U.S. Men Win First Gold On Track At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
by Peggy Shinn
Rai Benjamin, Michael Cherry, Michael Norman and Bryce Deadmon pose at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 7, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — Until tonight, the U.S. men had yet to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on the track.
Not in the 100-meter dash. Not in the 200, 400, 800, all the way up to the 10,000. And the U.S. men’s 4x100 relay had been disqualified. The American men had won a field event — shot put. But all the runners had come up short of gold.
Then Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon, and Rai Benjamin took to the track for the very last event: the men’s 4x400 relay. They put Olympic disappointment behind them and won the men’s 4x400 relay in 2:55.70.
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) August 7, 2021
It continued a streak of four Olympic wins for the U.S. men’s 4x400 relay — a streak that started in 2004. It was the 18th gold and 21st medal of any color won by the USA in the event.
The Netherlands passed Botswana at the line for silver in 2:57.18, and Botswana hung on for bronze (2:57.27).
“It was great,” said Benjamin, the only one of the four to win an individual medal in track this week (silver in 400-meter hurdles). “It's been a long championship, very emotional for all of us here.”
The men heard “the banter from back home, the part about them not winning."
“They're just used to seeing the USA going out and winning gold,” said Benjamin. “But they don't understand that we're in a transition period. I'm just happy that we put the right personnel out there and we were able to come out with a gold medal.”
Michael Norman receives the baton from Michael Cherry at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 7, 2021 in Tokyo.
The right personnel included Cherry, a mainstay on U.S. relay teams in the past few years. The 26-year-old helped win the world championship titles in the 4x400 in 2017 and 2019. By Olympic trials in June, he had improved his personal best by 0.02 of a second to post a time of 44.35 seconds. That kind of time in the 400 relay would stand up well. Cherry would lead off the men’s relay.
He handed off to Norman, a favorite in the men’s 400 earlier in the week. But the 23-year-old had come up short in that race, finishing fifth. He put that frustration behind him and moved forward, taking the lead for the U.S. in the second relay leg.
Then Deadmon — a 24-year-old recent Texas A&M grad — ran the third leg, maintaining the lead. He handed off to Benjamin, an Olympic and world championship silver medalist in the 400 hurdles, who flew around the track and won with a big lead.
“I just want to say, what we did on the track today was phenomenal,” said Norman, who had skipped talking to the media after the men’s 400. “I'm proud of the guys on the track. Today was about the 4x4 and Team USATF. You got to put your own selfish interests to the side and just go out there and really run for others. I'm just glad that we were able to accomplish this goal.”
Despite the frustrating week, the four men walked onto the track tonight with confidence. It was the final race on the track for the Tokyo Olympic Games, and they were determined to end on a good note.
“These guys are 44 flat 43 guys,” Benjamin said of his teammates. “So there was no pressure to go out there and do anything out of the ordinary.”
He was particularly proud of Deadmon, who “fresh out of college” had won a bronze medal for running the heat of the mixed 4x400 relay, then ran the heat and final of the men’s 4x400 relay.
Rai Benjamin celebrates at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 7, 2021 in Tokyo.
“Bryce been running his butt off since day one, getting everyone through qualifying,” noted Benjamin. “So I'm really happy he got a gold medal, in all honesty.”
Benjamin then took time to explain the current transition on the U.S. track & field team, noting that even Usain Bolt did not win Olympic gold medals during his first trip to the Games (Bolt was eliminated in the first round of the 200-meters at the 2004 Olympic Games).
“People are used to seeing guys like Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, you know, all those veteran guys who come out here and perform,” explained Benjamin. “And they're used to seeing that gold medal. They don't realize those guys are not on the team anymore. This is a brand new track and field team for Team USA, and it takes time to be great.”
“People have to understand that we're getting there,” continued Benjamin. “It's going to take an additional year for us to be that team again.”
When asked if fans might see a more dominating performance in three years at the 2024 Paris Games, Benjamin did not hesitate.
“I'm looking forward to worlds,” he said. “We are going to be home.”
The 2022 World Athletics Championships will be hosted in Eugene, Oregon, in July next year.
“Eugene is going to be amazing!” piped in Cherry.
“But I am looking forward to Paris,” added Benjamin. “That’ll be fun. And it'll be hot for sure.
“And I hope the food's good.”
In other events, Vashti Cunningham finished tied for sixth in the women’s high jump. Favored to medal, she could not explain what had happened. Three-time world champion Mariya Lasitskene won, with surprise silver medalist Nicola McDermott behind the Russian. Yaraslava Mahuchikh from Ukraine took the bronze medal.
In the men’s 1,500, Cole Hocker finished sixth in 3:31.40. Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen led for most of the race and won in 3:28.32. Timothy Cheruiyot from Kenya took the silver medal and Josh Kerr from Great Britain the bronze.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.
An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered six Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.