American stars clipped hurdles, fouled jumps and even flung a shoe. In the end, none of them reached the podium at he World Track and Field Championships in Beijing on Tuesday.
After Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix easily advanced in sprint heats and semifinals, the U.S. was favored to win medals in three of the five finals at the Bird’s Nest.
But the world’s best track and field nation won zero medals for the second time in four days of competition at Worlds. The U.S., predicted by some to better its record 26 medals for a single Worlds, has one gold medal and six total with five days left.
Kenya, boosted by victories from 800m Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha and in the men’s 400m hurdles on Tuesday, leads the medal standings with four golds and nine overall (full Tuesday results here).
Jenny Simpson, the 2011 World champion and 2014 Diamond League season champion, finished 11th in the 1500m, 8.19 seconds behind Ethiopian winner Genzebe Dibaba.
Simpson was undone after the heel of her teal left New Balance shoe got caught and partially slipped off while making a move about halfway through the race.
“Pretty intense jostling, and that’s where I started to lose half of it,” Simpson told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “I was clinching my toes as hard as possible.”
Simpson gave up and kicked the shoe off with about 600 meters left while trailing only Dibaba.
“Of all things in my mind, what I was thinking was I didn’t want to kick it into the crowd of people and take anyone else out,” she said. “It was terrible for me, but I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s race.”
Runners quickly passed her, and Simpson was in eighth place as the bell rang for the final lap. Simpson’s thoughts turned to preserving her foot for future races as the track ripped skin.
“It’s not that it’s so intensely painful that you can’t keep running, but it’s for training,” Simpson told Johnson on Universal Sports. “You can’t run on a foot that doesn’t have skin. … As everyone went by me, I just thought, I’ll get them next week.”
Shannon Rowbury, the American record holder and another medal contender, finished seventh. Dibaba, the world record holder, is also entered in the 5000m and on Sunday can become the first woman to win the 1500m and 5000m at a single Olympics or Worlds.
American gold-medal favorites succumbed in the men’s 400m hurdles and long jump.
In the hurdles, the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World silver medalist Michael Tinsley clipped hurdles eight and nine and finished in last place.
Kenyan Nicholas Bett prevailed out of lane nine in 47.79 seconds, a national record and the world’s fastest time this year, to become the first Kenyan athlete to win an Olympic or Worlds race shorter than 800 meters.
Tinsley entered the race as the favorite given the 2012 Olympic champion, 2013 World champion, fastest man in 2014 and two fastest men in 2015 were not in the field.
The nine medals at the last three World Championships in the recently volatile 400m hurdles have been won by nine different countries.
As the 400m hurdles went on, Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford was long jumping toward his first World Championship. The 2012 Olympic champion leaped 8.41 meters for the title, continuing to disprove doubters who called his London triumph a fluke.
“I’m hoping 8.41 is acceptable for people this time,” Rutherford, who won the 2012 Olympic title at 8.31, the shortest victory jump since Munich 1972, said on the BBC. “Last time I wasn’t jumping far enough for people. … Maybe I’m not too bad a long jumper.”
The pre-event favorite was American Jeff Henderson, who has the three best jumps in the world this year, all farther than 8.41. Henderson failed to place in the top eight after three jumps, fouling two of them, and didn’t earn another three jumps. He ended up ninth.
“Jeff Henderson coming into this, I think everybody already hung the medal around his neck,” Rutherford said on the BBC.
Rutherford’s win meant all of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic “Super Saturday” gold medalists repeated their feats in Beijing. Mo Farah won the 10,000m on Saturday. Jessica Ennis-Hill won the heptathlon on Sunday.
No Americans were in the men’s 800m final won by Rudisha, who used a similar front-running style from setting the 1:40.91 world record in the electric 2012 Olympic final. No world record this time, though. Rudisha prevailed in 1:45.84, followed by Poland’s Adam Kszczot and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Amel Tuka.
Rudisha’s two biggest rivals, defending World champion Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia and Botswana’s Nijel Amos, the Olympic silver medalist and fastest man in 2014, failed to make the eight-man final.
Rudisha, 26, capped a comeback after first noticing a right knee injury while running in Central Park in May 2013 and going more than one year between races until May 31, 2014.
“This is really special for me, despite the fact that I was coming from a bad injury … that almost pushed me out of my career,” Rudisha said on the BBC. “At some point, I thought, maybe, if I come back, I’ll never be back to that top level.”
“I think I’ve proven to the world that I’m back,” Rudisha said on Eurosport.
Sprinters will return to center stage with finals the next three days.
Bolt, the three-time defending World 200m champion, clocked 20.28 to prevail in his 200m first-round heat Tuesday, jogging on the final straightaway (video here). Bolt, who holds the 200m world record of 19.19, won the 100m by .01 over Gatlin on Sunday.
Gatlin, racing in the next heat a few minutes later, prevailed in 20.19, easing in his final several strides (video here). Gatlin won the 2005 World 200m title, one year before he failed a drug test that led to a four-year doping ban and two years before Bolt won his first Worlds medal, silver in the 200m behind Tyson Gay.
Of his 100m defeat, Gatlin said he would “leave it in the past” on Eurosport.
“I gave it my heart [in the 100m], had some mistakes in the final, I think I cost myself the victory,” Gatlin told Johnson on Universal Sports. “But I’m here for the 200m. It’s a new day.”
The 200m semifinals are Wednesday, with the final Thursday.
Gatlin has run the world’s four fastest 200m times since Bolt took the 2013 World title in 19.66. Gatlin’s fastest times the last two years have been 19.57, 19.68, 19.68 and 19.71. Bolt’s best time since his 2013 World title is 20.13.
Three-time Worlds 200m medalist Wallace Spearmon withdrew before his heat due to a small tear in his left calf muscle, according to USA Track and Field.
Felix, a three-time World 200m champion hoping to win her first World 400m title, was the fastest qualifier into Thursday’s 400m final, winning her semifinal in 49.89.
Felix chose to run the 400m and not the 200m at Worlds, because the 400m marked a greater challenge and opting not to do both because the 400m final and the 200m semifinals are a little more than an hour apart Thursday. She’s run the 400m at one prior Olympics or Worlds, taking silver at the 2011 World Championships.
In the final, Felix will not have to face Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross nor another American, Francena McCorory, who owns the three fastest times in the world this year. Neither Richards-Ross nor McCorory qualified for Worlds in the individual 400m at the U.S. Championships in June.
Felix’s biggest competition Thursday appears to be the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller, who is eight years younger than the 29-year-old Felix and the third fastest woman in the world this year behind McCorory and Felix.
Also Tuesday, Cuba’s Denia Caballero won gold in the discus, relegating 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion Sandra Perkovic of Croatia to silver and German Nadine Muller to bronze. American Gia Lewis-Smallwood, ranked No. 2 in the world in 2014, finished 11th.