US ends discus drought
BEIJING - The United States waited four days for its first gold medal in track and field. The breakthrough came in the women's discus.
In an event long dominated by Eastern Europeans, Stephanie Brown Trafton brought home the gold, the first time an American had won the event since Lillian Copeland prevailed at the 1932 Games.
The lanky, 6-foot-4-inch Californian uncorked a throw of 212 feet 5 inches on her first of six attempts last night, then saw the mark hold up for the stunning victory. It was the shortest throw to win an Olympic gold since the 1968 Mexico City Games.
"When you make the finals, anything can happen," she said. "I had a far throw, nobody stepped up, so I have the gold medal."
Her love of sports goes back to the 1984 Olympics and a famous gymnast.
"I had a Mary Lou Retton leotard that I wore all the time," Brown Trafton said, "and I grew out of it quite quickly. I was 6 foot by the time I was in junior high."
She received a basketball scholarship to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but after tearing a knee ligament, she decided to focus exclusively on track and field.
Brown Trafton made the 2004 Olympic team but didn't advance to the finals in Athens. In the following years, there was little to indicate she would win gold.
In May, she gave notice that she could compete, throwing 217-1 at a meet. It's the No. 3 throw in the world this year.
Brown Trafton lives with her husband, Gary, in Galt, south of Sacramento. She lists herself as her coach but said she uses a broad support group that includes Mac Wilkins, the discus gold medalist at the 1976 Olympics. She works part time in project management for a Sacramento environmental company, a job she hopes some day to make a full-time career.
"I came to the Bird's Nest to lay a golden egg, and that's what I did," Brown Trafton said. "I am surprised we haven't won more gold. But you know what? I hope this sets a trend."
It did. Angelo Taylor led a medals sweep in the 400-meter hurdles and the US track team, which came into the day with no gold medals, walked out with two. The US began the day trailing Belarus in the track medals count. It walked out in the lead with nine.
Slowly, the Americans are showing some depth.
Jenn Stuczynski won silver in the pole vault, trailing Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who set a world record (16-6 3/4). Stuczynski's top height was 15-9.
Irving Saladino won the men's long jump, giving Panama its first gold medal at any Olympics. The 2007 world champion won with a best jump of 27-4 1/2.
Brimin Kipruto continued a stretch of Kenyan winners in the men's Olympic 3,000-meter steeplechase that extends back to 1984. Kipruto won in 8 minutes 10.34 seconds.
Pamela Jelimo led world champion Janeth Jepkosgei in a 1-2 Kenyan finish in the women's 800 meters. The 18-year-old Jelimo won in 1:54.87.
Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who set the world record in the 100, kept cruising, coasting through the quarterfinals of the 200, looking for the first sprint double in tomorrow's final since Carl Lewis in 1984.
Reigning Olympic and world champion Jeremy Wariner and rival LaShawn Merritt, both of the US, easily qualified for today's 400-meter semifinals.
Former Medford High star Arantxa King failed to qualify in the long jump. King, competing for Bermuda, jumped 19-8 1/2 this morning.