LONDON, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Fueled by a woman who at last achieved her special goal, United States track and field athletes put on a vintage performance Wednesday.
The rest of the world has caught up to, and in many cases surpassed, the Americans in the basic skills of running, jumping and throwing. On a pleasant evening at Olympic Stadium, however, U.S. athletes reminded everybody of the way it once was.
Allyson Felix, a silver medalist in two straight Olympics and yearning at the age of 26 to become a champion on the biggest stage, emphatically did so.
In quick order after that, 110-meter hurdler Aries Merritt blew away the field and then long jumper Brittney Reese made her one big jump count for a gold medal over her Russian rival.
The total haul for the evening was three gold, two silver and two bronze medals in four events for the Americans and more medals appeared to be on the way Thursday in the decathlon, triple jump and, perhaps, the men's 200-meter dash.
It all provided a morale boost for the American track and field team that is looking to surpass the total of seven gold medals achieved in the Beijing Olympics. Thus far in London there have been five.
Wednesday's haul lifted the United States into the overall medal lead with 81, four more than China. Those numbers include the bronze medals that are assured in women's boxing, where semifinals were held Wednesday and where the Americans posted a 1-1 record.
Japan celebrated two gold medals in freestyle wrestling, an achievement which doubled that country's victory total at the London Olympics. Until Wednesday, the Japanese had collected a robust 29 medals, but only two of them had been gold.
Outside track and field, the United States won only two medals -- but they were especially sweet ones for those who now own them.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third consecutive gold medal in beach volleyball. They have won all 21 matches in their Olympic career and dropped only one set in the process.
As it turned out, their semifinal victory over a team from China was more difficult than the championship win, which came over fellow-Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy.
The losing team, however, had little to feel sorry about because a silver medal in the difficult competition found at the Olympics is a special prize.
Difficult competition was also what Felix found in her way in the finals of the 200-meter dash.
In the race was the woman who had defeated Felix at each of the last two Olympics (Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica). Also in the field were the women who had finished 1-2 in the 100-meter dash earlier in these Olympics (Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and American Carmelita Jeter). Finally, there was this year's 400-meter champion as well (Sayna Richards Ross of the United States).
Once Felix rounded the turn in first place, however, there was no catching her. She finished in 21.88 and finally added Olympic gold to the two world championships and two Olympic silvers she already owned. Fraser-Pryce ran second and Jeter third.
Merritt showed the form he has displayed throughout the track campaign this year was for real when he ran away with the 110-meter hurdles. He was the only runner under 13 seconds and it was the fifth straight race he has achieved that feat.
Fellow-American Jason Richardson earned the silver medal.
In the long jump, Brittney Reese fouled on four of her six attempts, but it only takes one to win. That one was a jump of 23-4 1/2, which would have been good enough to capture any of the last three Olympics. Russian Elena Sokolova settled for second and American Janay DeLoach took third place by less than inch with her next-to-last jump.
A fourth American gold was almost won by Lashinda Demus in the 400-meter hurdles, but her late push came up just short behind Russian Natalya Antyukh.
U.S. decathletes Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee will go into Thursday's second day of the event running 1-2. Eaton has a 220-point lead over Hardee, an enormous advantage in the decathlon.
On Thursday, the first Olympic gold medals ever in women's boxing will be handed out and American Claressa Shields will try to win one of them in the middleweight class when she meets Nadezda Torlopova of Russia.
Another American, flyweight Marlen Esparaz, lost a 10-8 decision in the semifinals Wednesday to No. 1 seed Ren Cancan of China. Esparaza, however, will take home a bronze medal -- as will all semifinal losers in the boxing tournament.