LONDON (Reuters) - The United States flexed their Olympian athletics muscles on Wednesday as Allyson Felix won 200 meters gold, Aries Merrit claimed the 110m hurdles, Brittney Reese the long jump and Ashton Eaton took a stranglehold on the decathlon at halfway.
Four years ago Jamaica gave the U.S. a sprint pummeling, winning both 100s, both 200s and the men’s 4x100 relay and normal service is likely to be resumed on Thursday after Jamaican duo Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake looked a class apart when they cruised into the men’s 200m final.
However, on a night when the U.S. picked up three golds among seven of the available 12 track and field medals, not even the most one-eyed islander could begrudge Felix her moment of triumph having finished runner-up to Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown at the previous two Olympics.
Felix, who runs with such liquid grace that she barely seems in contact with the ground, came off the bend level with her nemesis and Jamaica’s 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce but maintained her elegant form as the others tightened to win in 21.88 seconds.
Fraser-Pryce took silver in 22.09 with American Carmelita Jeter third in 22.14.
It was a just reward for Felix, the only woman to break 22 seconds this season.
“It’s been a long time coming. I am so overjoyed,” said Felix, who was runner-up to Campbell-Brown in 2004 and 2008 but is still only 26.
“I thought back to the disappointment in Beijing, it’s been a long road. This moment is really priceless.”
Merrit has timed his Olympic assault perfectly, putting together a string of sub-13-second runs in his build-up events, and though he benefited injury to others, he has become the most consistent man in the field.
China’s Liu Xiang failed to get out of his heat and defending champion and world record holder Dayron Robles pulled up after the sixth hurdle of the final.
None of that mattered to Merritt, however, who delivered a personal best 12.92 to hold off compatriot and world champion Jason Richardson (13.04) and Hansle Parchment, whose 13.12 was a Jamaican record.
“The U.S. haven’t had a men’s hurdles gold medal since Allen Johnson in 1996. It’s phenomenal,” Merritt said.
Reese broke an even longer barren streak as she became the first American winner of the women’s long jump since Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988.
She registered only two legal jumps from her six attempts but the first of them was 7.12m and good enough for the gold she needed to complete her collection after two world titles and another two world indoor golds.
“This means a lot for our country we are on track for our 30 medals that we really wanted,” Reese said.
“We are getting some unexpected medals nobody predicted. We are doing good and not just in the sprints. We are doing good everywhere. We are an all-around team now.”
Russian Elena Sokolova claimed silver with 7.07 and Janay DeLoach weighed into the American haul with bronze on 6.89.
Eaton, who set the decathlon world record in the U.S. trials, threw a lifetime best 15.48 meters in the shot en route to ending the first day 220 points clear of compatriot and double world champion Trey Hardee.
There was disappointment for 37-year-old Czech Roman Sebrle, however, as the 2004 Olympic champion’s participation in his fourth and final Games lasted just one event before he pulled out because of a heel injury.
The only gold not to go American’s way was the women’s 400 meters hurdles as their world champion Lashinda Demus could not quite reel in Russian winner Natalya Antyukh.
Antyukh came into the race as the fastest this year and surpassed that with a winning personal best of 52.70 seconds.
Bolt was at his most relaxed on Wednesday, just stretching his legs through the last 80 meters to win his 200m heat in 20.18 and he looks on course to become the first man to retain the 200m title and the first to win both sprints twice.
“My main aim was to run my turn, I haven’t done a lot this season so wanted to run a quick turn and I’ve done that,” he said.
“I really pushed myself the first 100 meters for it to be as easy as possible.”
The only man who looks remotely capable of pushing him is Blake, the second-fastest ever and who beat Bolt in the Jamaican trials and followed him home in the 100m final last Sunday.
Blake won his heat and Warren Weir made it three Jamaicans into the final but Wallace Spearmon, who finished third in 2008 before being disqualified, will carry American hopes alone in an event they have won 17 times from 24 attempts.
“We couldn’t jog 20 like some other guy, we were running,” said Spearmon.
Mo Farah looked a little tired but qualified safely for Saturday’s 5,000 meters final as he bids to complete the distance double after his emotional 10,000 meters win.
That race will see the 80,000 Olympic stadium choir reach crescendo level, though Bolt’s possible assault on his own 19.19 seconds 200 meters record on Thursday will not be far behind.
Editing by Ed Osmond