One one-hundredth of a second
One one hundredth of a second. That’s faster than you can blink. That’s faster than the time it takes to read the word “fast.” That can also mean the difference between qualifying for the USA team for the World Championships in Daegu and staying home.
Ten years ago in 2001, at the end of her junior year, in the middle of a rainstorm at the Adidas Outdoor National Championships, Shannon Rowbury edged out Adrienne Anderson by one one-hundredth of a second to win the 800 meter national championship, 2:12.00 to 2:12.01. That day, just like at the 2011 USA Championships today, I would be cheering on Shannon at the 200 meter to go mark and would be unable to see the finish, relying on the video scoreboard and public address announcer to find out the result.
After battling injuries this past off-season and then running two races that by her own definition were “mediocre,” Shannon arrived at the 2011 USA Championships in a different position than she has been. For the first time in the last three years, she was not one of the favorites for a top three finish.
The USA system for selecting its team for the World Championships is very objective. In a nutshell, the top three finishers in each event get to represent the USA. Having a bad race two weeks before the USA Championships doesn’t matter. You just have to get it together and be in the top three at the USA Championships. Having the fastest time so far this season does not guarantee anything. You still have to be in the top three. Having the fastest lifetime PR does not guarantee anything. You still have to be in the top three. Having the potential to improve over the next two months to be the fastest runner in the country come the week of the World Championships does not matter. It’s what you do at this meet. You have to be in the top three. Two-time USA champion? World Championship bronze medalist? Highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history? That looks good on the resume but to stamp your passport to Daegu, you still have to be in the top three.
Those were the circumstances facing Shannon and the third place spot would come down to one one-hundredth of a second.
Christin Wurth-Thomas set a blistering early pace, running 62.1 for the first lap. She built up a lead of up to thirty meters. With 300 meters to go Shannon, Morgan Uceny, and Jennifer Barringer Simpson started to go after Wurth-Thomas. Uceny would take the lead at the top of the final straightaway. Simpson would move into second place with about twenty-five meters to go. Shannon was closing ground on Wurth-Thomas. Wurth-Thomas’s form was really tying up. The question was, would Shannon run out of real estate or would she pass Wurth-Thomas to claim the third and final ticket to Daegu? From my vantage point at the 200 meters to go mark, I had no idea. I could hear the crowd gasp and the announcer say that it was too close to call. It took maybe 1500 one one-hundredths of a second (15 seconds) for the result to flash up on the scoreboard.
4:06.20 to 4:06.21. Third place and a ticket to the World Championships in Daegu….by one one-hundredth of a second. Congratulations, Shannon!