Tonight is our last night in Moscow at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. Just like in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, and London, I have mixed emotions. I am both sad that this current adventure is about to end but also ready to be back home.
There is a little bit of a letdown when a global championship comes to its conclusion. Usually during the last month before an Olympics or World Championships, I spend a lot of time thinking about Shannon Rowbury’s race. I scout the competition, research splits from previous meets, and consider a variety of race strategies and tactics. On Shannon’s race days I feel nervous. And when she’s done competing, I feel pride. But also a little bit of emptiness as this goal race that has been on my mind for at least a month (often longer) is over. “What do I do with myself now?” is what I often end up thinking to myself.
Spending ten days at a global championship for me is like having Christmas ten days in a row. I have almost no concerns each day except what time do we need to get to the track and what event is happening tonight.
I love watching athletes competing in track & field at the highest level. There’s so much excitement, emotion, and drama. Just tonight in the span of one hour, I felt exhilaration for Matthew Centrowitz when he found an opening and sprinted to a silver medal in the 1500, I felt empathy for a courageous Alysia Montano, who just couldn’t hold on in the 800, and I felt frustration when the US women had a bad exchange in the 4X100 meter relay. Taking the kid on Christmas Day analogy one step further, I was a kid on Christmas Day opening presents when Centro saw me waving my US flag as he took his victory lap and he pointed at me. Yes, I am going to miss being at this meet every night.
Today, as often happens at the end of the meet, we got to spend some time with Shannon. We had lunch at Cafe Pushkin and grabbed some pies at Stolle. It’s nice to just spend time with her (and Pablo) and talk a little track, but mostly exchange stories about this current adventure. Like I said on Facebook, it really is a privilege to be at a World Championship meet and feel nervous before a race.
All that being said, I am also ready to get out of town.
Beijing Daegu, and Moscow were particularly challenging trips because of the language barrier (so many Germans speak English that Berlin was nowhere near the same challenge). Every outing, every meal, and every trip to the bathroom required mental thought and that can be draining. We also keep pretty long hours when on the road. The meet tends to be a night meet so we often do not get back to our room until midnight. E-mails and internet surfing tend to occupy another hour or more. Come seven the next morning, I am usually up and ready to do some sightseeting. After all, it’s a limited amount of time we’ll be in this foreign land. No point sleeping the time away. All of this hyperactivity, however, can leave one pretty tired by the end of ten days.
On top of all that, in Moscow, we had to do a lot of walking to get around. The subway was 0.75 miles from the hotel and the subway stop nearest the stadium was a 0.5 mile walk. Just getting from the hotel to the stadium and back required 2.5 miles of walking. Malinda and I estimate that we walked about 55 miles while here in Moscow, so over five miles a day. No wonder I am so tired.
Probably the main reason that I look forward to being back in San Francisco is to see the SHC team and start cross country season and to see my Pamakid teammates and tell them stories about Moscow. The official start of the cross country season is August 19. My assistant coaches will be running practice because I’ll spend most of the day in an airplane traveling home. But I’ll be there on August 20. There may or may not be another Shannon Rowbury on this year’s team, but I still plan to put all my heart into coaching this group and making them the best runners that they can be – just like I did with Shannon and everyone else that’s been on the team over the past fifteen years.
Good night and good bye, Moscow. Thanks for a memorable trip!
As everyone who follows my coaching style knows, I hate Trial Days. If you are one of the favorites then nothing real good can happen, only something bad. If you qualify on, it’s no big deal because you were supposed to. If you don’t qualify on, it’s a disaster. I often use the phrase, “live to run again,” when giving instructions to my athletes at trials.
Today (Wednesday, August 14) was a Trials Day.
On most of Shannon’s trials days at global championships in the past I have been quite nervous – usually indicated by me not talking much (so only Malinda really knows that I am nervous). Interestingly, neither Malinda or I were as nervous as usual today. Last night I was super tired from all the walking we’ve been doing and the less than six hours of sleep we’ve been getting. Upon waking this morning, I was more tired than nervous.
