DAEGU, South Korea (AP) — In a golden half hour for the United States, three Americans won world championship titles on Thursday, none more surprising than Jennifer Barringer Simpson getting the first 1,500-meter victory since Mary Decker-Slaney in 1983.
Jesse Williams added the first high jump world title in two decades and Lashinda Demus ran the third fastest time in history to take the women's 400 hurdles.
At the end of the night, the United States led the medal standings with seven gold medals and 12 overall. Russia was closest with four gold and 12 in total.
"What a wonderful night for our team," Williams said. "Will I celebrate? You can bet on that. We will have a big party."
On a day of surprises, double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius reached his first major final Thursday, leading off South Africa's 4x400-meter relay team and helping it qualify with a national record. The South African team is to decide early Friday whether the Paralympic star would still be in the starting lineup for Friday's final since it could also use Thursday's 400 hurdles bronze medalist L.J. van Zyl.
For the surprising haul of the Americans, the face of Simpson told it all. She did not even figure in the top 10 of this season's performers before outpacing all the favorites and winning the first title for the United States in the race in 28 years.
"I am supposed to say that I am not surprised," said Simpson, who had the 25th best time of the season heading into the worlds. "All I can say is that a dream has come true."
With her mouth open, Simpson sped past rivals on the finishing straight and then, with big eyes, looked at the giant screen facing her in Daegu Stadium to see if it really, truly, happened.
"I'm coming down home stretch and thinking, how did I get here?" Simpson said. "I knew coming off the curb I had another couple of gears, and I just thought I'm going to be really hard to beat now."
She closed her eyes and raised her fists in disbelief.
Williams, conversely, was as composed as can be in a nerve-racking event like the high jump. He was perfect through the winning height of 2.35 meters, needing one jump less than Aleksey Dmitrik of Russia.
Both failed three times at 2.37 to give the United States that first men's high jump title since Charles Austin at the 1991 worlds in Tokyo.
If two golds in a dozen minutes was great, Demus made it three in 29 after a thrilling duel with Jamaican rival Melaine Walker.
After twice getting silver, Demus finally got the breakthrough victory when she swept ahead after clearing the last of 10 hurdles alongside Walker before putting in a better finishing kick.
Her time of 52.47 seconds beat the Jamaican by .26 seconds and the 16-year-old U.S. record of Kim Batten by .14.
"It feels so great to bring it home," Demus said.
On Friday, the American national anthem will be played three times in an hour to celebrate one extraordinary night. But the crowd at Daegu Stadium is also getting used to the Kenyan anthem.
They added their customary gold in the men's steeplechase, but a wild celebration added to the expected. Ezekiel Kemboi successfully defended his title and then went into a dance performance that would make ultimate showman Usain Bolt proud.
Kemboi stripped off his shirt and flexed the muscles on his lean body as the crowd cheered. He pumped his fist several times and started wiggling his hips in a raucous celebration.
On the track, Kemboi left the pack behind with about 200 meters to go and beat Brimin Kipruto. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad was third as he failed to get past Kipruto in the final meters as the Kenyan faded off his line and into the Frenchman's path.
The "Curse of the Cover" of the official program claimed another victim Thursday. Bolt, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles were among the stars meeting with debacle after appearing on the cover, and this time it was two-time defending women's triple jump champion Yargelis Savigne of Cuba.
She was forced to withdraw with a right thigh injury halfway through the competition when she was trailing in sixth place. Instead, Olha Saladuha of Ukraine won the gold, beating world indoor champion Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan.
Even Britain got into the act on Thursday, with David Greene taking the men's 400-meter hurdles ahead of Javier Culson of Puerto Rico and Van Zyl, a welcome break from days of mishap and a boost ahead of next year's London Olympics.