By Israel Gutierrez
BEIJING - U.S. track has opened its portion of the 2008 Games in a slump.
Even Lauren Williams couldn’t shake the Americans out of their early fog.
Williams finished fourth, behind three blazing Jamaicans, in the 100-meter final on Sunday, .05 seconds away from a medal.
Shelly-Ann Fraser led the way for Jamaica with a time of 10.78 seconds, the second fastest time ever run at an Olympics, with Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart tying for second in 10.98. Williams came in at 11.03 despite initially believing she was in a photo finish for third.
Not including the 2000 Sydney Games, in which Marion Jones placed first but has since had her records annulled (edit), the U.S. women had not been shut out of a 100-meter medal in a non-boycotted Olympics since 1976.
Combine that with Bernard Lagat not qualifying for the final in the 1,500 Sunday and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt thrusting his country further into the forefront with a world record 9.69 in the men’s 100 Saturday, and it shows the Americans are need a swift recovery.
``We definitely need something to turn the morale around,’’ said Williams, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2005 world champion in the 100.
When the race was over, it was clear Fraser secured the gold, but the suspense for who took the last two spots lingered for several minutes.
Williams waited just off the track while the three Jamaican women, confident in their top-three status, draped themselves in their country’s flag and began a victory lap.
When the final results showed that the photo finish was to decipher second place between two Jamaicans, Williams, a former Miami Hurricane, retreated to the bowels of National Stadium.
``I was just waiting to see the official time,’’ Williams said. I thought the photo finish was between Sherone and I for third. Clearly I was watching from the wrong angle because she ended up in second. That’s really the only thing I was hanging around for. I just wanted to see if I got a medal.’’
Williams, one of several U.S. track athletes who caught a minor 24-hour bug near the end of their training in Dalian, China, said the Jamaican success should motivate the U.S. team to regain its usual place on the top of the sprinting world.
``I just think maybe it’s time for America to humble themselves,’’
``We’re getting a pretty good taste of what it’s like to be at the bottom, and it’s going to make us hungry to get back to the top. We have to go home, work harder, and next year at the world championships turn this around and for the next Olympics turn this around.’’
Williams said her flaw was not finishing the race strong, especially considering Clement, beside her in lane 7, is known for closing quickly.
When she came up on me, made that move, I probably tightened up instead of trying to go with her,'' Williams said. That’s what cost me.’’
The other two U.S. runners in the race made their errors earlier in the race. Muna Lee, who finished fifth, said she came out of the blocks slowly because she thought she saw a false start.
Turns out that quick jump was from her teammate, Tori Edwards, who was certain the race would get called back after she anticipated the starting gun.
I think I false started,'' said Edwards, who came in last. There was no call back, so I went. I’m disappointed.’’ U.S. Track and Field filed a protest after the race in response to the possible false start, but it was rejected.
[FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH NOW, I THINK DRAWING THE LANE NEXT TO EDWARDS - WHO CLEARLY BAULKED BEFORE THE GUN - MESSED UP KERRON STEWART BIGTIME.:rolleyes: kk]
Lagat, the former Kenyan distance runner who became a U.S. citizen in 2004, is the defending world champion in the 1,500 and 5,000 also ended the night disappointed. He finished sixth in his semifinal heat in 3:37.79, just .02 seconds behind the 12th and final qualifier for the final.
I felt like I was just following the pace,'' Lagat said. There was a lot of pushing, there was a lot of body contact in there. But I ran hard. That last 100, I felt like I gave it all out. But I think I let the guys leave me, so it was hard to chase them down.’’
Sanya Richards didn’t let down. The gold medal favorite in the 400 meters had the fastest qualifying time in Sunday’s semis, coming in at 49.90.
In the final I'm not going to be running for a time, I'll be running for a gold medal,'' Richards said. But I definitely feel like I’m in great shape. I think I’m very close to seeing a 48 (seconds).’’
As for Williams, she said she plans on seeing the Beijing Zoo, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall all on Monday before preparing for a 400-meter relay that she is not conceding the Jamaicans.
We're not going to take that lying down, either,'' she said. Clearly it’s going to look like Jamaica’s going to take us… but we’re going to get on the line, we’re going to have a good chemistry, great hand-offs and we hope to get to the finish line first.’’