Florida Gators cleaned up in London on Thursday. Christian Taylor won gold in the triple jump, with former teammate Will Claye taking silver and second, and Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts got gold for women's soccer — all of those medals counting both for Team USA and the Gator Nation. Melanie Booth got a bronze as a member of the Canadian women's national team, running the Florida tally on Thursday to five individual medals and four total medals.
Five medals for five Gators. A historic 1-2 finish, and a stirring team triumph. A feat that hadn't been done since prior to World War II. GatorZone suggests Thursday's performance matches the best days in Gators Olympic history. After a little research, I disagree.
Thursday was unequivocally the best day for Florida in Olympic history.
The first Gators medal of the day came from Booth, who didn't play, but sat on the bench as a reserve in Canada's 1-0 win over France in the women's soccer bronze medal match.
Then it got hectic.
A medal-filled afternoon began in the triple jump final, which started at 2:20 p.m. Eastern. Taylor was the top qualifier, and Claye his biggest competition, but Claye started the medal hunt in earnest with a jump of 17.54 meters on his second attempt, taking the lead from Italy's Fabrizio Donato.
But after fouls on his first two attempts, Taylor was forced to make his third one count to get into the top eight and move on to the second half of the final. He did, jumping 17.15 meters by smartly taking off a little early.
By this point, though, the U.S. was up 1-0 on Japan in the seismic rematch of last year's Women's World Cup final. Wambach appeared to score that first goal, making six in six games and putting her in incredible company, but what many (yours truly included) thought came off her foot really rocketed off Carli Lloyd's head, and Wambach's ebullient celebration faked more than a few folks out.
And then Taylor put his foot on the gas, soaring to a 17.81-meter jump on his fourth jump that set a seasonal best and left everyone, Claye included, chasing him. Claye leaped to 17.62 on his fourth jump, good to be solidly in second, but Taylor's mark held up as competitor after competitor tried to knock him off the top of the podium, and he couldn't improve on it.
However, no one could touch Claye, either, and when the event came down to Claye's final jump, the two Gators were assured a 1-2 finish in some order. Claye turned in a subpar 16.66, his worst jump of the final, and secured Taylor's first gold medal and Claye's second medal of these Olympics.
Taylor's gold made him, at 22 years and a little over a month, the youngest man to win the triple jump since Gustav Lindblom of Sweden did so ... a full century ago, at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. (For perspective, Lindblom jumped 14.76 meters to win, a mark that all but one athlete with a legal jump beat in the qualification round this year.)
The 1-2 finish by Taylor and Claye was the first since Mike Conley, Sr. (yep!) and Charles Simpkins earned gold and silver, respectively, for the U.S. in Barcelona, but Claye's medal gave him the first double dip of a medal in the long jump and a medal in the triple jump at one Olympics since Japan's Naoto Tajima in 1936.
If that seems like a lot of history to digest in the moment, it won't surprise you to learn that no one did, because Carli Lloyd scored again for the U.S. mere moments later. That put the Americans up by a 2-0 count.
Moments after that, Taylor and Claye did a dual Gator Chomp.
Lloyd's goal would serve as the game-winning goal, as the USWNT held off Japan for a 2-1 win that gave Wambach, who narrowly missed a goal late in the proceedings and picked up a yellow card in the 90th minute, her second Olympic gold and Mitts, who did not enter the game, her third.
The Taylor and Claye medals became official at about 2:55 p.m. Eastern. Wambach and Mitts won theirs at about 3:35 p.m. Eastern. That means four Gators won four Olympic medals in the span of 40 minutes, shorter than a University of Florida class period, on Thursday.
The medals were also important in the grand scheme of the Games. Because the U.S. women's water polo team snuck in a gold between Taylor's and the USWNT's, Taylor's merely brought the U.S. to within one gold medal of China, but the soccer gold pushed the U.S. ahead of the Chinese in the gold medal tally and the official medal rankings, perhaps for good.
So, yes, an awesome day. But the best in Olympic history for the Gators? Let's examine the evidence.
Here's what GatorZone writes about the two previous best days in Florida history:
On July 31, 1984, and on August 3, 1984, Gators also combined to win five Olympic medals, all coming in the sport of swimming at the Games held in Los Angeles.
On July 31, 1984, Mark Stockwell, Theresa Andrews, Mary Wayte, Frederic Delcourt and Dara Torres each won Olympic medals.
On Aug. 3, 1984, Tracy Caulkins won two gold medals, while Mark Stockwell, Theresa Andrews and Rafael Vidal each won medals in the pool.
Here's the problem with that: Neither is quite true.
July 31, 1984: The U.S.'s Andrews wins gold in the women's 100m backstroke, Torres wins gold by swimming part of the women's 4 x 100 meters relay and Wayte wins a gold with her after swimming in a preliminary heat but not the final, Aussie Stockwell takes silver in the men's 100 meters freestyle, and France's Delcourt wins silver in the men's 200 meters backstroke. Five individual medals, but four overall, not five, and Wayte's is symptomatic of medal inflation.
