ATHENS, Greece—As Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” blared over the Olympic Stadium loudspeaker Monday night, three athletes in red, white and blue began a slow victory lap.
Moments earlier, they had covered the distance considerably faster while running into the record book: Jeremy Wariner, Otis Harris and Derrick Brew gave the United States a 400-meter-dash sweep for the fourth time in Olympic history and the first since 1988.
They also saw three American flags raised together for the first time in the Athens Games, jump-started the medal count for the struggling U.S. Olympic track-and-field team and gave a positive spin to the 400 meters, an event that has been tainted by doping scandals.
“They have actually restored dignity to the 400 meters,” said Michael Johnson, who still holds the world record of 43.18 seconds. “These guys have brought it back in great style.”
Wariner, a 20-year-old from Grand Prairie, Texas, has a style that includes sunglasses—day or night—and diamond stud earrings.
With a time of 44 seconds flat, he became the sixth straight American to win the 400 meters and won the 18th U.S. gold medal for that event in the 25 Olympic Games since 1896. Wariner followed a trail blazed by Johnson, a fellow Baylor University Bear who won in 1996 and 2000.
When Wariner came off the track, the first thing he told Clyde Hart, who had also coached Johnson, was “I broke the school record.” Johnson’s time of 44.21 seconds had stood at Baylor since 1990.
Hart told Wariner that he had to surrender his left shoe, just as Johnson did when he won the Olympics.
Wariner’s time was the eighth-best performance of all time. Had he ever had a bigger moment in his life?
“Besides being born, I don’t think so,” he replied.
Harris’ time of 44.16 seconds was a personal best, while Brew, 26, had a season-best of 44.42.
!<))wariner.JPG! The three Americans will join forces for the 1,600-meter relay Saturday. The United States has not lost a 1,600-meter relay final it has entered since 1956. The trio had discussed a sweep in the days leading up to the 400-meter race. They just didn’t know what the order would be. “It was definitely my goal to win a gold medal,” said Harris, 22, “but if anybody was going to beat me, I’m glad it was one of my teammates.” The homestretch became a duel between Wariner and Harris, who had led for most of the race. When Wariner crossed the finish line first, he raised his arms in victory. “That’s the fastest white guy I’ve ever seen run,” said Alleyne Francique of Grenada, who finished fourth. Wariner is the first white American to win the Olympic gold medal in the 400 since Mike Larrabee in 1964. “It doesn’t matter what race, gender or ethnicity you are; it’s your ability,” said Wariner. He said he has heard the issue raised so many times that he’s lost count. “Athletes are athletes,” Johnson said. “Obviously, we’re different because of cultural and racial difference and physiological makeup. . . It’s been a question for ages. So there’s no reason for us to now start trying to use Jeremy as a lab rat and figure it out with him. It is what it is.” The Americans’ victory celebration was as restrained as the United States team had been at the opening ceremony, although they did wave U.S. flags. “We didn’t want to do anything to disrespect our country,” Harris said. “We knew deep down that we’re excited, and just the expressions on our faces were all we needed to show,” Wariner said.