Hurdler Sally Pearson and cyclist Anna Meares doubled Australia’s gold-medal tally at the London Games, soothing angst over an Olympic performance that is falling short of expectations.
Australian sports officials have struggled to explain how the nation -- which has finished seventh or better on the medals table at the past four Olympics and was targeting a similar performance in London -- is tied with countries such as Iran and North Korea with four golds so far and is 11th in the standings.
Pearson, 25, won the women’s 100-meter hurdles in an Olympic-record time of 12.35 seconds yesterday, holding off defending champion Dawn Harper of the U.S. by 0.02 seconds.
“Relief was the first thing I felt, and then shock,” said Pearson, who was runner-up to Harper four years ago. “The whole of Australia wanted me to win.”
With five days left at the 2012 games, China leads the standings with 34 golds among its 73 medals. The U.S. is second with 30 golds and 70 medals, and Britain ranks third with 22 golds and 48 total medals, its best performance in 104 years.
The final of the women’s 200 meters is among 16 medal events today. Sanya Richards-Ross, 27, of the U.S., who won the 400-meter gold medal three days ago, was fastest in qualifying for the 200 final in 22.30 seconds. Fellow American Allyson Felix, a three-time world champion, was next fastest in 22.31, followed by two Jamaicans -- two-time defending champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, 30, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 25, who has won two straight 100-meter titles.
The semifinals of the men’s 200 are tonight. Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, 25, who is seeking his second straight 100-200 Olympic sprint sweep, eased to victory yesterday in the opening heat of the 200 in 20.39.
Also yesterday, cyclist Chris Hoy helped Britain surpass its gold and overall medal total from 2008 by winning the men’s keirin. It was Hoy’s sixth Olympic gold, a British record.
Hoy, 36, moved one gold medal ahead of retired rower Steve Redgrave for most by a British athlete. It was also his seventh Olympic medal in total, matching the British record set by Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins last week.
American Aly Raisman, 18, won the women’s floor exercise as the gymnastics program ended at the 2012 games.
“It’s the best routine I’ve ever done,” said Raisman, who also won a team gold medal. “To have won a gold medal, two gold medals, is really special.”
Women’s beach volleyball two-time defending champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings advanced to an all-American final with their 20th straight victory at the games. Today, in the final, they will face compatriots April Ross and Jen Kessy, who rallied to defeat top-seeded Brazilians Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca.
Meares, 28, beat defending champion Victoria Pendleton of Britain in the final of the women’s sprint at the velodrome to give Australia its third gold of the games. Then Pearson made it four with her photo-finish win in the hurdles.
The two victories provided respite to the disappointment Australia has experienced at the games, especially in swimming - - in which it usually vies with the U.S. for top honors. Australians got one gold medal in the London pool in the women’s 400-meter freestyle relay. It was the first time the nation’s swimmers failed to secure an individual Olympic title since the 1976 Montreal Games.
Australian Sports Minister Kate Lundy lost a bet over Olympic medals to British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson. As a result, she will wear a British uniform while rowing at the Olympic venue south of London.
“There’s a lot of people back home wishing we have more gold medals on our ledger,” Lundy told BBC radio.
Australian Olympic team chief Nick Green said in an Aug. 5 news conference that national sports officials will evaluate the performance after the London games. Swimming Australia said two days ago that former Olympic champion Susie O’Neill will help lead its review.
“We will have a post-mortem on every single sport, look at what they did right, what they did wrong and how they can improve,” Green said.
Blame has been placed on everything from sports programs at Australian state schools to low salaries allowing other nations to poach Australia’s best coaches. The athletes say they are trying their best.
“It’s a bit hurtful when people say we’ve been underperforming,” swimmer Cate Campbell, 20, who was on the winning Australian relay squad, said in a Aug. 5 news conference. “We go out there and we pour our heart and soul into every single performance. It’s not that we haven’t been performing, it’s just that the world has stepped up.”
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