August 3, 1984: Caulkins wins gold in the women's 200 meters IM, and joins Andrews on the U.S.'s gold-winning 4 x 100 medley relay team, and Vidal takes bronze for Venezuela in the 200 meters butterfly. Four individual medals, but three overall, not five.
The Stockwell medals from that Olympics came on July 31 in the 100 free and August 2 in the men's 4 x 100 free relay. Wayte's medal counts in the same way Jeff Demps' will if the U.S. men's 4 x 100 meters track team wins a medal at these Olympics. And both days had fewer than five overall medals won.
So did Thursday, of course, but Thursday happened in a completely different context. For one, the U.S.'s biggest rival isn't boycotting these Games, like the U.S.S.R. did, and neither is the biggest challenger to America in the pool; at the end of these Games, Team USA may end up with a bit more than 60 percent of the jaw-dropping 174 medals that 1984 juggernaut got.
And, yes, the U.S. swim team was great at the 1984 Games, but without East Germany (and the team's, er, doctors) around, Team USA did things that will never be equaled: 21 golds in 29 events, including a tie for gold, and 34 total medals in the pool, more medals (all gold and silver, naturally) than the next three nations earned combined.
In 1976, the U.S. won 34 swimming medals, just as in '84, but East Germany won 19, and 11 golds to the U.S.'s 13. In 1988, East Germany won 28 medals and 11 golds to the U.S.'s 18 and eight. 1984 was a great year for Gators and Americans in the pool, but it was definitely made possible by a boycott.
On Thursday, Taylor and Claye made clear that the 2011 Florida Gators track team was probably the best triple jump squad in the world, and made some history individually and together; Wambach got her second gold by being her usual fiery, captain-y self, and Mitts got her third, joining an elite few female soccer players in history; and Booth got a piece of the glory for being a part of the hardy Canadian team. They racked up five individual medals, and four overall, but dominated an event and took part in the biggest team win of the day.
I wasn't around for the 1984 Olympics; my parents hadn't really started dating then. But it's not just recency bias that makes me sure that we just saw the greatest day in Gators Olympic history.
So far, anyway.
Proctor misses medal on Day 12
We got caught up and didn't end up putting up a Day 12 review, but only one Gator competed on the day, and Shara Proctor, unfortunately, didn't win a medal.
Proctor, the top qualifier for the women's long jump, finished ninth in the final, failing to make it into the top eight and earn the second set of three jumps in the event. That's a bummer, and not only because she jumped better in her qualifying round: Proctor's never going to get a chance to win a medal in front of her countrymen and countrywomen again, and so this is a missed opportunity.
Gator Nation Medal Count, Day 13
Total Medals: 13 (Ryan Lochte: 2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze, one gold shared with Conor Dwyer; Christian Taylor: 1 gold; Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts, 1 gold shared; Elizabeth Beisel: 1 silver, 1 bronze; Will Claye: 1 silver, 1 bronze; Lisa Raymond, 1 bronze; Melanie Booth, 1 bronze)
Total Medals For Individual Gators: 16 (Ryan Lochte: 2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze; Conor Dwyer: 1 gold; Christian Taylor: 1 gold; Heather Mitts: 1 gold; Abby Wambach: 1 gold; Elizabeth Beisel: 1 silver, 1 bronze; Will Claye: 1 silver, 1 bronze; Melanie Booth: 1 bronze; Lisa Raymond: 1 bronze)
Gold Medals: 4 (Lochte, men's 400 meters IM; Taylor, men's triple jump; Wambach/Mitts, women's soccer; Lochte/Dwyer, men's 4 x 200 meters relay)
Silver Medals: 4 (Lochte, men's 4 x 100 meters relay and men's 200 meters IM; Beisel, women's 400 meters IM; Claye, men's triple jump)
Bronze Medals: 5 (Lochte, men's 200 meters backstroke, Beisel, women's 200 meters backstroke; Claye, men's long jump; Raymond, tennis mixed doubles; Booth, women's soccer)
Percentage of U.S. Gold Medals, Excluding Transfers: 10.3 percent (4 of 39)
Percentage of U.S. Gold Medals, Including Transfers: 18.0 percent (7 of 39)
Percentage of U.S. Medals, Excluding Transfers: 13.3 percent (13 of 90)
Percentage of U.S. Medals, Including Transfers: 17.8 percent (16 of 90)
For the purposes of our medal count, I'm counting 34 members of Olympic teams as Gators, by the same criteria as Only Gators. GatorZone counts Gators letterwinners, including three who transferred and finished their collegiate careers elsewhere, meaning that Dana Vollmer is part of their stats. I'll calculate stats for both here.
If the University of Florida were its own country, it would currently be in 14th in the medal rankings, a spot ahead of Iran, and 14th in the overall Olympic medal count. The former stat ranks teams with better medals first; the latter only includes total medals.
Gator Nation no longer leads Great Britain, but still has five more medals than Jamaica.
It also had the fifth-best day of any "nation" on Thursday, as two golds, a silver, and a bronze would rank just ahead of China, which got a gold, two silvers, and a bronze.