DAEGU, South Korea — Christian Taylor, 21 years old, won the triple jump Sunday at the 2011 track championships with an audacious leap of 17.96 meters, 58 feet, 11 1/4 inches, the fifth-best in history. He declared afterward, in the tone of a respectful competitor, not a jerk, “I came to win.”
Will Claye is just 20 years old. Both Claye and Taylor were going to be seniors at the University of Florida until turning pro. What are the odds that these would be the two guys finishing 1-3 at the worlds in the same event? Yet that’s what happened, Claye jumping a personal-best 17.5, or 57-5. He said, “We came out here, did our best and ended up doing big things.”
The American team did, indeed, do big things.
First and foremost, it topped the medal table, with 25, the second-highest medal total at a worlds for Team USA, one shy of the 26 won by the 1991 and 2007 teams.
But for the thoroughly unexpected, the American team actually could have reached the elusive 30 mark, which would have been sweet validation indeed for Doug Logan, the vanquished former chief executive of USA Track & Field, who had said all along that 30 was eminently do-able — only to get sent packing before the plans he had put in place to get to 30 could be realized.
The Americans put four men in the final 12 in shot put, an event the U.S. has dominated in recent years. None got a medal. The U.S. has also been strong in the 400-meter men’s hurdles; no medals there in Daegu despite two finalists. The Americans took home no medals in pole-vaulting, men’s or women’s, a traditional strength.
And, once again, in the very last event of the championships, the men’s 400 relay, an event won by the Jamaicans — anchored by Usain Bolt — in world-record time, 37.04, the American men did not get through without disaster.
The 2008 Olympics, the 2009 world champs and now these 2011 worlds — all DQs. This one involved a collision on the final exchange involving American Darvis Patton and Britain’s Harry Aikines-Aryeetey. Details, even after repeated viewings of the tape, remain sketchy.
“I felt his big knee in my arm,” Aikines-Aryeetey said in a television interview.
Under no circumstances would the Americans have beaten the Jamaicans. Even so, Justin Gatlin, who had run the second leg, said, “You can’t tell me we weren’t going to set an American record.”
Stepping back to assess the U.S. team’s “big things” over the nine days of the meet:
The 12 medals won by the U.S. women are the most-ever; the 1993 team won 11.
Allyson Felix didn’t win individual gold in her 200/400 double. But she did win silver in the 400, bronze in the 200 and gold in both the 400 and 1600 relays. Four is the most medals ever won by a woman at one meet; American Gwen Torrance, Kathrin Krabbe of Germany and Marita Koch of East Germany also won four.
If Felix had been a country, the four medals she won would have tied her for seventh on the 2011 medals chart.
Also: those four medals lift Felix’s career world-championships total won to 10. That ties her with Carl Lewis for most medals won by an American.
Jenny Simpson, 25 and still a newlywed (last October), won the first gold for the United States in the women’s 1500 since 1983. Then, a couple days later, Matthew Centrowitz, 21, a fifth-year senior at Oregon, won bronze in the 1500.
The U.S. men swept the high jump, long jump and triple jump golds. The U.S. men — Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton — went 1-2 in the decathlon. Dwight Phillips’ long jump victory was his fourth at the worlds, to go along with his 2004 Olympic gold.
Phillips is 33, turning 34 in October. Bernard Lagat, who took silver Sunday night in the 5000, is 36, turning 37 in December. Lagat is the 2007 5000 and 1500 champ and, as well, the 2009 1500 bronze and 5000 silver medalist; he won silver at the 2004 Games in Athens when he was still running for Kenya.
Lagat, Phillips, Simpson, Centrowitz — they illustrate the mix of veteran and younger talent that made up this team. That same sort of mix is likely to be on display next year for the United States track team at the Olympics in London.
“If Jenny can do it … if Matt can do it … if Bernard can still do it … I’m proud of my team,” Lagat said.
Taylor, asked about the U.S. men sweeping the jumps, said, “It’s about time. That’s what I would say. Like I said, to have Dwight in the same group and having that family — you know it’s like, I wouldn’t say a brother, but he’s kind of old, so kind of like a dad! I mean, it’s just been a great experience.
“The U.S. definitely represented and showed the world that we are the best team in the world.”
So — what does this performance here in Daegu mean for London?
Maybe a lot and perhaps very little.
LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 400 gold medalist, took silver in the event here and anchored the gold medal-winning 1600 relay. His future remains uncertain pending the outcome of litigation stemming from a 21-month doping-related suspension he has already served.
Tyson Gay, who had been America’s best 100 and 200 sprinter, was hurt. Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 400 gold medalist — hurt. Chris Solinsky, the 10,000-meter American record-holder — hurt. Bryan Clay, the 2008 Olympic decathlon champ — hurt. Standout hurdler Lolo Jones — hurt. None of them competed here.
Do any or all of them make it to London? No one can predict.
Who knows whether Gay, who has struggled to stay healthy, can get fit?
Beyond which — the brutal nature of the U.S. Trials, in which you’re top-three or you stay home — allows for no sentiment.
Just ask Phillips. He finished fourth at the Trials in 2008.
Or Simpson. “I mean, all this can do is bolster my confidence,” she said.
But now Daegu is over, and London awaits. And she said, “I’m very cognizant of the fact this doesn’t mean that I’m any shoo-in for any race following this.”