six respectively, Merritt and James were in prime position to witness the South African’s exploits. “Congratulations to Wayde,” said silver-medallist James. ““I’m happy to be part of a race that made history. We have put this sport on a pedestal. Usually guys slow down a bit in the last hundred, but not this time.” 

“I believed I could get the world record,” said 24-year-old Van Niekerk, who sealed his first big victory in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. “I’ve dreamed of this medal since forever and I’m still pinching myself. When I crossed the line, I looked to my left and there was nobody there. I thought that somebody was going to catch me during the race. I was saying to myself: ‘What’s going on?’, but that just gave me the motivation to keep pushing. I went on my knees and thanked God for such a blessing. After that win, I’m not going to limit myself.”

Usain Bolt completes 100m treble 
On the same day, the evening’s main event saw Jamaica’s Usain Bolt recover from a slow start to become the first man to win three Olympic 100m golds. With the final set to start at 22:25 local time, there was a hushed silence in the stadium ahead of the start. That was soon transformed into a wall of noise as the athletes left their blocks and the cheers peaked as Bolt secured victory in 9.81 seconds.

Despite being one of the slowest out of the blocks, the Jamaican caught the field by the halfway point and surged away to finish a metre ahead of American Justin Gatlin, who finished in 9.89 seconds. Canada’s Andre de Grasse took the bronze medal just 0.02 seconds behind.

Although his time fell some way short of his 9.58-second world record and his previous gold medal efforts – he won in 9.69 seconds in Beijing in 2008 and an Olympic-record 9.63 in London in 2012 – Bolt was still fast enough to make history in Rio.

I told you I’d do it. Usain Bolt Jamaica

“It was brilliant,” he said. “I wasn’t as quick as I have been but I’m happy to get the win. I told you I’d do it. I knew it would be tough but the semi-final gave me lots of confidence and, in the final, from about 50 metres I was sure that I could catch Gatlin and get the win.”

“The crowd provide the energy and youngsters need to understand that it all starts from there – the spectators are a big part of the race,” Bolt explained. “You’ve got to get them involved. I try to live in the moment, I’m thinking about Brazil. What I’ve seen here since arriving has been incredible. You’ve got to keep that in your mind.”

Miller lunges to 400m victory
On 15 August, Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas prevented American Allyson Felix from becoming the first female athlete to win five Olympic gold medals with a last-gasp dive over the finish line in the 400m.

I don’t really know what happened, my mind went blank and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground. I didn’t know if I’d won. Shaunae Miller Bahamas
Crossing the line in 49.44 seconds, Miller finished 0.07 seconds ahead of Felix in a reversal of the result at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. Sealing bronze in 49.85 seconds, Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson replicated her third-place finish in China.

Miller started off strongly, exploding out of the blocks in lane seven. With Felix surging forward as they approached the finish, the pair were neck-and-neck until Miller’s gold medal-winning dive. 

After flinging herself over the line, the 22-year-old Bahamian flag-bearer was left nursing several cuts and bruises: “I’ve never done that before,” she explained afterwards. “The dive was just a reaction in the moment. I don’t really know what happened, my mind went blank and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground. I didn’t know if I’d won.”

Thompson completes sprint double
On 17 August, Elaine Thompson took the 200m gold to become the first woman to win both the 100m and 200m at the Olympics since Florence Griffith-Joyner of the USA in Seoul in 1988. Four days after her 100m win, the Jamaican sealed victory in 21.78 seconds ahead of Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers and American Tori Bowie. 

Racing in lane six, Thompson got off to a flying start and surged ahead of the field. Schippers tried to take the initiative coming off the bend, but Thompson stayed in control and crossed the finish line 0.10 seconds clear.

Unsure of the result, Thompson knelt anxiously as she waited for the results to appear on the big screen. When her victory was confirmed, she leapt into the air. “I knew she would finish strongly so I had to get out in front as quickly as possible,” Thompson said of Schippers. “I’ve got the gold so I can’t complain. I grew up watching Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. To beat Dafne is a hard run.”