There’s also something to be said about the 5000 trials being less stressful than 1500 trials. In the 5000, Shannon could control more variables and there would be more time to deal with problems during the race (getting boxed in, not the pace desired, etc.). I really felt like Shannon should cruise to the 5000 final….and she did.
After a super slow first 800, the pace picked up in such a way that with about six laps to go, it was apparent who the top five would be because there was a sizeable gap back to sixth place. That’s when I started yelling to Shannon that she was clear. In high school, I told Shannon she was never to look back in a race except in a trials race when it was okay to look back to check your position. I think she may still employ this strategy. Over the last lap she checked behind her several times and definitely jogged in the last half lap when she knew she was going to place in the top five and qualify on.
In the end, the times were very slow in Shannon’s heat 1. That led to all the time qualifiers coming from heat 2, where ten out of the eleven runners qualified for the final.
After the race we met up with Shannon, her parents, coach, and boyfriend and went to the Nike House with them for some food and relaxation. With the trials behind us, there was no need to talk track. Instead, we could focus on swapping Russia travel stories. But unspoken throughout the afternoon was the fact that Shannon’s in a great spot. It should be an exciting 5000 meter final and with her speed, if she can hang around with the leaders until it’s time to kick…..well, you just never know.
I’ve been to a lot of track & field meets in my lifetime. Often things happen at meets that stick in my mind – sometimes something big and sometimes something small. Tonight, on the opening night of the fourteenth IAAF World Championships in Moscow, two things, both small, occurred that stuck in out in my mind.
First, after the men’s 10,000 meters, Mo Farah was beginning his celebratory victory lap surrounded by photographers. I noticed some British fans in front of us waving their UK flags. I told Malinda to have her camera ready because Mo might stop in front of our section, because of these UK fans, and do the “Mobot.” Sure enough, he did (photo coming when we can get to a computer with a USB port). After that, Mo motioned to one of the UK fans for his Union Jack flag – Mo needed a flag for the traditional photos and victory lap. The man tossed his flag to a photographer, who was gracious enough to take it to Mo. “Wow!” I thought to myself….what an honor to have Mo take YOUR flag for all these photos and the victory lap! “That guy is going to have a story to tell his running buddies when he gets home,” I told Malinda.
This reminds me of a story from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. We had great seats, right by the finish line in around row fifteen. After the men’s 5000, I was on my feet waving a US flag and cheering for Lagat. Suddenly, “Kip” looked up into the stands. He was looking for a US flag for the victory lap that all three medalists take. I swear Lagat looked at my flag and our eyes locked for a moment. Then someone closer (maybe around row eight) got his attention and Lagat ended up taking that person’s flag. I was THAT close to having my own, “my flag went on a victory lap” story.
But I digress…
The second small thing from tonight happened with Usain Bolt. As Bolt came out for his heat of the 100 meter rounds, the somewhat sparse crowd in Luzhniki Stadium went wild. It was the loudest the crowd was all night. Malinda and I had a short discussion about whether or not track & field has ever had an icon like Usain Bolt. I think the answer is no. Bolt is the first, the current, and possibly the greatest most recognizable athlete that the sport has and will ever see. Bolt is a world record holder, he competes in multiple events and is thus a multiple time champion, and he knows how to play to the crowd.
In the final moments before the race, Bolt removed his sweats and placed them into the sweats basket. I was thinking to myself, will Bolt interact with the volunteer who is in charge of carrying his sweats. In Berlin at the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was always playful with the volunteers. But Russians are known to be quite serious and maybe he would resist the temptation. But luckily, Usain Bolt is Usain Bolt. He fist pumped the volunteer and then made his way to his starting blocks. I loved it! That young volunteer will have a story for the rest of his life about giving Usain Bolt a fist pump before his race.
The first day of ten days at the 2013 World Championships is in the books. It was a great night of small things.
