Hope Solo’s hands save the day on a slippery day for U.S. Olympic athletes

BEIJING – Hope Solo’s sure hands made up for the butterfingers of U.S. relay runners on a seesaw day for Americans at the Olympics.

Goalkeeper Solo punched a ball that was flying toward the net to save a 1-0 victory over Brazil for the women’s soccer team. With a gold medal hanging around her neck, she salvaged not only her reputation but a brutal slate of performances on Thursday in Beijing.

By fending off a flurry of shots by (Ital)Mah-Velous(Ital) Marta, Solo vindicated herself 10 months after she was ostracized by her teammates for her blunt criticism of their 4-0 loss to Brazil in the 2007 World Cup semifinals.

That was an ugly time for U.S. women’s soccer and women’s sports. Solo spoke her mind about a coaching decision to replace her with Briana Scurry. She was absolutely right, but her teammates took it hard and shunned her as if they were members of a junior high clique. They wouldn’t even eat with her or fly home from China with her.

They regrouped under new coach Pia Sundhage and mended their relationship with Solo.

“A gold medal takes away all the pain in the world,” Solo said. “Honestly, I went through hell. Things change over the course of time. A lot came out. One thing was the role of female sports – you don’t have to be best friends.”

The U.S. track team could have used some teamwork.

At Bird’s Nest Stadium, both U.S. 4×100 relay teams dropped the baton between the third and fourth legs. They were eliminated before the qualifying round was over.

They’ll have to watch as Jamaica goes for world records and a sweep of gold medals in the sprint events.

What a shame, but this isn’t the Junior Olympics. The U.S. should have seamless exchanges by now, especially given its gaffes of the past.

It was an embarrassing case of deja vu for Lauryn Williams, who took off too soon and couldn’t get the baton from Marion Jones at the Athens Olympics. This time, Torri Edwards let the baton go too quickly after slapping it into Williams’ hand.

“Somebody somewhere has a voodoo doll of the U.S.,” Williams said. “I have no idea what could have gone wrong. Our plan was to come out here, have safe passes and lay it all on the track tomorrow.”

Instead, the baton clattered to the ground. Williams dashed back to retrieve it and finished the race out of a sense of duty, four seconds behind seventh-place Italy.

Here’s an opportunity for Elmer’s Glue to become an Olympic sponsor.

In the men’s race, Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay bungled their exchange. Poor Gay, who went from being a contender for three golds to a man who didn’t even run in a final.

“It’s kind of funny all the love I got last year and now I’m going home with no hardware,” Gay said.

Meanwhile, Jamaica cruised as Usain Bolt took the night off except to accept his gold for the 200. Jamaica’s national anthem was followed by a rendition of Happy Birthday. Bolt turned 22 Thursday.

Fans would love to see Bolt perform another world record dance and make Jacques Rogge eat his words. The International Olympic Committee chief reprimanded Bolt for his theatrics. Rogge needs a Tsingtao or three.

Fans – and NBC – love a little jiggle. Just look at the ratings for women’s beach volleyball, which concluded in pouring rain Thursday with a second straight gold medal for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, who defeated China to win their 108th consecutive match.

Then the volleyball throwbacks – the ones who play indoors – upset Cuba’s women’s team to advance to the final for the first time since their coach, Jenny Lang Ping, led China to a gold-medal victory over the U.S. in 1984.

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