LONDON — The U.S. track and field team considers its performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics subpar, with 23 medals - seven gold, nine silver and seven bronze. The team has high hopes to make a dramatic improvement at the 2012 games.
USA Track and Field has a goal of 30 medals for the London Olympics, and of course, the more gold the better.
At the last Olympics, the U.S. men came home with four gold medals and believe they can do much better in London.
Optimistic outlook prevails
U.S. men’s athletics coach Andrew Valmon, a two-time Olympic relay gold medalist, assessed his team.
“Overall we are strong. I think the one key word is team, in terms of we are strong from the sprints all the way up through the marathon and all the field events," said Valmon. "And so we are excited about the diversity we have in terms of scoring and medaling in all those events.”
U.S. women’s track and field coach Amy Deem is equally optimistic about her group of Olympic athletes.
“I really think this is the strongest team I have ever been around on the women’s side. I feel like we have a lot of experience, and we have some new people on an Olympic team, but they are world champions and they have got a lot of experience," said Deem. "And I am just really excited about the women and what I think that they and we can achieve.”
Going for gold
One of those women is sprinter Allyson Felix, a three-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200 meters, and a relay gold medalist. She is hoping she can finally win that elusive Olympic gold in the 200 meters, or maybe even the 100.
“I hope the third time is going to be the charm. And of course there is pressure," said Felix. "I mean, I have gotten two silver medals and so at my third Olympics to think that people do not expect me to, you know, finally get the job done, it would be crazy. But I have just tried to stick to what I have always done - not let the pressure get to me. I feel like I have just managed this year a lot better.”
One of the U.S. women who gets little publicity, even though she won the gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles in Beijing, is Dawn Harper. She said she can not let that bother her.
“Is it frustrating? Hmmm. At one point it was. I do not want to lie and say that it was not. It was," said Harper. "But you know what? I kid you not. I say this and I hope that it comes across, and it really is true. I have just dropped to my knees and just prayed about it and said I know that I am just blessed to be here. Nothing that someone else gets can take away from my journey, can take away from the joy that I have.”
The athlete on the U.S. men’s team who is getting his share of attention is 24-year-old Ashton Eaton. Eaton was second in the decathlon at last year’s World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. In June at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, though, he won the decathlon with a world record score of 9,039 points, only the second man in history to exceed the 9,000 mark.
That bettered the 11-year-old mark held by the Czech Republic’s Roman Sebrle by 13 points.
“It is, I think, unrealistic to think I am going to get another world record, especially at the Olympic Games," said Eaton. "There are a lot of things that happen mentally and physically that I do not know about yet, because of course I have never been. But that is just what people have said, and I just am not going to go for a world record. I do not expect it.”
But Eaton was asked at his news conference if he thought breaking the 9,000-point barrier again was possible at the Olympics?
“I do not know. I think it is, because it is an elevated competition, and we are all going to rise to the occasion,” he said.
And that will be the goal not only for members of the U.S. athletics team, but all other teams at these Summer Games.
Olympics track and field begins Friday - with finals in men’s shot put and the women’s 10,000 meters - and runs through the final day of the games, August 12.