The United States left the 13th IAAF World Championships with a hefty medal haul of 25 medals, just one shy of the 1991 and 2007 teams that each earned 26 medals.
While much of the success resulted from traditional strengths in the sprints, a number of unforeseen medals were claimed by young athletes in events America does not typically thrive in.
The final day of competition saw 21 year old Christian Taylor and 20 year old Will Claye, both Florida Gators who turned pro this summer, unexpectedly win the gold and bronze medals in the triple jump. Pre-competition form charts gave the duo an outside shot of medaling but even those odds were unlikely due to their inexperience on the international level.
Taylor upset defending champion Phillips Idowu of Great Britain to claim America’s first gold in the event since Walter Davis in 2005. The victory made Taylor the first World Youth Champion to make the jump to also winning a senior world title.
The U.S. also had two surprise medalists the middle distances, events typically dominated by East Africans.
America was expected to have a medal contender in the women’s 1500 meters in the form of Morgan Uceny but those hopes were dashed when Uceny tripped and fell over another athlete 950 meters into the race. But unexpectedly Jenny Simpson, a 2009 graduate of the University of Colorado, kicked from fourth place with 100 meters remaining to win America’s first metric mile gold since 1983.
Simpson came into the meet with just the 16th best seasonal best in the field.
Fresh off his redshirt junior season at the University of Oregon, Matt Centrowitz won a surprise bronze medal in the 1500 meters. The NCAA and USA champion had few expectations on his back given his inexperience on the world level but looked unfazed by his surroundings in each preliminary round. In the final, Centrowitz kicked past three opponents on the final homestretch to finish third in his first global championship.
Prior to Bernard Lagat’s medals at the last two World Championships, Jim Spivey was the last American on the medal stand with his bronze in 1987.
The pleasant surprises of these athletes along with other young professionals such as Jason Richardson and Ashton Eaton bode well for America’s chances in London next year.
Former USATF CEO Doug Logan’s goal of 30 medals at the 2012 Olympics – dismissed by many as a pipedream – now does not seem so far-fetched at all. American athletes missed a few glaring medal opportunities, notably in the pole vault, men’s 4×100 meter relay and men’s shot put.
If the U.S. is to reach the 30 medal mark in London, it will take the continued development of young athletes through the NCAA system, especially in events not traditionally considered as strengths.