U.S. wins 3 gold medals at worlds

  • Associated Press
  • Thursday, September 1, 2011 2:26pm
  • Sports

DAEGU, South Korea — For nearly three decades, Mary Slaney owned this territory. No American had been able to equal her success at 1,500 meters at the world championships.

Now there’s Jenny Barringer Simpson.

With one powerful surge on the home stretch, Simpson looked every bit a

s dominant as Slaney once was, winning on a marvelous night for the Americans highlighted by three gold medals in an exhilarating 30-minute stretch.

Simpson is the first American to win the world title in the 1,500 since Slaney — Decker back then — in 1983. In those worlds, Slaney also won the 3,000. A year earlier she set six world records at distances ranging from a mile to 10,000 meters.

“It’s very exciting to follow in her footsteps and bring the U.S. back to that level,” Simpson said.

Jesse Williams started the winning spree by capturing the high jump, the first American to do so since Charles Austin in 1991. Simpson soon followed with the unexpected win and Lashinda Demus completed the night with victory in the 400 hurdles.

“What a wonderful night for our team,” Williams said. “Will I celebrate? You can bet on that.”

Bursting across the finish line, Simpson’s eyes grew wide in amazement. She looked around the stadium, then blew kisses to the crowd.

Given the team’s increasing depth in the 1,500, the U.S. figured to have a contender for a medal, but it looked as if it would be Morgan Uceny, not Simpson. Uceny, however, became entangled just before the final lap and fell, ending her chances of a medal.

Simpson had a strong motivation pulling her toward the finish — her sister who’s serving in the Army and stationed in Alabama.

“I thought, ‘If I win gold, I get to play the national anthem for her,'” said Simpson, who was married last October. “Coming down the last 100 meters, I was thinking of my little sister and thought, ‘Let’s get that song playing.'”

The anthem will be played over and over and over at the medal ceremonies Friday.

Other winners Thursday included Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya (steeplechase), David Greene of Britain (400 hurdles) and Olha Saladuha of Ukraine (triple jump).

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter known as the “Blade Runner,” reached his first major final by running the opening portion of the 1,600-meter relay. His South African squad is in prime position for a medal after setting a national record.

South African teammate Caster Semenya began her quest to defend her 800 title by advancing to the semifinals. Two years ago in Berlin, Semenya captured the event as a little-known teenager but was embroiled in a controversy over her gender. She was forced out of competition for 11 months following gender tests before being cleared to compete again.

In the women’s 200, Allyson Felix may — heavy emphasis on may — be vulnerable. That’s rarely been uttered before, especially at the worlds, in the 200, an event the American is attempting to win for a fourth straight time.

Felix’s dabble in the 400, though, has zapped energy from her legs and left her fatigued. Not enough for worry by any means, but just enough to possibly open the door for Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, who beat Felix in their semifinal heat Thursday.

The wild card could be a surging Carmelita Jeter, who could be on the verge of making this a memorable championships. She’s loaded with confidence after taking the 100 title and although this event is hardly her specialty, anything can happen. She easily won her heat, showing no signs of exhaustion.

“Would be nice to do something really special in the 200,” Jeter said.

Jeter didn’t seem like the probable candidate to win a sprint double when the competition began, especially given her record of coming up short at major meets. But Jeter, not Felix nor Usain Bolt, is on the precipice of making that happen.

Not since Katrin Krabbe of Germany in 1991 has a woman won the 100 and 200 at the same worlds. Jeter needed a little pep talk with herself before her opening round race Thursday morning, just to see if it was indeed something she wanted to pursue.

“I had to turn my mind back on,” said Jeter, who edged Campbell-Brown in the 100 final Monday. “I had to flip the switch.”

Don’t ask Williams too many particulars about his win — he turned his back when his rivals were jumping. He didn’t want to know how they were doing. Williams, however, did manage to turn around in time to watch Aleksey Dmitrik of Russia miss his final attempt, starting Williams’ celebration.

“I was in the zone the entire time,” Williams said.

In the 400 hurdles, Demus and defending champion Melaine Walker were even through the last barrier, but Demus moved ahead with a fantastic kick. Her time of 52.47 seconds was an American record and the third fastest in history.

In the morning, Bernard Lagat posted the top time of the qualifying round in the 5,000, striding around the track to the sounds of his young son yelling, “Go, daddy.”

Lagat’s family arrived two days ago and he’s been enjoying some quality time. He went out for Korean barbecue the night before, staying out much later than planned.

“My wife said, ‘You’re running early tomorrow, you’ve got to go,'” said Lagat, who won silver in the 5,000 at the 2009 worlds. “When I am with those guys, time goes by so fast.”

Lagat showed up without the beard he grew to make the youthful 36-year-old appear older.

“Now, I’m serious,” Lagat chuckled.

The same can be said of Christian Cantwell and the rest of the American shot put contingent, all four having qualified for the final Friday. The defending champion has had a rough year coming back from a surgically repaired shoulder joint. He’s just now hitting stride.

“Fortunately, the stars have aligned and made it here somewhat in one piece,” Cantwell said. “And whenever I’m in one piece, it’s going to be tough on everybody else.”

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