The penultimate Day 9 of track and field at the Tokyo Olympics was Saturday in Japan, and aside from one road race included only an evening session, therefore Saturday morning stateside.
There were finals in the men's and women's 4x400m relays, women's marathon, women's high jump, men's 1500m, women's 10,000m and men's javelin.
Japan's Maeda Honami took the race out early but was reeled in by a large chase pack by the five-kilometer mark. Things spread out through 15 km though a sizeable amount of runners remained in contention. With temperatures in the mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit in Sapporo, the pace was relatively slow midway, hitting the half in 1:28:51.
Reigning world champion and world half record-holder Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya was dropped around the 31-kilometer mark as the pace finally began to pick up steam.
Then, with about six miles to go, the lead pack was reduced to five with U.S. Olympic trials runner-up Molly Seidel on lead duties. Joining her: world record-holder and four-time major winner Brigid Kosgei of Kenya; her compatriot Peres Jepchirchir, No. 5 all-time; Israel's Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, No. 7 all-time; and Bahrain's Eunice Chumba.
Chumba was next to be dropped with about four miles remaining, then Chemtai Salpeter and Seidel not long after, leaving Kenya's pair fighting for gold.
Salpeter stopped racing with about two and a half miles to go, putting an unlikely podium finisher Seidel in bronze-medal position.
With just over a mile to go, Jepchirchir pulled away to take the win in 2:27:20. Kosgei earned silver 16 seconds back in 2:27:36, while Seidel secured bronze 26 seconds behind in 2:27:46.
Seidel becomes the third American woman to win an Olympic marathon medal after Joan Benoit's inaugural gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and Deena Kastor's bronze in 2004.
It was just her third-ever marathon after making her debut in the distance at U.S. trials in winter 2020. She placed sixth later that year at the London Marathon.
Women's High Jump
ROC's Maria Lasitskene prodcued a season-best 2.04m to win gold, Nicola McDermott of Australia jumped 2.02m for silver, and Ukrainian Yaroslava Mahuchikh cleared 2.00m for bronze.
American Vashti Cunningham missed twice at 1.98m and used her last jump for an attempt at 2.00m.
Fourteen women made the auto-qualifying mark of 1.95m in the event's prelim round.
Ukraine's Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the 2019 world silver medalist, entered as this year's world leader having cleared 2.03m at the Stockholm Diamond League meet in July. Her 2.04m clearance made at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, is the second-best mark of the leadup cycle to the Tokyo Games behind only Maria Lasitskene's 2.06m from 2017.
Lasitskene, representing the ROC, is the three-time reigning world champion and tied for No. 5 all time. Due to Russia's CAS-imposed team ban in 2016, this is her very first Olympics.
Four-time reigning U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham has the world's second-highest mark this year with 2.02m, a personal best cleared in May. The 2019 world silver medalist, tied for 13th in Rio, still needs another three centimeters to match the American record from 2010 held by Chaunte Lowe. Her father and coach is ex-NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham.
Reigning world champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, the 5000m gold medalist, sat behind world record-holder Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia then blew past to win in 29:55.32, completing the 5K-10K double.
This race is going to be an absolute barn burner. Ethiopia's Letesenbet Gidey enters as the current world record-holder, a mark she took down earlier this year, but there's more to the story.
Headed into June's FBK Games in Hengelo, Netherlands, her compatriot Almaz Ayana's winning time from the 2016 Rio Games, 29:17.45, had stood for nearly five years. But that came to an end when Sifan Hassan – who has already won 5000m gold and 1500m silver in Tokyo – demolished the mark by more than 10 seconds in 29:06.82.
Then, two days later, Gidey put away Hassan's time on the same track, trimming another nearly six seconds off the record in 29:01.03, almost going an unfathomable sub-29.
Hassan is the reigning world champion, having beat Gidey by three and a half seconds in Doha in a race with 11 personal bests, five of which set by the top five finishers.
Two-time Olympic 5000m silver medalist Hellen Obriri also looks to factor in as she presumably begins to move up in distance.
Neeraj Chopra's second-attempt 87.58m made him the first Indian to win an Olympic gold in track and field.
Czechs Jakub Vadlejch and Vitezslav Vesely took silver and bronze with 86.67m and 85.44m.
In a stunning surprise, German Johannes Vetter missed the final rounds to finish ninth overall.
Germany's Johannes Vetter enters Tokyo as the world leader by nearly seven meters with 96.29m from late May. He's the 2017 world champion and bronze medalist from the 2019 World Championships. His personal-best 97.76m from September 2020 is the No. 2 mark all-time, less than three-quarters of a meter short of Czech Jan Zelezny's 98.48m world record from 1996.
