Culson clears first hurdle on gold quest
Back in Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of islanders were up at the crack of dawn to see their sports hero take a step closer to history. Dozens of people, including Mayor Mayita Meléndez, gathered in the downtown plaza in Culson’s native Ponce to watch the race on screens set up by the city government.
Culson appeared to easily shrug off the immense pressure on his shoulders: Puerto Rico has never won an Olympic gold in any sport and has never made it on the Olympic podium in any track event.
After dominating the summer season in the run up to the Olympics, Culson is clearly the island’s best bet to break that decades-long dry spell.
Culson easily won his heat on Friday, racing out to a quick lead before putting the brakes on a bit. Looking around to gauge the progress of the other runners, he stepped on the gas again to pull away down the final stretch.
Culson sent a serious warning to his world-class rivals by winning his heat in 48.33 seconds – a very fast time for a first-round race and proof that he doesn’t aim to give up his unbeaten streak this year.
The 400-meter hurdles semifinals are scheduled for Saturday. If Culson clears that challenge, he will race in the event finals on Monday.
Puerto Rican hurdler Eric Alejandro also qualified for the semifinals in his 400-meter heat, but island teammate and Jamele Mason didn’t make the cut.
On the women’s side, Puerto Rican Carol Rodríguez finished a close second in her 400-meter hurdles heat on Friday, grabbing a spot in this weekend’s semifinals.