TOKYO — The U.S. men’s track and field team heard all the criticism back home. Questions about if this is the worst U.S. men’s team of all time and their lack of gold medals.
Some even claimed the U.S. runners choked. However, in the last track and field event of the Tokyo Olympics, Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon and Rai Benjamin got redemption in the finale.
The men’s 4×400 relay team featuring Cherry, Norman, Deadmon and Benjamin cruised to a relatively comfortable victory to earn a gold medal. Their winning time was a season-best 2:55.70. The gold medal was just the second one earned by the U.S. men’s track and field team in what’s been a frustrating nine days for many of its top athletes.
“It’s been a long (Olympics). It’s been very emotional for all of us in all honesty,” Benjamin said. “I’m really happy we got a medal. It’s track and field. This sport is really unforgiving. It’s amazing to come out here and win a gold medal considering what the banter was back home.”
Benjamin placed second in the 400 hurdles despite running a world-record time, Cherry narrowly missed a spot on the podium in the 400 and Norman failed to place in the 400 even though he was a medal favorite coming into the Olympics. Yet, the team put recent history aside for a common goal.
“What we did on the track today was phenomenal. I’m proud of the guys. On the track, today was about the 4×400 and USA track and field. You got to put your own selfish interests to the side and just go out there and really run for others,” Norman said. “I’m glad we were able to accomplish this goal.”
Running on the second leg, Norman swiftly gave the U.S. team the lead. Norman handed off to Deadmon and Deadmon maintained the lead before passing the baton off to Benjamin. Benjamin received the baton on the anchor leg and proceeded to run a 43.3. Benjamin ran the fastest time on the four-member team to deliver the victory.
Netherlands finished a distant second (2:57.18) and Botswana placed third (2:57.18).
Benjamin pounded his chest as he crossed the finish line in first place. He and the team were thrilled to win, but there was also a sense of relief.
“It was a whole lot of second places. Guys who were supposed to win got second. And guys who were supposed to medal didn’t medal,” Benjamin explained. “As athletes, we all put pressure on ourselves. No one comes here with the intention of losing. We all want to win and that’s what we are here for. To be out here and to be able to actually win a gold medal for Team USA and for ourselves is amazing.”
The 4×400 team joined shot putter and world record holder Ryan Crouser as the only male track and field gold medalists at the Tokyo Olympics. The two overall gold medals are the fewest amount of golds for a U.S. men’s track and field team at a single Olympics. But none of that mattered to the four men with gold medals draped around their necks on Saturday night.
“We put a lot of hard work into this and it finally paid off,” Deadmon said. “Everything that we put in came into fruition.”