And Thompson later confided that she had exceeded her expectations at the Rio Games: “My hopes for these Games were just to run as well as possible,” she said. “I picked up a hamstring injury at the Jamaican Olympic trials, but I didn’t let that stop me. I approached it in the best way possible, and it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I had rough days in training but I’m a warrior, I’m strong and I put everything into my preparation. It’s fabulous, it all paid off.”

Bolt doubles Rio gold haul
On the next day, sprint superstar Bolt ensured that his Olympic journey in the individual events ended with another gold, winning the 200m crown in 19.78 seconds. Having completed his 100m treble days before, he replicated the feat in his preferred event, finishing ahead of Canada’s Andre de Grasse and France’s Christophe Lemaitre.

This time, Bolt was quick out of the blocks and led from start to finish. Grimacing as he pushed for the win, the Jamaican could not resist tilting his head and having a cheeky glance towards the photographers as he crossed the finish line.

Yet despite a dominant performance, this was the slowest of his 200m victories in World Championship and Olympic finals, forcing Bolt to admit that age catches up with everyone eventually. “I’m getting older and my body is feeling it,” he explained. “Personally, I think that that was my last 200m, although my coach definitely won’t agree. I wasn’t totally happy with my time. My body just didn’t respond on the straight.”
Eight-time Olympic champion? That’s unbelievable, shocking even. Usain Bolt Jamaica

“It was great though, there are no words to describe it,” Bolt added. “Eight-time Olympic champion? That’s unbelievable, shocking even. The 200m really means a lot more to me than anything else. I’ve worked my entire career, my entire life for this moment, so I hope that I’ll be remembered as one of the greatest of all time. I want to be up there along with Pele and [Muhammad] Ali. I made the sport exciting, I made people want to watch it, I put athletics on a pedestal. I can’t prove anything else.”

Unbeatable Bolt cements status as the greatest 

On 19 August, Usain Bolt bid farewell to the Olympic Games by adding a third 4x100m relay title to his collection, racing alongside Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade. Japan took the silver medal with an Asian record while Canada secured the bronze after the USA team were disqualified.

“I’ve proven to the world that I’m the greatest so I’m just happy and proud of myself,” Bolt said. “It’s become a reality, which is quite the achievement. There was some serious pressure.”

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Bolt had to work hard for his ninth medal as his team-mates unusually left him with plenty to do. However, 50m into his final leg, the Jamaican had put things right to seal the win. “As soon as I got the baton, I knew I was going to win this one, because there’s no-one on the anchor leg that can outrun me,” Bolt continued. “Before the relay, I spoke to the team and said to them: ‘Let’s make sure with our baton changes, let’s be grown up about it.’ We always pass the baton along well and, while it may not always be perfect, as soon as it’s in my hands it’s totally different.”

After his team sealed victory in 37.27 seconds, the sprint superstar was in full flow. First, the Jamaican foursome sent the crowd into raptures as they paraded around the track to Bob Marley’s Jammin’. Then, taking to the stands to complete his media duties, Bolt was handed a doll in his likeness, which he waved back at the crowd as he soaked up every last second. 

Ultimately, Bolt put his success down to hard work, sweat and sacrifice. “I’ve sacrificed so much over the years,” he explained as he signed off for the final time at the Olympic Games. “I knew this moment would come. I’ve got mixed feelings about it. I don’t have the words to describe my three trebles. I’m going to miss this sport and I’m going to miss the Games because it’s the biggest event possible for any athlete. But I’ve proven that I’m the greatest in this sport and, for me, it’s mission accomplished.”

Team USA retain 4x100m crown
The same day, the US women’s relay team retained their Olympic title in the 4x100m final after recording the second fastest time ever. Sealing victory in 41.01 seconds, the gold saw Allyson Felix become the first woman to win five athletics gold medals.

Jamaica’s much-decorated trio of Elaine Thompson, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who have 40 Olympic and world championship medals between them, won silver alongside Christiana Williams while Great Britain took bronze.

