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A year ago, after returning to the championship stage with a win in the 400 meters at U.S. nationals in Indianapolis, Taylor addressed his guilty plea. "I'm not perfect," he said. "I made mistakes. I learned my lesson. I've got to move on and go forward." He moved on to a place where only Edwin Moses has gone before, winning 400-hurdles golds eight years apart. (Moses won in 1976 and '84, missing the boycotted Moscow Games.)
THE SWEEP did not dim the glow of some memorable earlier moments. On the steaming August evening in Athens in 2004 when Deena Kastor pushed U.S. women's distance running into global relevance again with a stunning bronze medal finish in the marathon, Shalane Flanagan wept. A member of the '04 U.S. team, Flanagan was waiting outside the venue with teammate Nicole Teter when Kastor ran into ancient Panathinaiko Stadium in third place, winning the U.S.'s first Olympic or world championship distance medal in 12 years. "We went running in after Deena," says Flanagan. "We both had these huge tears streaming down our faces."
Four years later—another Olympics in another city—Flanagan played Kastor's role and ran a tactically perfect race to win the bronze medal last Friday in the 10,000 meters. It was the U.S.'s first Olympic distance-running medal on the track since Lynn Jennings won the 10K bronze in Barcelona in 1992. Flanagan's time of 30:22.22 knocked more than 12 seconds off her three-month-old American record and made her the fifth-fastest non-African-born runner in history. (The remarkable Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia won the gold medal in 29:54.66, an Olympic record and the second-fastest time in history behind the 29:31.78 of China's Wang Junxia in 1993.)
Flanagan's bronze was the culmination of two years' steady training under John Cook, who began coaching her after she had surgery in April 2006 to remove an extra bone in her left foot. Her first American 10,000-meter record (she also owns the 5,000 record), set on May 4 at Stanford, validated her fitness, and she won the 10K at the U.S. trials in Eugene, Ore. (and also qualified in the 5K), eight weeks later.
It all nearly unraveled in China. Four days before the race Flanagan was struck by a bout of food poisoning at the track team's training camp in Dalian, 300 miles from Beijing. She spent six hours vomiting and two days fighting diarrhea that was exacerbated when she tried to run. Team doctors treated her with antibiotics, then a probiotic and an antidiarrheal.
Two days before the 10,000 she flew to Beijing with her appetite back. "But even then we were talking every day about pulling out," says Flanagan's husband, Steve Edwards. On the day before the race Flanagan jogged six miles and underwent blood screening that indicated she was recovered enough to run. Still, Cook was concerned. "I was just hoping she would finish," he would say after the 10,000.
Flanagan executed a flawless race, pacing herself perfectly. She picked off fading runners for the final eight laps until surging past Linet Masai of Kenya with 800 meters to go and covering the final two laps in 2:12. "I was persistently patient, and then when I went, I went all out," says Flanagan.
At the finish she was uncertain (because of lapped runners) whether she had won a medal. After receiving confirmation, Flanagan ran to the stands to grab the U.S. flag that is delivered to every American medalist.
Nearly an hour earlier Christian Cantwell had also been given a flag, after earning the silver medal with his final throw in the shot put. In the interview zone he clutched the folded flag in a meaty hand, frustrated that he had not thrown farther than Polish gold medalist Tomasz Majewski's winning 21.51 meters (70'7", more than three feet behind Cantwell's career best).
"Twenty-one fifty-one, that's so doable," said Cantwell. He was the only U.S. thrower to win a medal in the shot—two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson fouled on his first three throws and was eliminated, while 2007 world champion Reese Hoffa finished seventh—a disappointing showing when talk of a sweep had been widespread. "I didn't do my job; none of the Americans did their job," said Cantwell. "But on a bad day I'll take the silver."