LONDON – Team USA’s performances at the IAAF World Championships were unparalleled, unexpected, sometimes unbelievable and totally unforgettable. Call it red, white and out of the blue.
For every Christian Taylor winning gold in the men’s triple jump, Brittney Reese capturing the women’s long jump or Sam Kendricks soaring to the title in the men’s pole vault, there were medals in events in which Team USA had rarely reached the podium (men’s discus and women’s marathon) or had never cracked the top three (gold, silver and bronze in the steeplechase).
Team USA won a record 30 medals – 10 gold, 11 silver and nine bronze – exceeding its 28 medals won in 2011.
The closest country in the medal table was Kenya with 11, including five golds, as 43 countries won at least one medal at London Stadium.
Allyson Felix, with three medals – two golds and a bronze – won more medals than 29 nations and now has an unprecedented 16 total world championship medals. She is tied with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt with 11 golds. Bolt has retired; Felix has not.
On the heels of the 32 medals won at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, this was the first time since the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952 and Olympic Games Melbourne 1956 that Team USA won 30-plus medals at consecutive global championships.
Here are a dozen notable Team USA performances in the order in which they occurred.
Mason Finley, Bronze Medal, Men's Discus
Finley got Team USA off on the right foot after a setback that could have knocked someone else off their game. When Finley went to grab his personal disc for his second throw in the qualifying round, he couldn't find it. ”It wasn’t there,” he said, “And they said somebody else threw my disc, cracked it and broke it.” Finley found a similar disc and met the qualifying mark. In the final, he again used a borrowed implement to throw a personal best of 68.03 meters (223 feet, 2 inches). Finley, who finished 11th at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, became only the third man in Team USA history to medal in the event and the first since 1999.
Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman, Gold and Silver Medals, Men's 100-Meter
All eyes were on Usain Bolt, who was running his last individual race at worlds. The British press called Gatlin a “gatecrasher” as he and Coleman spoiled Bolt’s last hurrah in the 100. Gatlin ran 9.92 seconds, Coleman 9.94 and Bolt 9.95 for the bronze. While Bolt has chosen to retire at nearly age 31, Gatlin became the oldest man ever to win the 100 at age 35 years, 176 days. Gatlin is also the first to win two titles 12 years apart after winning his first world title in 2005. This was the first 1-2 finish for Team USA in the 100 since 2001, when Maurice Greene and Bernard Williams captured the gold and silver. Gatlin, running in Lane 8, was overlooked as Coleman and Bolt dueled in the middle lanes. “I believed in myself,” Gatlin said. And the world believed it, too, when he crossed the line. Coleman, 21, who earlier the same night handed Bolt his first Olympic or world semifinal defeat, also turned heads. Sebastian Coe, president of the IAAF, said the meet marked the “emergence of Christian Coleman, quite possibly the future face of sprinting.”
Amy Cragg, Bronze Medal, Women's Marathon
The two-time Olympian gave up the Boston Marathon to focus on worlds, and her strategy paid off. Cragg became the first American woman to capture a marathon medal at worlds since Marianne Dickerson in 1983. She was part of the pack that broke away late in the race, then battled Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech Daniel for the final medal, kicking for the bronze and nearly securing the silver. Her time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 18 seconds was the fastest ever by a U.S. woman at worlds. “Every medalist – past and present – I've always really looked up to and hold them above me, so it feels crazy to be in that group now,” Cragg said.
Tori Bowie, Gold Medal, Women's 100-Meter
While Bolt had the reputation – if not the recent results to back it up – in the men’s 100, his countrywoman Elaine Thompson had both in the women’s event. She was the Olympic gold medalist and had the fastest time in the world of 10.71 seconds. But Thompson actually wasn’t a factor in the final. Instead, Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast was bearing down on the finish line when Bowie, the Olympic silver medalist, leaned at the perfect moment to take the victory. Bowie’s time was 10.85 seconds, one one-hundredth faster than Ta Lou. “I bet I’m probably the only person in the world that believed I’d come out here and win the 100 meters tonight,” Bowie said. Unfortunately, Bowie’s momentum made her lose her balance and fall to the track, bruising her hip and giving her some abrasions. She withdrew from the 200, but was back to anchor Team USA to the win in the 4x100-meter.
Jenny Simpson, Silver Medal, Women's 1,500-Meter
Coming in as the 15th fastest performer this year on the world list, Simpson kicked from fourth place to second with 50 meters to go with a time of 4:02.76. “The final stretch, I just thought, ‘I can win,’” said Simpson, who finished .17 behind Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon. “And I thought, ‘No one’s going to believe I’m doing this again.'” In the last six years, Simpson has made the podium in three of the last four world championships, with an Olympic bronze medal last year. She lost a shoe two years ago at worlds, keeping her off the podium. “I finished and I thought, ‘The stadium is designed and looks like a tiara and I feel like one of the jewels just shining on the inside of it,’” Simpson said.
Sam Kendricks, Gold Medal, Men's Pole Vault
Kendricks was the favorite going in after becoming the 20th member of the prestigious 6-meter club earlier this year. He was nearly flawless as the competition progressed, becoming the only vaulter to clear the first five heights on his first attempt. Kendricks missed twice at 5.95 meters (19 feet, 6 1/4 inches), then cleared it on his third attempt for the victory. He is the first American to medal at the world championships in the men’s pole vault since Brad Walker won gold in 2007 in Osaka. Kendricks, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, is only the fourth American to medal at worlds in the men’s pole vault. The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve took his victory lap with the American flag folded over his shoulder. “It covers up the little flag here (on his uniform), but sometimes the bigger flag is nicer,” he said.
Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix, Gold and Silver Medals, Women's 400-Meter
An American whose last name starts with “F” was one of the favorites in the 400-meter, but it wasn’t Francis. It was Allyson Felix, the defending champion and Olympic silver medalist. The other favorite was Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas. But on the homestretch Miller-Uibo uncharacteristically stumbled, Felix faded and Francis was the surprise winner with a personal best time of 49.92 seconds. “I’m like, ‘holy smokes, I did it!” she said. Felix said it “was nice for her to come out on top,” but she was disappointed in her own performance. Even two gold medals in the relays didn’t make up for her loss. “That’s not the way it works,” she said. On the final day of competition, Felix ran the second leg and Francis the anchor as Team USA set a world championships record for largest margin of victory in a 4x400-meter, at 5.98 seconds. .
Christian Taylor and Will Claye, Gold and Silver Medals, Men's Triple Jump
In a repeat of their finish at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and the Olympic Games London 2012, Taylor and Claye went 1-2 for the first time in Team USA’s world championships history. Taylor’s winning jump was 17.68 meters (58-0 1/4) while Claye went 17.63 (57-10 1/4). Taylor and Claye join the legendary Mike Conley as the only triple jumpers to win three world medals. Taylor is the first triple jumper to win three world titles and the first to win two in a row, overtaking Claye on his third jump. Taylor said Claye pushes him “too much. He's pushed me from high school ranks and as annoying as it is, I'm also extremely grateful for it. I would not be able to go the distance and push myself without him.”
Kori Carter and Dalilah Muhammad, Gold and Silver Medals, Women's 400-Meter Hurdles
Carter’s “game-face” during the race introduction went viral as a meme, with her teammates mimicking her gesture in a video. Team USA went 1-2 for the first time since 1995, but Muhammad, the reigning Olympic champ, was considered the better bet for the top position on the podium. Muhammad had the lead the first half of the race, but Carter, in Lane 9, cleared the final hurdle practically even with her and sprinted for the win in 53.07 seconds, with Muhammad next at 53.50. “I could barely sleep last night because that was all I was dreaming of,” Carter said. “I kept waking up and thinking about it. And I just envisioned coming out on top.”
Brittney Reese and Tianna Bartoletta, Gold and Silver Medals, Women's Long Jump
Reese became the first woman to win four world long jump medals and is only the second woman to win four golds in a single world championships event, joining New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams. Reese jumped with a tribute to her late grandfather on the back of her bib. She had only two legal jumps, but her third leap of 7.02 meters (23-0 1/2) held up for the gold. Bartoletta, the Olympic champion, won the bronze with a jump of 6.97 meters (22-10 1/2) marking the first time Team USA won multiple medals n the women’s long jump at worlds. “My grandfather (King David Dunomes) passed away a couple of weeks ago,” Reese said. “He’s the reason I’m running track today. It was an emotional time for me. I’m glad I had the opportunity to come out here and get him a gold medal. He was my No. 1 fan. He was the type of person that will call a whole family to let them know I was on TV. To have him in my heart, I’m glad I came out with the gold.”
Dawn Harper-Nelson, Silver Medal, 100-Meter Hurdles
With Team USA filling four lanes of the eight-woman final, it was the 33-year-old veteran who hurdled onto the podium – then did her signature cartwheel in celebration. Harper-Nelson was the 2008 Olympic champ, 2012 silver medalist and 2011 world bronze medalist. She ran a season-best 12.63 seconds to finish behind 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson of Australia in 12.59 – just as she did five years ago at the Olympic Games on the same track. Keni Harrison of Team USA, the world record holder and pre-race favorite, hit too many early hurdles to stay in contention and placed fourth. Harper-Nelson said she was so nervous she was “shaking in the blocks.” Toward the end of the race when she saw Pearson out of the corner of her eye, she thought, “Of course it’s me and her! But it was so sweet for it to be me and her.” Harper-Nelson promised she would not be “laying her head down sad.” “Silver tastes like gold tonight,” she said. “You know when the gun goes off, you can count on Dawn!”
Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, Gold and Silver Medals, Women's Steeplechase
This was the biggest stunner of them all. When Evan Jager won the bronze medal in the men’s steeplechase to become the first Team USA runner to win a world medal in the event, it elicited a trickle of excitement. Coburn and Frerichs unleashed a torrent. With a time of 9:02.58, Coburn set a championship record and smashed her own American record that she set while winning the Olympic bronze medal in Rio. Coburn became the first American since Hall of Famer Horace Ashenfelter in 1952 to win a steeplechase gold at a global championship. Perhaps even more amazing, Frerichs clocked 9:03.77 to take a whopping 15.32 seconds off her personal best, breaking the previous championship and American records.
“I thought on a perfect day I could sneak in for a medal,” said Coburn, who came in ranked sixth on time and fifth among the runners in the final.
In a race that saw one of the favorites, Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech miss the first water jump and have to double back, and a few falls, Coburn and Frerichs stayed with the lead pack. Frerichs briefly took the lead, and both flanked Hyvin Jepkemoi at the final water jump. Coburn raised her arms at the finish line, while Frerichs clutched her head in disbelief, then they hugged and fell to the track.
“I was kind of waiting for someone to come up and steal it from me,” Coburn said, “and no one did.”
The only global champions for Team USA at distances more than 400 meters are Madeline Manning in the 800 in 1968, Mary Decker in the 1,500 and 3,000 in 1983 and Joan Benoit in the marathon in 1984. Team USA had not gone 1-2 in any distance event since 1912, when Ted Meredith led a sweep in the 800.