RIO DE JANEIRO – Tuesday night at the Olympic Stadium provided many firsts for track and field stars who have risen to prominence over the last Olympic cycle. An upset in the women’s 1,500-meters, a world champion gets his day in Rio and a new Jamaican star highlighted the evening’s finals.
Kipyegon upsets Dibaba as Simpson makes history
A jog through the first 700 meters of the women’s 1,500-meter final turned the race into a sit-and-kick affair to see who had the fastest wheels over the final two laps.
World record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia entered the race heavily favored and made her move halfway through the race, but was unable to fend off Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon in the final 200 meters and the gold medal went to her East African rival.
Dibaba was also nearly passed in the final 50 meters by Jenny Simpson of the United States, who settled for bronze, finishing less than a half-second behind in 4:10.53. Simpson delivered the first medal by an American woman in the event and added to her accomplished career that includes a world championship gold and silver medal from 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Simpson revealed that her training for the Olympics did not go as smoothly as planned due to a stress reaction in her foot in December that took several months to recover from.
"Going into an Olympic year keeping my head in the game when I was in a pool or on a bike was more challenging for me than I thought it was going to be," Simpson says. "Between the U.S. Olympic Trials and now, I had some of the best training of my life and then I got a cold right before I came here."
"An incredible gratitude to my husband and my coaches for being the people that really kept my head in the game just this week and saying 'This isn't going to hold you back.'," Simpson added. "I don't know if they really believed it but I really appreciate how they kept my head in the game. Outside of that, it's just training. Hard, hard training."
American record-holder Shannon Rowbury finished just behind Simpson. Just barely missing the medals at the Olympics is a feeling all too familiar for Rowbury, who took sixth at the 2012 Olympics, though it has been revealed that at least four of the runners ahead of her have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in recent years.
Dibaba raised eyebrows and suspicion in 2015, when she broke Qu Yunxia’s 22-year-old world record that many considered dirty. In late June, Dibaba’s coach Jama Aden was arrested in Spain after a hotel raid found 60 syringes with traces of performance enhancing drugs. The International Association of Athletics Federation, track and field’s governing body, announced they had been investigating and keeping close tabs on Aden’s training group for three years. Dibaba has been coached by Aden in those years but never tested positive for PEDs.
"The world knows that Jama is my coach," Dibaba said. "My communication with Jama is purely for my exercise, my training. The rumors roaming around the world are deeply affecting me. My communication with Jama is purely and solely training execution and competition. This adversely affected my performance and my psychology."
She added that she had been subject to multiple blood and urine anti-doping tests and assured that she was "crystal clean.”
Drouin delivers again
Derek Drouin had a near-perfect night to win Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in the high jump as he cleared all six of his attempts through his 2.38-meter jump. He took a shot at matching his personal best of 2.40-meters before retiring for the gold.
Drouin was part of a three-way tie for bronze with Robert Grabarz of Great Britain and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar at the 2012 Olympics in London. Barshim stayed close once again but was unable to clear 2.38 meters and settled for silver. Bohdan Bondarenko, who broke out as a world record challenger with his gold medal in at the 2013 world championships, earned Ukraine’s first men’s high jump medal with his bronze.
Erik Kynard, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, finished sixth with his best mark of the day being a 2.33-meter clearance.
Jamaicans show speed on hurdles, too
Omar McLeod, 22, delivered Jamaica’s first gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles, which is not much of a surprise as he was the only man in the field who had broken 13:00 in the event all year.
He managed to hold off a late charge by Spain’s Orlando Ortega and took the victory in 13.05, while Ortega, the only hurdler in the field with a world championship medal, finishing in 13.17 for the silver medal just ahead of France’s Dimitri Bascou’s 13.24 for bronze.
The United States was without world record holder and 2012 Olympic champion Aries Merritt and the new core of hurdlers ended the United States’s streak of medaling in the event in every Olympics that it has participated in. (The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.)
Devon Allen, who plans to return to the University of Oregon football team for the upcoming season, finished fifth place with a 13.31 run. Teammate Ronnie Ash looked poised to medal until he hit the final hurdle and fell to last place in 13.45. His result was later scratched with a disqualification.
Looking ahead to Wednesday
The men’s decathlon starts as Ashton Eaton looks to become the first athlete to defend his gold medal in the 10 events since Daley Thompson win in 1980 and 1984.
The men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final goes off at 10:55 a.m. ET, when Kenya’s Ezekiel Kemboi goes for his third Olympic crown while the United Statess’ best medal hopes lay in the hands of Evan Jager.
American Brittney Reese could put the world record on watch in the women’s long jump final as she also aims for back-to-back Olympic golds. The evening will also feature some speed in the women’s 200 and 100-meter hurdles to conclude the night.