After failing to win a single gold medal across all track events leading into Saturday, the U.S. men’s team dominated in the 4×400 meter relay’s final heat to the top spot on the podium.
Saturday’s win secured a gold medal for the U.S. men’s relay team — an achievement the broader track squad has made in every Olympics the U.S. team has participated in.
The team of Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon and Rai Benjamin finished with a time of 2:55:70.
Speaking to reporters following the event, Benjamin acknowledged the slump that the U.S. men’s track team had endured throughout the Tokyo Games.
“Track and field — this sport — is very unforgiving. It’s just amazing to come out here and win a gold medal, considering what the banter was back home,” Benjamin said. “Especially given our team is young and a lot of people don’t understand that.”
But Benjamin also said the absence of gold for the U.S. men’s track team had little influence on the 4×400 relay team’s approach to the race.
“There was no pressure to go out there and do anything out of the ordinary — anything we haven’t done before,” he said. “It was just: go out and execute our own race and bring it home.”
Norman insisted the pressure of winning — especially considering the U.S. track team’s gold medal drought — was self-inflicted.
“No one comes here with the intention of losing. We all want to win and that’s what we are here for,” Norman said. “To be able to come out here and win a gold medal for Team USA and ourselves is just amazing.”
The team’s final time in the Tokyo Games was just shy of the Olympic record of 2:55:39, set by the U.S. team in Beijing in 2008.
Coming into Saturday’s final heat, the team had struggled to find its footing despite earlier success and high expectations.
U.S. sprinter Trayvon Bromell came into the Tokyo Games with the No. 1 time in the 100 meters this year, but didn’t advance beyond the semifinal round.
And Benjamin — who anchored Saturday’s gold-medal-winning 4×400 meter heat — was expected to be a top contender in the men’s 400 meter hurdles. However, Benjamin was outmatched in that event by Norway’s Karsten Warholm — in a race in which both men broke the previous world record.
Meanwhile, the U.S. women’s 4×400 meter relay team won gold on Saturday, with U.S. star Allyson Felix bringing her Olympic medal count up to 11, making her the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete in history.