LONDON -- Something remarkable occurred Monday night at Olympic Stadium that would have gone unnoticed in the United States except for the most discerning track and field fanatic.

For the first time in Olympic history, no American competed in the men's 400-meter final.

U.S. runners had won the past seven Olympic titles and swept the podium three times during that span -- in 2008, 2004 and 1988.

If someone wanted to mark the decline of the American empire, they might look no further than this event -- a one-lap race in which the 12 fastest 400 runners in history had been from the United States. The country produced at least one Olympic medal winner in the event since 1920, except for the 1980 boycotted Moscow Games.

Until 19-year-old Kirani James of Grenada won the gold medal in 43.94 seconds Monday, no non-American had ever broken 44 seconds.

Dominican Republic's Luguelin Santos won the silver medal, and Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago got the bronze on the same night that Felix Sanchez won the 400 hurdles for the Dominican Republic.

Add the Jamaican dominance in the men's and women's 100 and 200, and Caribbean runners are outclassing their giant northern neighbor in what can be viewed as an erosion of U.S. power.

Most fans know about 100-meter winner Usain Bolt. But here's how it happened in the 400: defending champion LaShawn Merritt aggravated a hamstring injury just before his heat. Then youngsters Bryshon Nellum and Tony McQuay couldn't get past the semifinals.

Now the United States' 28-year reign in the 1,600 relay -- an event the Americans have not lost since the 1976 Olympics -- is in jeopardy.

"This is a big blow to the sport, and it will only get worse unless there is a concerted effort to turn it around," said Bobby Poynter, a former San Jose State sprint star. "Yes, we are spoiled and have probably seen the American dominance go down."

Ron Davis, San Jose State's new track and cross-country coach, couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"Our national federation will have to go to the drawing board after the Olympic Games on this one," said Davis, a Spartans distance running star in the 1960s.

The 400 meters holds a special place for San Jose sports historians. Lee Evans came out of Overfelt High to win the Olympic gold medal in 1968. Twenty years later, Silver Creek High alum Andre Phillips won the 400 hurdles at the Seoul Games.

Fred Harvey, another former Silver Creek High 400 runner, got nervous after watching Nellum and McQuay falter. The University of Arizona coach is in London with 400 hurdler Georgeanne Moline, who advanced to the final of her specialty Monday night.

Harvey pulled Moline aside and said, "This is the Olympic Games. Every round is your final, because if it is not your final it could be your last round."

Although he doesn't know Mellum or McQuay, Harvey said, "From what I saw out there it looked like they were running the preliminary round of an NCAA championship."

The United States remains the destination for serious 400 runners. James won two NCAA titles for Alabama. Australian Steven Solomon will enter Stanford in a few weeks. He finished last in the 400 but was ecstatic to reach the final when no American did.

"Stanford and the NCAA circuit is where I feel I need to be," Solomon said. "The competition I am going to be facing week-in and week-out is going to expose me to these kinds of races, really build up my experiences for major events like the Olympics."

Poynter, West Valley College's coach, said American universities are developing foreign athletes who "then return home with the skills to beat us.

"I believe that we do not provide room for younger 400 runners to develop and just rely on retreads. It takes hard work, discipline and support from our educational system. Physical education and track has been cut back or eliminated in many schools."

Poynter and others say it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop new blood.

"If we do not increase and develop runners in our community, I can only see the problem getting worse," he said.

Women's pole vault: American Jenn Suhr won the gold by clearing 15 feet 7 inches in cold and blustery conditions at Olympic Stadium.

Suhr had to conquer Elena Isinbaeva, the Russian who has won two Olympic gold medals and five world championship titles and is the outdoor world-record-holder at 16-7.

"To have someone so good in the field and to come out on top, it really is an honor," Suhr said. "The psychological barrier was within myself -- believing what I had to do in training. It's going to come together one day for me."

Isinbaeva won the bronze behind Cuba's Yarisley Silva.

Women's shot put: Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus won the gold with a throw of 70-1, upending defending champ Valerie Adams of New Zealand. Evgeniia Kolodko of Russia took the bronze.

American Michelle Carter, daughter of former 49ers star Michael Carter, was sixth with a throw of 63-83/4.

Two-time Olympian Jill Camarena-Williams, formerly of Stanford, bowed out in the morning preliminaries, reaching 59-91/2.

Women's 200: Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States posted the best time in the preliminaries, winning her heat in 22.48 seconds. Americans Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter also moved on to Tuesday's semifinals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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