RIO DE JANEIRO – Sweep!
Team USA became the first nation in Olympic history to win all three medals in the women’s 100-meter hurdles.
Brianna Rollins won the gold, Nia Ali the silver and Kristi Castlin, with a furious finish, took the bronze Wednesday night.
“It’s like a sisterhood,” said Rollins, who trains with Castlin and has also known Ali for years.
“I’m so grateful and blessed that we were able to accomplish this together.”
And Team USA swept without world-record holder Keni Harrison, who did not make the U.S. team from a loaded field at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field.
“You could pretty much equate us to a Dream Team,” Castlin said after the trials.
Following the race, the three Team USA athletes huddled on the track just past the finish line, waiting for the results: Rollins at 12.48 and Ali at 12.59 popped up quickly in the top two positions. There was a pause, then an outpouring of applause as Castlin came up next at 12.61.
“I knew I was in second, but I didn’t know what else happened,” Ali said. “So when we looked up at the screen, we were like, ‘Did we do it? Did we do it?’ and then we saw Kristi’s name come up, and it was like, ‘Yes!’”
“We all had a good feeling that it was going to be her.”
Castlin, known as a “closer,” came from as far back as seventh place to edged Cindy Ofili of Great Britain by .02 seconds.
“I really couldn’t breathe for one second,” Castlin said. “My thing was not so much a bronze for myself but really just upholding the team. We came into this together. Track and field, a lot of times athletes go into it as individuals. But we had a different perspective. We came into it as a team, for girl power, for USA. So we were able to do the first sweep in U.S. women’s history. It feels good to be a history-maker.”
The sweep was the 61st in U.S. Olympic track and field history going back to 1896, and the first in the sport since the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, when Americans conquered the podium in the men’s 400-meter and 400-meter hurdles. It was also the first for Team USA on the women’s side in track and field.
Rollins won the first gold medal on the track, as the other three golds Team USA has won in Rio were all in field events.
She said she felt relief mixed with excitement.
“I actually hit a few hurdles and I didn’t let that stop me,” Rollins said. “I wanted to fulfill this dream and be on that podium.
The crowd at Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night had an inkling there might be a sweep when each U.S. hurdler each won her heat. Rollins, the former American-record holder and 2013 world champion, had the fastest time at 12.47 seconds.
“You can’t take anything for granted out here,” said Ali, who held her 15-month-old son Titus on the track during the celebration. “These women work so hard. There’s always a lot of upsets. You can never just say, ‘Oh, I ran a fast time, so for sure this is going to happen for me.’ The world record was run right after our trials.
“We don’t discount any of our competitors, and we respect them.”
Four years ago, the U.S. went 2-3-4 in the event, with Dawn Harper-Nelson followed by Kellie Wells, who won the bronze, and Lolo Jones.
The United States dominated the event going into the trials. The U.S. had the top five performers in the world, including Harrison, who had the best time.
But in a brutal competition, Harrison placed sixth while Harper-Nelson, who was the gold medalist in 2008, did not even make the final.
Two weeks later, Harrison broke the 28-year-old world record with a time of 12.20 and also claimed the American record held by Rollins. It was a small consolation prize.
“It just shows you how strong our event is,” Rollins said, “and it lets you know that anyone out there competing at the trials in the finals could have been on this team and could have been on the podium. I’m just so grateful we were able to achieve that and just live up to expectations that everybody was talking about.”
Castlin, who performed a spin move in the tunnel during introductions, dedicated her race to eradicating gun violence. Her father was murdered when she was 12 and she was at Virginia Tech during the massacre.
“I’ve been around a lot of gun violence in my life,” she said. “The young lady from the Bahamas (Pedrya Seymour), she also expressed to me that she lost her brother in February and she read my story. Not just for Americans, but all over the world, we’re always touched by gun violence, we’re always touched by tragedy, so it really feels good to be an example, not just for America, but for families all over the world.”
And Castlin is also an example of not giving up.
“In 2012, I actually had the fastest time going into the U.S. trials but strained my hamstring and didn’t even make it to the finals,” she said. “I was told a lot of times that my career was over, it was dead, nobody was thinking about me. No one even thought that I was going to make this team, but I knew when I started training in November that I would be on this Olympic team and that I would be on the podium.”
And she’ll be on that podium with two of her friends.