Keep calm and carry on. You hear that a lot here in London. I believe the track & field distance race equivalent is “Keep Calm and Kick”.
The women’s 1500 meter final will take place Friday at 8:55pm London time (12:55pm on the west coast). Shannon Rowbury will be running in her second Olympic final and she’ll be looking to improve on her seventh place finish from Beijing (which as of now is the highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history).
Shannon gave us some anxious moments during the qualifying races. On Monday in the first round she finished seventh and we had to sit through the next two heats to see if her time would qualify to the next round. As the Brits like to say, Shannon’s 4:06.03 was the “fastest loser” and she moved on to the semi-final. On Wednesday, Shannon was well positioned throughout the race and inspired by her teammate Leo Manzano’s patient race tactics (more on that in a later post) hung out patiently around seventh place for most of the race. Only the top five would automatically qualify for the final and with 100 meters to go Shannon still had some work to do to move into the top five. She surged down the final homestretch passing two runners to secure the fifth and final automatic qualifying spot by one tenth of a second (4:05.47 to 4:05.57). The times in the second semi-final heat were much faster and it turns out that that one tenth of a second was huge because it was the difference between making the final and being eliminated (as all the time qualifiers came from the second heat).
In many ways, the stress is off. The goal in these first two races was simply to qualify on and Shannon has done that. She’s in the final along with eleven other women – the best female 1500 meter runners in the world. Previous championship meet credentials, PR’s, and season bests are immaterial. Everyone will line up even at the starting line and attempt to run three and three quarter laps around the track and get to the finish line first.
The final is simple and straightforward. You go for it. You leave it all out there. In most of the other distance finals that I’ve seen at these Olympic Games, the top finishers have been very patient early in the race, letting others set the pace and deal with the pushing and shoving that occurs in the middle of the pack of races of this nature. Then at some point later in the race, there comes a moment when it’s time to make your play for the medal. A moment when it is time to put four years of training and dreaming to work.
It is an honor and a privilege to be in London sitting in my hotel room and preparing to watch someone I know and care about run in an Olympic final in less than twenty-four hours time. What a wild journey cheering on Shannon Rowbury has been.
For Shannon, it’s time to Keep Calm and KICK!
For me, it’s time to Keep Calm and wave my banner!
I have now been in the London Olympic Stadium four times. Even though we are sitting high in the second deck, the sight lines are great. We can see all the action. My only minor complaints are that the scoreboard is hard to read (it’s not my fault I have bad eyesight, the London Olympic Committee should be taking care of my needs!) and that when the UK fans cheer loudly (which they do a lot), I can’t hear what the announcer is saying. Pretty minor things to be fussing about, huh?
There have been some complaints regarding the Olympic flame. The only people who can see the flame burning inside the cauldron are people who have tickets to attend an event (i.e. track & field or athletics as they call it here) in the Olympic Stadium. Since I am one of the lucky ones who has tickets to the Olympic Stadium, this has not been a complaint of mine.
On the flight over to London, Virgin Atlantic offered a documentary about the construction of the stadium. It was very insightful and easier to understand than the technical article my dad showed me from Civil Engineering magazine.
The London Olympic stadium seats 80,000 people and was built in east London at a cost of 486 million pounds. One of the cornerstones of the London Olympic bid was the eco-friendly and flexible nature of the Olympic Stadium. The stadium was built in such a way that it can be partially dismantled after the Games leaving the lower bowl, comprised of the track and 25,000 seats.
There were many challenges the architects and engineers faced when designing and constructing the stadium. Over two hundred building were demolished in east London to create space for the stadium. Some of these buildings produced toxic waste so the soil needed to be decontaminated. In the end some of the soil was re-used for landscaping and another 800,000 tons of soil were removed from the area. There was believed to be over two hundred un-exploded bombs from World War II buried in the ground that had to be considered during the construction to prevent an unplanned explosion. The land allotted for the stadium is surrounded by rivers on three sides and the area was not large enough for the traditional footprint of an 80,000 stadium. Designers got around this by “pulling” out food preparation areas and moving them to outside the stadium.
