Brianna Rollins raised her arms into the Rio night as she crossed the finish line to capture the gold medal in the 100m hurdles with American team-mates Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin among the cluster in close pursuit. Moments later came the roar from the Olympic Stadium crowd as the results flashed on the scoreboard: a 1-2-3 finish for the United States.
It marked the first sweep by any country in the history of the 100m hurdles, the first by American women in any event – and only the seventh ever in athletics overall.
Rollins exploded from the blocks, broke away early and was never seriously challenged in posting a time of 12.48sec, with Ali taking the silver in 12.59. Castlin came from behind and leaned in at the finish to pip Great Britain’s Cindy Ofili for the bronze in 12.61. Afterward the trio, Olympic debutantes all, embraced before draping themselves in American flags handed over from the stands.
The United States’ record-extending fourth Olympic title in the event – and first since Dawn Harper in 2008 – capped a rollicking night for the Americans at the track with Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese taking gold and silver respectively in the long jump and Tori Bowie winning the bronze in the 200m.
“I can’t honestly remember the race, really,” Rollins said. “I do know that I hit quite a few hurdles, but I didn’t let that mess up my composure. I was able to continue to stay focused and make sure I got across that line, make sure I saw my name on top of that board. I’m so glad that God was able to guide me through that race. I couldn’t be more happy.”
All three were drawn from a talent pool that rates among the deepest in the sport. Seven of the women on the starting line at last month’s US trials were ranked in the top 10 worldwide, with five Americans having combined to post the 11 fastest times of the season. When Rollins, Ali and Castlin secured the three spots allotted Team USA, those left behind included Keni Harrison, who entered with the four fastest times in the world this year – including a world-best 12.24.
“It just goes to show you how good our field is,” the 25-year-old Rollins said. “Any one of those ladies at the trials could have been up here and made the podium but we were able to come out here and achieve our goals and we did the best we could. I’m so grateful to God that we were able to do that.”
The road to the podium was even more extraordinary for Ali, who cradled her 15-month-old son Titus Tinsley after clinching the silver. “He won’t remember this but he will see photos and see that you can do anything you put your mind to,” she said. “I knew it was going to be hard to medal.”
Later at the post-race press conference, Ali expanded on her journey from maternity to a silver medal.
“I knew it was just going to be a difficult road back,” the 27-year-old Philadelphia native said. “I see a lot of mothers out here daily and they just struggle to just get their body back or appreciate themselves again just because they feel so different and they look so different. So I’m happy that I was able to come back so quickly and show people that not only can I get fit but I can get back to world class performances.”
If there was a down note for the US team on a night that saw their medal total surge to 19, it was Justin Gatlin’s failure to qualify for Thursday night’s 200m final. A persisting right ankle injury from earlier in the year stiffened as start time drew near and he wound up finishing third in his semi-final heat with a time of 20.13.
But even Gatlin was reduced to a fanboy after watching the hurdlers’ dominant nightcap.
“Usually that kind of thing only happens on the collegiate level,” he said. “But our ladies did an outstanding job to come out here on the biggest stage possible and rise to the occasion, as countrymen and team-mates and training partners, and be able to come across the line 1-2-3.”
Castlin chalked up the history-making sweep as another triumph for the #BlackGirlMagic movement that’s taken hold at these Olympics, a slogan that’s only gained momentum since Simone Biles’ imperious run through the gymnastics competition and Simone Manuel’s history-making individual gold in the pool.
“I think that it’s just very good to be a part of this whole black girl magic moment,” said Castlin, who dedicated her medal to victims of gun violence. “We actually came into this not as individuals but as a team. We work together, we pray together and that is how we got this job done. The first US sweep in women’s American history.
“It feels good to be history-makers, trendsetters, moms, daughters, really just overcoming and just doing a great job and representing our country well.”