Thursday it was largely about doubles at the 2012 Olympics.
As in Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, gaining Olympic gold in the 200 meters after winning the 100 in London, to match his individual double from the Beijing Games. He’s the only Olympian to double down in the longer distance.
As in the U.S. women’s soccer team denying Japan, their penalty-kick conquerors in the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany last summer, the chance to become the only distaff side to back up their FIFA feat with Olympic gold.
Naturally in the case of Bolt it was about speed. For the U.S. women, it was about a much longer road. In both cases, the paths built legacies.
Bolt, after setting an Olympic record 9.63 in the 100, just behind his record 9:58 at the 2009 World Championships, looked as if he easily could have surpassed his own world mark of 19:19, set at that meet three years ago, in the London 200. But he pulled up in the final 20 meters, placing his fingers to his mouth, evidently shushing his critics who had wondered if he still had the goods following his Jamaican trials losses to Johan Blake in both events, and twice his runner-up in London. Warren Weir won bronze to complete the Jamaican sweep in the 200.
Nevertheless, Bolt ran a 19:32, matching the gilded-shoes performance of Michael Johnson at the Atlanta Games, and just off his Olympic mark of 19:30 in Beijing. Bolt said afterward that his back had tightened up, but that he had achieved his London goal of becoming “a legend.” He then proceeded to trash American track legend Carl Lewis, who before Bolt was the only man to double up on the 100 meters, albeit with a drug-tainted assist from Canada’s Ben Johnson in Calgary.
The soccer side’s Olympic odyssey unfolded much more slowly, over many hours. The team had to fight back from a two-goal deficit against France to win their group opener, 4-2, in Glasgow. The U.S. women needed 123 minutes - and a pair of controversial calls — to overcome a hat trick by Christine Sinclair and dispatch Canada in the semifinals. Alex Morgan supplied the 4-3 advancer, via a header just under the cross bar seconds before penalty kicks would have decided matters. Afterward, Canada rightfully claimed foul and referee favoritism for the Americans.
All the same, Morgan’s moment was reminiscent of Abby Wambach’s last-second heroics to tie Brazil in OT last summer, ahead of the U.S. prevailing in PKs over Marta and crew to keep its 2011 World Cup dream alive.
That push, of course, was thwarted by a late tying goal in the second overtime by Homare Sawa of Japan. The Nadeshiko then topped the U.S. in penalties, 3-1, on the world’s biggest stage to claim their first-ever win over the Americans after 25 matches, and a measure of solace for a grieving nation, devastated by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami just months before.
It took 389 days, as NBC Sports Network announcer Arlo White pointed out on the telecast that figured to draw a massive audience for the Comcast-owned cable channel, for the U.S. to call for rewrite of that Hollywood ending for Japan and its chance for on-pitch redemption before an Olympic record women’s soccer audience of 80,203 at Wembley Stadium, one of soccer’s spiritual homes
The script came in the form of two goals by Carli Lloyd. She fashioned her first in the eighth minute, heading down a beautiful, turning left-footed chip cross from just inside the end line, courtesy of Morgan. (Lloyd intercepted what would have been a left-footed volley by Wambach, who had scored in all five of the other Olympic matches.)
Japan awakened shortly thereafter with netminder Hope Solo and defender Christie Rampone angling off a left-sided run. The controversial goalkeeper was forced to follow almost immediately with a tip of Yuki Ogimi’s header just over the woodwork. Later in the first half, as colleague John Eggerton edified, “Solo was actually a duet, a goalie, plus a crossbar” that aided the American cause. For the record, both of us were working diligently throughout this match, which is more than can be said for referee Bibianna Steinhaus, who allowed some heinous tackles and missed a rather blatant Heather Tobin handball in the box off a Japan free kick midway through the first half.
Lloyd struck again in the 54th minute with a rocket’s red glare that found left-side netting from just outside the area. Japan stormed back with a series of threatening crosses off set pieces that ultimately yielded Ogimi’s goal in the 63rd minute, when Solo and the defense couldn’t clear rebounds in front of the net.
But the Dancing With The Stars goalie saved the day in the 83rd minute after captain Rampone’s horrendous giveaway sent Mana Iwabuchi in all alone inside the box. This time, Hope soloed to her left, her two-handed diving deflection steering the strike — ticketed for the far post — aside.
Imagine how much bigger the world’s game would be in the States, if it were the men’s national team that engaged in these kind of magical affairs.
We’ll get to see Bolt conjure his brilliance again on Friday, when he eyes an Olympic triple-double, with Jamaica set to qualify for the 4 x100-relay. The island nation is scheduled to reprise its gold medal-winning performance from Beijing on Saturday. Trackside, Bolt, after his individual double-double, told NBC’s Lewis Johnson that he would look to end his career with a triple-triple at the 2016 Rio Games.
Fans, though, will have to be content with the U.S women’s third consecutive Olympic triumph — Lloyd launched the extra-time winner against Brazil four years ago — and fourth in five times (a silver in Sydney in 2000 denied the U.S. its own futbol double) the competition has been contested at the Games.
Regrettably, we won’t see much of the members of the U.S women’s team — beyond the Wheaties box, on the talk show circuit and requisite victory tour — for quite some time. Unlike after their victory in Beijing, there’s no domestic league to prop up. Earlier this year, the WPS went the way of the cable-centric WUSA that was borne from Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and the rest of the 91ers — including Solo’s best Twitter bud Brandi Chastain — and their historic 1999 World Cup triumph.
It’s a long time to Canada, site of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, where a U.S. matchup with the host nation could prove feisty and especially gratifying should it result in American FIFA triple.