The upper bowl of the stadium is comprised of steel components that are bolted together and can be un-bolted and removed after the Olympics. The roof, too, is a stand-alone feature of the stadium, weighing 450 tons. The roof is not connected to the lower bowl of the stadium. The roof has four components: an outer ring, an inner ring, 12,000 meters of cable, and 25,000 square meters of fabric. The roof is designed to shelter the fans as well as block wind for the athletes so that any marks run are not wind-aided or wind-hindered.
There are fourteen light towers, weighing 500 tons, attached to the roof. Each tower provides 14,000 watts. The lights are all angled properly to illuminate the track but to not create any shadows or glare for the spectators.
The grass on the field was grown off-site and then cut into rolls and brought to the stadium. Three hundred and sixty rolls of the turf were brought in. The transfer of the grass from its off-site location into the stadium needed to be done in less than twenty-four hours for the grass to stay alive.
Throughout the construction, workers had to deal with typical London weather issues. In the winter of 2010, work stopped for two weeks during a freeze. High winds were often a concern when working with the cranes and lifting heavy steel components into the air.
In the end, over 5,000 workers helped to build the stadium. The circumference around the outside of the stadium is one kilometer (anyone for 5 X 1000 meter intervals?). There are 338 kilometers of cable, twelve kilometers of ventilation ducts, and eleven kilometers of drainage.
Number of days to build the London Olympic Stadium: 1,000
Number of toilets in the London Olympic Stadium: 1,387
Number of memories for the athletes and spectators inside the London Olympic Stadium: infinite
There is something about being inside an Olympic Stadium and seeing the Olympic flame burning that is indescribably special. Knowing a little more about the construction of said stadium adds to the experience. Thanks, London! I’ll consider my poor vision and hearing to be my own problem and give you an A for your stadium!
The announcers around here are calling Saturday August 4, 2012 the greatest day in United Kingdom (UK) Olympic history. At least from a track & field (or athletics, as it’s called over here) perspective.
Walking around the Olympic Park this afternoon I saw two British fans wearing specially made t-shirts in support of two of their favorite athletes. One’s shirt said “Yes Jess” on it. The other said “Go Mo.” The newspaper slipped under my hotel room door this morning, The Independent, had two articles each on this Jess (heptathlete Jessica Ennis) and this Mo (10,000 meter runner Mohammed Farah) and their prospects for bringing home the gold medal on their home turf. At the very beginning of the meet, the public address announcer informed the crowd that the last time a UK track & field athlete won a gold medal at an Olympics held in London was 1908. Well, that is a long time. But track & field at the 2012 Olympics just got underway so all the statistic really means is that the home team got shutout on the gold medal front when they hosted the Olympics in 1948.
Still, the pro-Great Britain/cheer wildly for every Great Britain athlete attitude was on display at the track on this night. This night that would turn into quite a special one for fans of athletics in the UK.
It all started around 9:02pm local time. Ennis had a strong lead in the women’s heptathlon and was more or less assured of the gold medal. In the final event of the heptathlon, the 800 meters, she went out hard for the first 400 meters and then slowed and was caught by a couple runners. With 200 meters to go, however, the crowd roared to life and this inspired Ennis to find re-take the lead down the final straightaway, much to the delight of the crowd. Her time of 2:08.65 earned her 984 points and brought her final score for the two-day, seven event competition to 6,955 points. She finished 306 points ahead of second place and broke her own UK record for the heptathlon. How dominant was Ennis in this event? Second place finisher Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany finished with a score closer to eleventh place Brianne Theisen of Canada (who also happens to be Ashton Eaton’s fiancé) than to Ennis’ score.
