American stars are out to earn their stripes

The track-and-field powerhouse spluttered in Beijing but at London 2012, USA hope to double their medal tally, writes Simon Turnbull

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The United States have long been the powerhouse nation of the Olympic Games in all sports. They lead the all-time table for the summer Games by a distance, with 2,298 medals – 930 gold, 728 silver and 639 bronze.

The highest percentage of their medals have come from the showpiece arena of track and field, some 29 per cent, 738 in total – 311 gold, 238 silver and 189 bronze.

They topped the athletics table again in Beijing four years ago, but only just, winning 23 medals – seven gold, nine silver and seven bronze.

Pole-vaulter Brad Walker was one of the US men's stars who failed to earn their stripes in Beijing. He started as favourite, having won the world title the year before and cleared a national-record height of 6.04m on the eve of the Games, but was unable to register a clearance during a marathon qualifying competition that stretched beyond midnight. "It was devastating," the 2007 world champion recalled, after training in the rain at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham this week. "I went to Beijing with the highest jump of the year and I left without any hardware. But I think I learned valuable lessons to carry forward. Last week I jumped 5.90m, my best for four years. This is a new opportunity and a new time. I call it a kind of redemption."

The medal target in London for the combined US men's and women's track and field squad is 30. "There's a real opportunity for that," said head coach Andrew Valmon, a 4x400m relay gold medallist at the 1988 and 1992 Games. "We have a strong team. Some extraordinary athletes are going to be performing for the US in London."

The most extraordinary member of the 126-strong US team is Ashton Eaton. At the trials meeting in Eugene, Oregon, last month the 24-year-old opened the decathlon with a 100m clocking of 10.21sec and proceeded to rack up a world-record tally of 9,039 points. "It doesn't mean that much to the rest of the world but to me it's my whole world," he said. It was a telling observation.

Comments