U.S. Opens With a Pair: 1 in Track, 1 in Field

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 15 -- The first U.S. medal winner at the Olympic track and field competition, the shot putter who claimed a silver medal, greeted reporters Friday by sticking out his tongue and blowing to make an impolite sound. Then Christian Cantwell tried to sum up his feelings.

"I mean," he said, trying to find the right words. He gave up and uttered an expletive.

The second U.S. medal winner earned just a bronze, but Shalane Flanagan wore the American flag around her shoulders for so long after the women's 10,000 that it stuck to her back and appeared almost translucent, soaked through with sweat.

It wasn't that Flanagan didn't think she could win the first U.S. medal in this event since 1992. It's just that she was unsure of her place when she ran down the home stretch. After she crossed the finish line in an American record of 30 minutes, 22.22 seconds, she looked around with her mouth open, then held up three fingers up to no one in particular. Was she, in fact, third?

"I thought maybe I was third," she said. "I thought, 'I can't celebrate until I really know.' "

Cantwell never really got around to any celebration at all. He led a trio of U.S. shot putters who have dominated the sport -- they had 10 of the top 14 throws this season -- but performed well below expectations, especially their own. Cantwell needed his final throw of 69 feet 2 1/2 inches to move from fifth into second place. And even that throw failed to satisfy: It was more than three feet short of his personal best.

"On a hard day," he said, "I guess I'll take the silver. It was a hard day for everybody."

Reigning world champion Reese Hoffa finished seventh with a throw of 67-8 1/4 -- nearly six feet short of his best -- and Adam Nelson, the reigning world and Olympic silver medal winner, didn't hit a legal throw. He committed three fouls.

"None of the Americans did their job," Cantwell said. "We're so dominant; to come in here and get spanked like this, it makes you reflect. . . . We have a lot of work to do."

Poland's Tomasz Majewski won the gold with a personal best of 70-7.

"If you would have told me [that distance] was going to win it this morning," Cantwell said, "I would have said, 'You're full of [expletive]."

Flanagan definitely had a different feeling in the lead-up to her race. She came down with a gastrointestinal illness Monday and Tuesday and could barely get out of bed. She was vomiting, had diarrhea and could not train. Her coach, John Cook, feared she would not be able to compete Friday night.

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