Right as the heptathlon was winding down all eyes in the stadium shifted to the long jump runway. Great Britain had two athletes, neither of whom got much press in the newspaper today, unlike Ennis and Farah. Greg Rutherford and Christopher Tomlinson were trying to win Great Britain its second gold medal earned on home turf since 1908 as well as the second one of the hour. After one round of jumps, Tomlinson led with a jump of 8.06 meters. Rutherford took over the lead in the second round with a jump of 8.21 meters. For a short time, Great Britain was sitting in the gold and bronze medal positions in the long jump. Rutherford improved to 8.31 meters in the fourth round, a jump missed by many in the stands as when it happened the crowd was focused on another British athlete in the heptathlon, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, a nineteen year old athlete, who just may be the “next Jessica Ennis.” At 9:22pm, as Ennis finished her victory lap, Will Claye from the United States was on the runway. He was the penultimate jumper and the last jumper with a chance to knock Rutherford out of the gold medal spot. When Claye’s mark fell short, the crowd went wild as Rutherford celebrated winning a gold medal in the long jump.
Minutes later, the men’s 10,000 meter race was underway. Farah bided his time in the front pack, not concerning himself as runners from Eritrea and Kenya jockeyed for position, continually surging and slowing down. The lead group got smaller and smaller but there were still eight or so runners still in contention with a mile to go. Even over the last lap five or six runners were still in it with a chance to win. The stadium was going crazy cheering for Farah, who for his part, looked in control the whole way.
Over the last 300 meters, Farah looked strong with the lead but not all eyes in the stadium were strictly on him. Earlier in the race I had commented that maybe this wasn’t Galen Rupp’s day as he seemed to fall back from the lead pack for no apparent reason. But when it came time to really race, Rupp was there and Rupp was ready. He surged past a couple of runners at the 300 to go mark. With 200 to go, he was well positioned on the outside and appeared to be running faster than the runners just ahead of him. Just like at the 2011 World Championships when I started screaming, “She’s going to medal. She’s going to medal,” about Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500 with about 150 meters to go (Simpson would not only medal but win the race), I started yelling that Rupp was going to medal. Down the final homestretch Farah held on to the lead and Rupp secured second place. It was a third gold medal for the UK in less than an hour. A medal for the USA in the men’s 10,000 meters, their first since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when a kid named Billy Mills won the gold.
The guys at FloTrack have a great photo sequence of the final 100 meters.
I am not versed enough in Great Britain’s Olympic and track & field history to know if today should rank as the greatest day in their Olympic history. It was certainly a terrific day, though, but not just for the Brits. I am pretty sure that for Galen Rupp, he can say that today was his greatest day in his track & field career.
Shannon Rowbury became a two-time Olympian with her second place finish in the 1500 meters on July 1 at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. In 2008, Shannon was the US Olympic Trials champion and went on to place seventh at the Beijing Olympic Games. That seventh place finish is the highest finish by an American woman in the 1500 meters in Olympic history. This is Shannon’s fourth consecutive national team qualification. In addition to these two Olympic team berths, she was also a member of Team USA for the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. At the 2009 World Championships she earned the bronze medal in the 1500.
The three qualifiers for the London Olympics were Shannon (4:05.11), the number one ranked runner in the world in 2011 Morgan Uceny (4:04.59), and the 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson (4:05.17). The fact that all the experts were saying that these three were the clear favorites to qualify, didn’t make my race day morning have any less butterflies.
After two laps that were led by Treniere Moser and Brenda Martinez, the big three made their way to the front of the pack. With 500 meters to go there began to be some separation between these three and the chase pack. In reality, the drama of who was going to make the team was gone. The three battled it over the last lap before the final order was settled.
After screaming our heads off from the stands during the race, we hustled down to the fence to give Shannon a hug as she took the traditional Hayward Field victory lap. After the meet we headed to the Wild Duck Café. Tamalpan Mike Fanelli insisted on buying us a pitcher that we drank while watching NBC’s west coast broadcast of the meet (it was almost as exciting watching Shannon qualify for the Olympics this second time). Another highlight was taking a picture with Dave Frank, a coaching friend who used to coach at St. Francis and run for the Aggies. He now coaches in Portland and was the head coach at Cathedral Catholic when one Galen Rupp attended school there. I feel that Dave and I share some common emotions. Then we headed for some coffee and dessert. Finally Shannon finished her Olympic processing so we met up with her, her parents, her boyfriend (Pablo) and others in her core support group to raise a glass of champagne in celebration.
