Taylor goes wire to wire, leads sweep

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

BEIJING -- The big debate was whether it would be the best U.S. Olympic track team in 40 years. Maybe ever. Once the torch was lit, though, it started shaping up as one of the biggest disappointments.

A couple of underdogs got things back on track for the Americans on Monday.

Angelo Taylor led a medals sweep in the 400-meter hurdles and Stephanie Brown Trafton won a surprising gold in the discus. A team that came into the day with no gold medals walked out with two. A team that came in trailing Belarus in the medals count walked out in the lead.

"We wanted to uplift the track team," Taylor said, "and bring home the sweep."

Who better to lead than a comeback kid?

The Olympic champion in Sydney in 2000, Taylor was laying electrical wire 14 months ago, virtually out of the sport in the aftermath of an ugly legal imbroglio. He failed to make the final in Athens four years ago -- he said he had stress fractures in both shins. In Beijing, he became the first 400-meter hurdler since Edwin Moses to win gold medals eight years apart.

He ran a personal-best time of 47.25 seconds, ahead of teammates Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson, who combined to produce the first sweep of the event since the U.S. did it in 1960.

Other notable events included another rout by the U.S. men's basketball and softball teams, and a frustrating silver for gymnast Nastia Liukin.

The United States still tops the medals table, now with 72, but China continues to run away with the most golds. With four more Monday, the Chinese are up to 39 (more than the overall count for any country but the U.S.), while the Americans have 22.

Also, Britain is up to 12 gold medals, its most since 1920, and kudos to male long jumper Irving Saladino for picking up Panama's first-ever gold in any sport.

Earlier today, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor advanced to the finals in women's beach volleyball, giving them a chance to defend the title they won four years ago. The win was their 107th straight and it came in straight sets over a Brazilian duo. Who they'll play in the finals was still being determined, but either way it'll be a tandem from China.

Also in track for the Americans on Monday, there was Jenn Stuczynski's pole vault for silver, trailing only Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who set a new world record. That Cold War-style rivalry got heated after the American said she hoped to "kick some Russian butt."

There was Brown Trafton, who was considered a field filler more than a medal contender. She threw the discus 212 feet, 5 inches (64.74 meters) on her very first attempt -- and that held up to give the U.S. team its first gold.

She didn't make it out of Olympic qualifying four years ago, had only two throws over 200 feet before this year, and finished only third at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Gymnastics

It's a good thing Liukin already won the all-around, because the way she got silver in the uneven bars is enough to drive a gal nuts.

Liukin and China's He Kexin got the same score, requiring a tiebreaker because dual medals are no longer awarded in gymnastics. The details are pretty crazy; all that matters is He won and Liukin didn't. He, by the way, is among the girls who many believe is too young to be eligible for these games.

This was Liukin's fourth medal of the games, matching her dad's haul when he competed for the Soviet Union. Coincidentally, one of Valeri Liukin's golds, on high bar in 1988, came in a tie.

Oddly, there also was a deadlock for the men's vault gold, which went to Poland's Leszek Blanik.

Chen Yibing extended China's perfect run of gold by winning the still rings competition. That string ended only because no Chinese men qualified for vault.

Liukin's silver gave the United States six overall medals. China has five, including team gold.

Beach volleyball

There won't be an all-American men's final.

Although top-ranked duo Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser rolled into the semifinals with a win over a German team, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal lost to the defending Olympic champions from Brazil.

Next up for Rogers and Dalhausser is surprising Georgia on Wednesday.

Men's basketball

The "Redeem Team" keeps powering through the Olympics, crushing Dirk Nowitzki and Germany 106-57. Next up: A quarterfinals game against Australia, which gave the U.S. team its only close competition thus far in an exhibition game two weeks ago. The winner goes to the semifinals against the Argentina-Greece winner.

"We feel like we're playing very well right now, but you have to keep in mind it's single elimination," Kobe Bryant said. "You can't afford any slip-ups."

China secured a spot in the medal round despite losing 91-77 to Greece.

Diving

He Chong of China is the men's 3-meter springboard leader coming out of prelims. Americans Chris Colwill finished seventh and Troy Dumais was 12th, getting them into a semifinal this morning.

Women's soccer

Get ready for a rematch. Just like 2004, the final will pit the United States and Brazil.

The Americans advanced by beating Japan 4-2. Brazil got there with a 4-1 victory over Germany.

Softball

Feel free to move on to the next section if the details of the latest U.S. rout bore you.

It was a nine-run first inning against the hostesses on the way to a 9-0 win over China, leaving the Americans two wins from another gold medal. Their win streak is up to 23; two more and they get another gold before their sport goes off the docket until at least 2016.

Up next is Japan, already a 7-0 loser to the U.S.

Baseball

The U.S. team beat China 9-1 in a game that featured rough play such as a home-plate collision that knocked out China's top player, a retaliatory hit batsman and three ejections.

South Korea remained unbeaten with a 9-8 victory over Taiwan.

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