Women's discus is US's first track and field gold

August 18, 2008 7:46:50 AM PDT
Their most accomplished hurdler went down, their best sprinter went out. Instead of racking up medals, the Americans entered the fourth day of the Olympic track meet a grand disappointment in the making. Then up stepped Stephanie Brown Trafton.

Considered a field filler more than a medal contender, Brown Trafton threw the discus 212 feet, 5 inches (64.74 meters) on her very first attempt Monday - a throw that held up and gave the U.S. team its first gold medal of the meet. From a most unlikely source.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" finally played at the Bird's Nest. Brown Trafton stood higher than anyone on the medals stand. Yes, a tear or two came to eye, but mostly she just stood there smiling.

"I came to the Bird's Nest to lay a golden egg, and that's what I did," Brown Trafton said. "I am surprised we haven't won more gold. But you know what? I hope this sets a trend."

The biggest disappointment of the meet, of course, belonged to China, which lost defending champion 110-meter hurdler Liu Xiang, one of the country's biggest Olympic stars, to a foot injury.

He lined up for his first qualifying heat, took a few strides out of the blocks, heard a gun that signaled a false start by another runner and then tore his numbers off and limped dejectedly to the tunnel, grimacing and clutching his leg. A tendon in his right foot flared up a couple of days ago, leaving him unable to go.

At least for the morning, the Liu news sent everything else at this meet to the back page - maybe a good thing for an American team off to an unexpectedly poor start.

Tyson Gay, the defending world champion, didn't make it out of semifinals in the 100-meter dash - the race won by Usain Bolt in a world-record 9.69 seconds. The Americans came up with only one of six possible medals in the men's and women's sprints - a bad start to a meet where they anticipated dominating the medal count.

There were other low points: Moments after Liu withdrew, two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell scratched from the 110 hurdles, straining his left hamstring and clearing only one hurdle before pulling up in the opening heat.

And in the 1,500, world champion Bernard Lagat failed to make it out of qualifying, as did American teammates Leo Manzano and Lopez Lomong.

There was Deena Kastor, the American record-holder, pulling out of the marathon with a broken foot. There was the 4-5-8 finish of the American women in the 100; they protested that there was a false start - by one of them, no less - but that fell on deaf ears.

Reese Hoffa was thought to have a chance to lead an American sweep in the shot put - a possible momentum builder in the meet's first event - but Hoffa finished seventh and the team settled only for Christian Cantwell's silver.

In fact, this was turning into a very Jamaican celebration. Their women swept the 100, and Bolt had his world record and cruised through the quarterfinals of the 200 on Monday, looking for the first sprint double since Carl Lewis in 1984.

But before that, a celebration for Brown Trafton, who didn't make it out of Olympic qualifying four years ago and had only two throws over 200 feet before this year.

Not great credentials, but none of that matters now.

She won the first gold for a U.S. woman in the discus since Lillian Copeland in 1932 and only the second medal of any color since then.

The 28-year-old from Galt, Calif., said she recognized that the win was a big deal - and not just for herself.

"I'm surprised we haven't won more gold," she said. "We need as many gold as we can."


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