We got back to our hotel room just shortly before midnight. I was still pretty excited and couldn’t pull myself away from the computer to go to sleep. I read every e-mail, text, and Facebook comment. I re-lived the race and conversations with people at the meet. I watched a FloTrack interview where Shannon even gave me a shout out.
When I woke up this morning, I checked to make sure this wasn’t all a dream. Nope, it wasn’t. It all really happened. Shannon Rowbury is now a two-time Olympian! Congratulations!
Four years ago today, Shannon Rowbury qualified for her first Olympic Team by winning the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And yet here we are again. Same place (Eugene, Oregon). Same butterflies.
Yes, I’ve got some butterflies flying around in my stomach this morning but not nearly the swarm that Shannon probably has. Her first round race last Thursday and her semi-final race last Friday both went very well. She has looked smooth, in control, and FAST in both races. She won her heat on Thursday in 4:16.17 and won her heat on Friday in 4:09.96. I’m not surprised that she looked good in those races but it was still nice to see.
There has been some controversy in the women’s 1500 over the last two days. None of it has involved Shannon. After Friday’s semi-final the twelve women who qualified for the final were announced. However, late Friday night we read on a message board that Gabrielle Anderson, who took second place in Shannon’s heat, had been disqualified for illegal contact with another runner. It was rumored that the disqualification was due to a protest by Amy Mortimer. By Saturday morning the list of entrants for the 1500 final had been changed. Anderson was out and as a result Alice Schmidt moved into the final qualifying spot. Mortimer was not added to the field.
There was also a lot of energy on social media suggesting that Anderson would protest her disqualification and sure enough she did. By mid-day on Saturday, Anderson had been reinstated into the Friday results and back into the entry list for the final (“un-disqualified” if you will). Schmidt was back to being a “did not qualify.” However this changed again a few hours later. When we got to the track a friend informed us that Schmidt was back in the final and that there would be thirteen women in the final instead of twelve.
This is all very bizarre but hopefully will not affect the outcome of the 1500 final. Schmidt’s status is of particular interest because she is already qualified for the Olympics in the 800 meters and she is one of five runners with the Olympic A standard of 4:06.00 or better. The others are Shannon, Morgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson, and Anna Pierce. If history is any indicator, the race will go out slow on Sunday and few if any runners will be under the 4:06 mark. If that’s the case, then the London-bound athletes will be the top three finishers who already have the A standard. You can see how Schmidt’s presence or lack of presence is significant. If Schmidt is out of the race there will only be four runners with the A standard and the battle for three spots will likely be between those four. With Schmidt in the mix there would be another legitimate contender for one of the three spots.
Those are the circumstances leading up to this afternoon’s race. It really is an honor and privilege to be so emotionally invested in such a high level race. I’m just a high school track & field coach with some great timing. I never imagined when I started my first season at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the summer of 1998 that I was about to meet a young girl who would change how closely I follow elite distance running and that fourteen years later I would have butterflies in my stomach all day in anticipation of watching her race. Go get’em Shannon!
With seven days of the 2012 Olympic Trials in the books and one to go, I have experienced several “Ahh moments,” that I will remember and treasure in my mind and heart for a long time. These moments involved either an emotional display from an athlete upon realizing their Olympic dream or great sportsmanship from a competitor.
I already detailed one such instance of classy sportsmanship by Curtis Beach at the end of Ashton Eaton’s world record setting decathlon.