Pole Marcin Krukowski, 15th in Rio, has the second-best throw of the year from June with 89.55, while India's Neeraj Choppra led all qualifiers with a one-and-done 86.65m.
Anderson Peters of Grenada is the reigning world champion; Vetter's compatriot Andreas Hofmann is eighth all-time; and Estonian Magnus Kirt is the 2019 world silver medalist.
Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 20, beat Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot for the first time in his career, clocking an Olympic-record 3:28.32 for gold. Cheruiyot took silver in 3:29.01, followed by Josh Kerr of Great Britain in 3:29.05.
U.S. collegian Cole Hocker ran a personal-best 3:31.40 to finish in sixth.
Per World Athletics, the first seven men finished inside the pre-2021 Olympic record time of 3:32.07.
Reigning world champion Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya was second overall in the prelims, losing his heat by a hundredth of a second, then took third in his semifinal for 12th overall.
Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen, eighth all-time behind Cheruiyot at No. 7, was fourth in his prelim heat for 11th overall. But he improved to second overall in the semifinals out of a fast second section, won by Kenya's Abel Kipsang in an Olympic-record 3:31.65.
The blistering pace likely caught defending Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz off guard. He didn't make the final.
The top seven of that semi all went sub-3:33. Behind Kipsang and Ingebrigtsen were Great Britain's Josh Kerr, Spain's Adel Mechaal and Australia's Stewart McSweyn. Kipsang's time broke fellow countryman Noah Ngeny's previous Games best of 3:32.07, set in 2000.
The first semifinal, albeit slower, also produced interesting results. Great Britain's Jake Wightman won in 3:33.48, while American Cole Hocker beat out reigning world champion Timothy Cheruiyot for second in a personal-best 3:33.87. Hocker was the only American to advance, with Centrowitz out and Yared Nuguse scratching from the Olympics altogether.
Women's 4x400m Relay
Allyson Felix, running leg two of a dream-team 4x400m relay squad with Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu, captures her 11th medal – seventh gold – to surpass Carl Lewis' U.S. track and field medal record.
Update: USATF announced the order shortly before 7 p.m. and, as suspected, Felix is on the team along with superstars McLaughlin, Muhammad and Mu. This race will be fast, and frankly not close, barring a disaster. The world record is 3:15.17, held by the Soviet Union from the 1988 Seoul Games.
McLaughlin is in outside-lane seven for the lead-off, passing to Felix for the break, then Muhammad third with Mu anchoring.
While it's not official until the relay cards are submitted, Allyson Felix is very likely to lace up her spikes and compete for an 11th medal in the same event in which she won her first gold.
The 35-year-old mother, who won bronze Friday in the open 400m, made her Games debut in Athens at age 18, capturing a silver medal in the 200m. It wasn't until her next Olympic appearance in Beijing where she'd earn her initial gold, first repeating her silver in the 200m before running the second leg on Team USA's title-winning 4x400m relay.
Prelim squad Kaylin Whitney, Wadeline Jonathas, Kendall Ellis and Lynna Irby clocked 3:20.86 out of heat two to advance the U.S. to the final as the top seed by about a second. With those four unlikely to run again in the final, it leaves Felix and Quanera Hayes as the only two non-mixed relay, 400m pool athletes remaining.
But the relay teams aren't strictly obliged to comprise only members of the pool, and that's why this could get really exciting. The U.S. has a ridiculously talented arsenal of other athletes from which to choose. We could potentially see an all-star lineup joining Felix in her finale — perhaps 400m hurdles world record-holder and gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin, 400m hurdles reigning world champion and silver medalist Dalilah Muhammad and 800m gold medalist and 400m collegiate record-holder Athing Mu.
Again, until the team is submitted there's no guarantee who will be on it.
The U.S. is looking to win its seventh straight gold, dating back to the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Men's 4x400m Relay
Following the women's win, the men made it a U.S. 4x400m double in the last track race of the Games.
Michael Cherry (44.26 split), Michael Norman (44.03), Bryce Deadmon (44.01) and Rai Benjamin (43.40) won in 2:55.70, the fourth-fastest time in history.
Update: USATF announced the order shortly before 7 p.m. Cherry, Norman, Deadmon, Benjamin.
The U.S. men's prelim team – Trevor Stewart, Randolph Ross, Bryce Deadmon and Vernon Norwood – topped the initial round in 2:57.77.
Michael Norman, Michael Cherry, Elija Godwin and Wil London are the remaining pool members. Godwin ran in the prelims on USA's bronze medal-winning mixed 4x400m team.
Relay teams are not strictly limited to pool members, so it's possible the men's final team will include 400m hurdles silver medalist Rai Benjamin.
The U.S. owns seven of the last nine golds since the 1984 Los Angeles Games — its 2000 win was retroactively vacated for anti-doping reasons, and its 2012 team took silver to the Bahamas.