It was billed as a star-studded race that anyone could win.
As long as that person’s name is Elaine.
The latest in the long list of speed stars from Usain Bolt’s home country of Jamaica, Elaine Thompson-Herah blew away a much-decorated field in the 200 meters Tuesday night. She completed her second straight Olympic sprint sweep in 21.53 seconds, the second-fastest time in history.
It marked the second time in four nights that Thompson-Herah has won a sprint and recorded a time that fell short of only Florence Griffith Joyner’s hallowed, 33-year-old world records. The 200 record is 21.34.
Four nights ago in the 100 meters, Thompson-Herah started pointing at the clock a few steps before the finish line and finished in 10.61, which was good for the Olympic record but not Flo Jo’s overall mark of 10.49.
In the 200, Thompson-Herah ran hard all the way through and stuck her tongue out as she pushed her chest forward at the line. No question this time about what would’ve happened if she’d left it all on the track.
Both finishes, of course, equaled gold medals, and now Thompson-Herah will have at least four when she gets back to Jamaica. There’s a chance for a fifth when she competes in the women’s 4×100-meter relay this weekend.
She topped surprise second-place finisher Christine Mboma of Namibia by .48, while American Gabby Thomas took bronze.
This was a star-studded final, defined as much by who didn’t finish on the podium as who did.
Thompson-Herah’s Jamaican teammate, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, finished fourth and Shaune Miller-Uibo, who focused on the 200 instead of defending her title in the 400, came in last.
Miller-Uibo is still in the mix for the 400, after finishing first in a preliminary heat earlier Tuesday.
While Thompson-Herah is drawing comparisons to Bolt, she joins yet another Jamaican, Veronica Campbell-Brown, along with Barbel Wockel of the former East Germany as the third back-to-back champion in the 200.
If Thompson-Herah’s win was no surprise, then Mboma’s second place was a stunner that figures to bring one of sports’ thorniest issues back to the fore.
Mboma and her teammate, sixth-place finisher Beatrice Masilingi, moved to the 200 because they aren’t allowed in the 400, which is their favorite event.
Tests ordered by World Athletics found they had high natural testosterone, which meant they fell under the same regulations that have sidelined double Olympic champion Caster Semenya of South Africa in the 800 meters.
Mboma broke the under-20 world record for the third time in a week, and looked stunned when she crossed the finish line.
“I came here for the experience,” she said.
“Now I did better.”
Almost everyone else in this final had reason to believe they could do better.
At Olympic trials, Thomas, the neurobiology grad from Harvard, ran a 21.61 that staked her claim as the second-fastest woman in history. It completely realigned her thoughts about what was possible in Tokyo.
Miller-Uibo was motivated to try to add the 200 to the 400 from Rio.
Fraser-Pryce beat Thompson-Herah in both the 100 and 200 at Jamaica’s national championships earlier this summer. The 100 has always been her better distance, but the “Mommy Rocket” did take a 200 silver at the London Games in 2012.
And the Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou opened the sprints last week with a head-turning 10.78 in the heats – the first sign that Tokyo could be a very fast track.
It is, especially when Thompson-Herah is on it.
But she’s not the only one.
Her victory came several hours after Norway’s Karsten Warholm obliterated his world record by .76 seconds, finishing the 400-meter hurdles in 45.94. It was such a fast race that the second-place finisher, Rai Benjamin, also bested Warholm’s old record time by more than a half second.
In pole vault, Sweden’s Armand Duplantis had the win wrapped up, but hadn’t missed, so he got three chances at the world record of 6.19 meters. He missed all three, and so made due with a gold medal and a jump of 6.02.
The women’s long jump title went to Malaika Mihambo, who jumped 7 meters flat on her last try to surpass America’s Brittney Reese.
That meant the U.S. had to wait for its second gold medal of the meet, and it was captured by Athing Mu in the 800 meters. In her preliminary heat, the track announcer butchered her name. They’ll have to brush up for her medal ceremony Wednesday. (For the record, it’s pronounced “uh-THING moh”).
Not heading to the podium is Gwen Berry. The outspoken American hammer thrower finished 11th in the final that went to Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland, who took gold for the third straight Olympics.
While Berry said goodbye, Allyson Felix finally said “Hello” to the Olympic track. She easily won her 400-meter heat on the first step to what could be a women’s record — 10 Olympic medals.
American Noah Lyles also said “Hi,” but it wasn’t all great.
After building a comfortable lead in the 200-meter semifinals, he put things on cruise control with about 15 meters left, only to be stunned when Canada’s Aaron Brown and Liberia’s Joseph Fahnbulleh busted it to the line and edged him out in a photo finish.
Lyles had to wait a while to find out if he would earn one of two wild-card spots in the final. His run of 19.99 seconds was fast enough, and he insisted nothing was amiss.
“No. I went to plan,” Lyles said.