In the men’s long jump, coming into the final four jumps of the competition, George Kitchens Jr. was clinging precariously to third place. Kitchens, a 29 year old who works as a personal trainer in Georgia, had already jumped a lifetime best 8.21 meters, seven centimeters better than his previous best and more importantly one centimeter better than the Olympic A standard. When Christian Taylor’s final jump did not beat Kitchens’ mark, Kitchens had clinched his spot on the Olympic team. I turned my head down the runway and saw Kitchens crouched on the runway with his head in his arms. When he got up, you could see tears in his eyes. He finally composed himself to take his final jump and then as he walked away from the long jump pit he was again overcome with emotion and went to his knees again. The crowd became very quiet. When he stood back up, the announcer said “congratulations to Olympian George Kitchens” and the crowd went wild.
The drama in the long jump was just getting started. Marquis Goodwin and Will Claye both had jumps of 8.23 meters (27’0”). Goodwin was in first place on the basis of his superior second best jump (8.21 meters). On his last attempt, however, Claye had a big jump. After leaving the long jump pit Claye ran over and stood in front of the results board to await the measurement. It was 8.22 meters. Claye was now in first place on the basis of their second best jumps, 8.22 to 8.21. At this stage in the competition the five best jumps were all within two centimeters of each other (Goodwin’s 8.23 and 8.21, Claye’s 8.23 and 8.22, and Kitchen’s 8.21).
No sooner had Claye’s mark been recorded that Goodwin got ready for his last attempt. Goodwin called for the audience to rhythmically clap for him and Claye, still standing on the track near the long jump runway, joined in. Goodwin had a big jump and both he and Claye were visibly excited. Claye ran over towards Goodwin to congratulate him and when the mark of 8.33 meters flashed on the board, Claye was the first to hug Goodwin. Claye’s time in first place was shortlived but that didn’t stop him from celebrating Goodwin’s winning jump.
In the men’s 400, Bryshon Nellum grabbed third place and a spot on the team to London. Nellum’s journey to this point is pretty amazing. He was a record setting runner in high school at Long Beach Poly, becoming the first boy in California history to win the 400-200 double at the state meet in back-to-back years (2006 and 2007). However on Halloween night 2008, Nellum was mistaken as a gang member and shot in both thighs and one hamstring. Doctors were unsure he would ever run at an elite level again. After several surgeries, countless visits to the doctors and interview with the police, and sitting in the courtroom while his assailants were sentenced to fifteen years in prison, Nellum has put a lot of those ghosts behind him. He returned to racing for the University of Southern California (USC) in the spring of 2010. He placed third at the Pac-12 Championships in 2011 and then won the conference title in 2012. In the Olympic Trials men’s 400 meter final, Nellum ran 44.80 to place third, edging out his USC teammate Josh Mance by eight hundredths of a second for the final Olympic spot. Mance, however, was not at all upset at losing to his teammate. “Of everybody at the Olympic Trials, he has the best story, the most inspirational,” said Mance, “He should be the headliner of this whole meet. No track athlete gets shot with a shotgun and has three bullets go through both legs and is still out there running 44.8s. He’s a blessing.”
In the men’s 800, the television coverage of the finish is quite touching. Duane Solomon ran 1:44.65 to not only place third but also achieve the Olympic A standard and thus qualify for London. The NBC camera caught Solomon lying on the track after the race crying tears of joy. Race winner (and five-time USA champion) Nick Symmonds came over to Solomon and said, “Stand up buddy, you are an Olympian.” Solomon got up and Symmonds gave him a big hug and said he was proud of him. Seconds later a still emotional Solomon was greeted by his coach American 800 meter record holder Johnny Gray. Gray was extremely excited repeatedly telling Solomon, “That’s what I was talking about” and pointing to the time on the scoreboard.