In the end, the US team of Felix, Tianna Bartoletta, English Gardner and Tori Bowie finished comfortably ahead of Jamaica, who also took silver behind the USA team that broke the world record in London 2012. But the Americans nearly missed out on a place in the final all together after being initially disqualified in the heats when Felix dropped the baton as she handed over to Gardner. Fortunately for her team, she had been impeded by a Brazilian runner, and they went through after successfully appealing and being allowed to race by themselves in a solo heat, in which they produced the fastest time of the round.

“It’s very special,” Felix said of her five golds. “I felt we were really strong tonight. The whole episode yesterday in the heats made us more determined and we just kept fighting the whole way through. Sometimes adversity makes you stronger, you’ve got to go through tough periods to gain experience.”

It's been a wonderful experience, my first Olympic Games. Two golds, a silver, I can't complain. Elaine Thompson Jamaica

For multi-talented Bartoletta, meanwhile, this title was the icing on the cake at Rio 2016 after winning long jump gold on 17 August. Having also competed in bobsleighing in her impressive career, she added this relay gold to the crown they won in London. And she was absolutely delighted with her second title of the Games. “The path I’ve been on has been eventful to say the least,” she said. “This is really quite special.”

Finally, Elaine Thompson had no regrets after failing to add a third gold to her 100m and 200m wins in Rio: “It's been a wonderful experience, my first Olympic Games. Two golds, a silver, I can't complain.”

USA claim 4x400m gold with Felix flying once again
The day before the Rio 2016 Closing Ceremony, the athletics events concluded with the USA winning the two 4x400m relay competitions. First up, the women won a sixth consecutive gold in the event as Allyson Felix added another medal to her collection and joined Merlene Ottey as the most-decorated female athlete in Olympic history. The men, meanwhile, recovered the crown that they lost to the Bahamas in London four years ago.

Finishing in 3:19.06, Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix took gold over one second ahead of Jamaica and nearly seven seconds ahead of Great Britain as the front two raced amongst themselves from the second lap onwards. The US never relinquished their lead, pushed by Jamaica but well clear of the rest of the field.

On the final leg, Felix held off a late challenge by Jamaica’s Novlene Wiliams-Mill to extend a golden streak that started at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Jamaica’s silver was their fifth straight medal in the event, after taking silver in 2000 and bronze in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Adding a sixth gold to her haul, 30-year-old Felix took her medal total to nine having also won three silvers. Though Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey also won nine medals between 1980 and 2000, she did not win a single gold.

By contrast, Felix has won nothing but gold medals in relay competitions – three in the 4x400m and two in the 4x100m. “It was a great night,” Felix said after ending her Rio campaign with two golds and one silver. “It’s really special. When I look back on the things that I’ve accomplished I can really be proud and really grateful for what track and field has brought to my life. This was my toughest Games, without a doubt.”

US men match the women
Crossing the finish line in 2:57.30, the American quartet of Arman Hall, Tony McQuay, Gil Roberts and LaShawn Merritt took the men’s 4x400m gold ahead of Jamaica and the Bahamas, who won the title in London in 2012. Belgium, whose team included three Borlee brothers, finished just 0.03 seconds shy of a podium place.

The nailbiting contest could have finished with a number of winners. Hall, the first American runner, finished his leg in fourth place behind Cuba’s William Collazo, Alonzo Russell of the Bahamas and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala.

Though McQuay was able to take control in the second leg, Botswana’s Karabo Sibanda was hot on his heels. After the third leg, Botswana were still in second place but they eventually fell away to finish fifth as Merritt completed a blistering anchor leg for the USA to secure the win out on his own. 

The win gave Merritt a third Olympic title eight years after winning the first two, and a second medal in Rio after taking bronze in the 400m. “I just wanted to come here and give it my best shot every time I came out onto the track, it’s as simple as that,” he explained. “You dream of winning, you train to win, you give your all and try to get the results. Life goes on, as does athletics, and you learn from all your experience.”

“We really wanted to win this 4x400m,” he continued. “Things didn’t quite go as planned four years ago and we knew how important this was. I knew I had some mileage on my legs but I had confidence in my team-mates.”
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