- USA’s track and field talent was on display during the last night of track and field at the 2016 Rio Olympics on Saturday.
RIO DE JANEIRO — The last night of track and field at the Olympic Stadium was surprising, and then again it wasn’t.
The favorites took gold in the men’s 5,000 meters and the women’s 800 meters yet there were surprises as Matthew Centrowitz won the men’s 1,500 meters and Paul Chelimo took silver in the 5,000 meters.
Here’s a look at the track and field action from Saturday night:
Centrowitz ends 108-year drought
It was a pedestrian pace through 800 meters in 2:00 and Centrowitz used his closing speed to hold onto the lead before becoming the first American gold medalist in the metric mile (1,500 meters) since Mel Sheppard’s win at the 1908 Olympics in London.
Since winning the NCAA title in 2011 and a world championship bronze medal at the world championships later that summer, Centrowitz has emerged as one of the best American middle distance runners ever. At just 26, he also became the first American to win gold at any distance longer than 800 meters since Dave Wottle’s gold medal at the 1972 Olympics. Centrowitz is also the third-fastest American at the distance.
Reigning Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria unleashed his kick with 200 meters remaining in the race, but was unable to close the gap on Centrowitz and took silver in 3:50.11. New Zealand’s Nick Willis, who owns a silver medal from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, added a bronze medal with his 3:50.24 to finish just .05 seconds ahead of Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman.
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop was one of the heavy favorites going into the race due to his 3:26.69 personal best but fell 650 meters into the race, caught the lead pack but did not close hard enough in a sixth-place finish.
American Ben Blankenship was also in the final and finished eighth at his first Olympics.
Mo Farah pulls off golden double again
Ethiopians employed team tactics and tried pushing the pace through the first four kilometers of the race, but Great Britain’s Mo Farah assumed control with 1,500 meters remaining and never let go.
Farah became the first man to defend his Olympic titles in the 5,000 and 10,000 since Finland’s Lasse Viren accomplished the feat at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Games.
The British star held off a late charge by Chelimo of the United States, who surprisingly set a personal best of 13:03.90 to take silver. Hagos Gebrhiwet, who was among the early leaders of the race, settled for bronze in 13:04.35.
There was pushing and shoving in the final backstretch, which later resulted in the disqualification of Chelimo, Canada’s Mohammed Ahmed and Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris. Chelimo appealed the decision and was reinstated to take his silver medal and become the first American to medal in the event since the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
Mother of three just misses the medals
Spain’s Ruth Beita cleared all of her jumps at 1.88, 1.93 and 2.00 meters to claim gold in the women’s high jump. Bulgaria’s Mirela Demireva missed on her first attempt of the night, which moved her into the silver medal position ahead of Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic who won a bronze medal to complement her silver from the 2008 Olympics.
Chaunte Lowe, the high jump American record holder and a mother of three, just finished outside of the medals for fourth place.
Vashti Cunningham, the reigning world indoor champion and daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, finished tied for 13th in her first Olympics at 18 years old. She missed her three attempts at 1.93 meters.
The high jump is one of the events where the absence of the Russians may have been noticeable. Russia’s Mariya Kuchina and Anna Chicherova took gold and bronze at last summer’s World Championships. Kuchina has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs but was unable to compete due to Russia’s ban from international competition. Chicherova, who won bronze at the 2008 Olympics and improved to gold in 2012, reportedly tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in recent re-testing of doping samples from 2008. Her coach admitted to the positive test, but has denied any wrongdoing.
Caster Semenya expectedly wins
South Africa’s Caster Semenya was the heavy favorite for the women’s 800 meters way before she toed the starting line as she ran a personal best of 1:55.28 for the fastest time since 2008. She finished ahead of Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, who tried to take the lead with 300 meters remaining in the race but settled for silver in 1:56.49.
Kenya’s Margaret Wambui reeled in Canada’s Melissa Bishop in the final 100 meters to claim bronze in a personal best of 1:56.89.
Last summer, the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the “female hyperandrogenism” policy, which was adopted in 2011 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (track and field's governing body) and deemed high levels of natural testosterone as a competitive advantage. One star affected by this ruling will be Semenya: The 2009 world champion and 2012 silver medalist was subjected to gender testing in '10.
Semenya returned to competition in 2011 and won that silver behind Mariya Savinova of Russia, who was implicated in Russian doping investigation.
Kate Grace, the lone American in the final, finished eighth in 1:59.57
U.S. sweeps 4x400-meter relays
The relay featured another close battle between Jamaica and the United States before the baton fell into the hands of the most decorated female in American track and field history. Allyson Felix anchored the women’s 4x400-meter relay to a gold medal in 3:19.06, which brings her career count to six Olympic gold medals and nine total. She ties Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey for the most Olympic medals all-time by a female track and field athlete. Jamaica took silver in 3:20.34. Great Britain crossed the finish line five seconds later for bronze.
The men’s race was close until the final leg when 400-meter bronze medalist LaShawn Merritt pulled away from the field to put the United States back atop the podium in the 4x400-meter relay. The Americans lost to the Bahamas in 2012 and settled for silver. Botswana was the main challenger for the first three legs of the race before anchor Goane Leaname Maotoanong tied up and was passed by Jamaica and the Bahamas for silver and bronze.
One more medal opportunity remains
The United States track and field team concluded its action at the Olympic Stadium having won a total of 31 medals—13 gold, nine silver and nine bronze. The final athletics final to be contested will be the men’s marathon on Sunday morning. Gale Rupp, the U.S. Olympic trials champion, and Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, are the top American medal hopes.