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Discus gold medalist Robert Harting goes WWE at Olympics

Germany's Robert Harting celebrates winning gold men's discus throw final during athletics Olympic Stadium 2012 Summer Olympics LondTuesday Aug. 7

Germany's Robert Harting celebrates winning gold in the men's discus throw final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:22AM



LONDON — Speed and endurance were on display Tuesday. Plus coordination. And some brawn, too. And, oh, yeah, a tad bit of emotion.

This is where ‘‘athletics,’’ as we call them at the Olympics, are at their best. Bring what you got to the bazaar, and lay it out there —body type be damned.

First, men’s discus. You have to understand that track and field is like a circus, with things going on all over and objects flying as people race and jump. And there are my favorite toys ever, the miniature radio-controlled cars that lug the 16-pound shot and 4.4-pound discus from the field back to the throwers.

So out of the infield cage came the lenticular saucer hurled by Germany’s Robert Harting. It flew 68.27 meters (223.98 feet) and won him the gold medal. Here’s where it got fun.

Harting tore his jersey to shreds, Hulk Hogan-like, and threw it to the ground. Then he ran around the track with the black, red and yellow German flag over his bare torso until he came to the women’s hurdles, which had just been set up. So he jumped them, every last one of them except the 10th, which he couldn’t jump because the officials were standing there.

He detoured around them and jumped a barrier leading to the Olympic torch, which is actually multiple flames way up high, resembling an elevated barbecue. Would he climb the poles and immolate himself? No, he merely patted the structure and seemed to calm down.

Later in the interview room, I tried my German on him when handed the mike. ‘‘Bitte, ich spreche nur ein sehr kleines bisschen Deutsch …’’ I began. He looked amused, perhaps concerned. He answered in English, and all I picked up was the word ‘‘fun.’’

Fair enough.

Next came the women’s 100-meter-hurdles final, the race for which Harting already had tested the implements. The United States had three athletes in the event: Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells and the famous virgin and part-time model Lolo Jones.

But Australia had blond, pony-tailed Sally Pearson, and with the crack of the gun, the racers took off with the Americans in lanes 2, 4 and 5. Pearson was in Lane 7, and at the finish, it was impossible to tell anything. Everything stopped. An announcement came on that we would have to wait to see who won. As with a game show, everyone turned to the screen. What door would open? Time went by.

Ba-bing! It was Pearson in first in an Olympic-record time of 12.35. Two-hundredths of a second behind was Harper, then Wells, then Jones. Pearson almost fainted. What was that wait like? I asked Pearson.

‘‘To see your name, number one, it’s hugely ...’’ she began, then kind of lost herself. ‘‘That result, my name, was the best thing in the world.’’

As noted earlier, emotions will come out at these Games.

Which left only the men’s 1,500 meters. The mile used to be the premier middle-distance event, not a sprint and not a long trek, either. But the mile is seldom run in international competition, and the 1,500 meters is its sleek replacement. A mile is 5,280 feet; 1,500 meters is 4,921 feet, 31/8 inches.

Subtract about 15 seconds from a mile time, and there’s where your 1,500-meter men will be. Two Americans, Leo Manzano and Matt Centrowitz, the son of former Olympic runner Matt Centrowitz Sr., had made the final. It seemed unlikely either would medal, but they had run 3:34.46 and 3:32.37, respectively, in the semis, times not far back from lead qualifier, Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat, who had run 3:29.27.

Centrowitz, the youngest in the group at 22, took the early lead, and the runners seesawed in the pack as elite 1,500 men will do. At the end, it was a mad dash for the line, with Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi winning in a wind-and-spray-slowed 3:34.08, with Manzano sprinting to the silver medal.  Centrowitz was edged out by Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider and finished fourth.

He fell to his knees and crumpled almost into a ball.  Fourth is the worst thing in the Olympics. You’re so good, but you get nothing.

Centrowitz was heartbroken but determined to get even better. He could be the hope for the United States in the metric mile for years to come.

Should the Olympics hand out medals for fourth place? I asked him.

He pondered this for a moment.

‘‘Yes,’’ he said, taking his leave.



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