In the men’s discus, Lance Brooks had by far the four best throws of the competition. His mark during the qualifying around of 64.80 meters was over two meters better than the second best throw of the qualifying round. Brooks first three throws of the final were: 64.13, 64.15, and 64.44. Unfortunately, Brooks had yet to achieve the Olympic A standard of 65.00 meters so despite dominating the competition (no other thrower was within three meters of him), Brooks ticket to London was in serious doubt. Feeling the pressure, Brooks fouled on his fourth and fifth attempts. Jarred Rome threw 63.55 to move into second place in the last round. With only Brooks’ final throw remaining, Rome was second, Jason Young was third, and Ian Waltz (who had been third before Rome’s 63.55) was in fourth. However, Rome, Young and Waltz all had the Olympic A standard. Rome and Young were going to London. Brooks would need to throw 65.00 meters or better on his final throw to join them. Otherwise, Waltz would be the third member of the discus team. Brooks got the crowd to rhythmically clap before stepping into the ring. He unleashed a big throw, well over the 60 meter line. It was clearly the farthest throw of the competition but was it 65 meters? All eyes were on the scoreboard and then came a big roar from the crowd when the mark, 65.15 meters, flashed up on the scoreboard. Brooks was going to London by fifteen centimeters.
Lest you think that all the big emotional moments are being turned in by men, I conclude with the women’s 5000 meters. Seven of the sixteen women had achieved the Olympic A standard of 15:20. Included in that group were Julia Lucas, Molly Huddle, and Julie Culley. The key runners without the A standard who decided to go for it in this race were Kim Conley and Alisha Williams. Those two handled the pacing for the first seven laps before Huddle took over the lead. The leader was at 4:58 at 1600 meters and 9:20 at 3000 meters. They were running 1:15 per lap but with five laps to go would need to run 6:00 (1:12 per lap) to hit the Olympic A standard. It was do-able but they needed to pick up the pace and that didn’t seem to be happening. If things stayed like that, Huddle, Lucas, and Culley seemed destined for London. With slightly more than three laps to go, Lucas surged, running a 1:08 lap and opening up a sizeable lead on the pack. In hindsight, I think this was a tactical error because Lucas was better off if the pace stayed above 15:20 to keep others from achieving the A standard. In any case, Lucas held the lead with a lap to go but was showing signs of slowing. Culley and Huddle would pass her on the backstretch. In a finish that because of what was happening six seconds back in the pack has been overlooked, Culley passed Huddle on the inside in the final strides to claim first place. But all eyes were on the battle for third place. As early as 300 meters to go, I started thinking that Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino might catch Lucas, who was really slowing down (“I felt like I was running underwater,” Lucas would later say). With 100 meters to go Lucas started to look wobbly and that’s when I noticed Conley, one of the women who was doing the work and setting a pace to make the A standard possible early in the race. Conley was making up ground fast. There were two questions, 1) Would Conley catch D’Agostino and Lucas for third, and 2) If she did, would she be under 15:20?
It was too close to call at the finish line. All eyes went to the scoreboard where the result flashed up. Conley in third place in 15:19.79. Third place and the A standard! Conley, a Northern California native who attended Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa and then UC Davis, was going to London! My heart goes out to Lucas, who was fourth in 15:19.83 (.04 behind Conley). She may not have made the best tactical decision to surge with three laps to go but she ran with guts and she showed a lot of class in her post-race interview. It took almost a miracle kick by Conley to beat her.
The fact that the US Olympic Track & Field Trials are a make or break proposition that takes place only once every four years makes for some pretty emotional moments. I’m biased but I am hoping for a personal “Ahh moment,” around 4:23 P.M. on Sunday. Go Shannon!
In Part 1, I re-capped the men’s 10,000 meter race. This part 2 will include a recount of the women’s race and a summary of how both races were lessons in perseverance.
The women’s 10,000 meter race did not feature nearly the same number of Olympic A standard runners as the men’s race. When Jennifer Rhines scratched a few days before the race, there were only four runners left in the field who had the Olympic A standard. One of them (Shalane Flanagan) had already said that if she qualified in the women’s 10,000 she would decline her spot to focus on the Olympic marathon instead. That left the three other A standard runners (Amy Hastings, Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, and Lisa Uhl) all but assured of the three Olympic spots. As long as they finished the race and no new runners achieved the A standard during the Olympic Trials 10,000, Hastings, Cherobon-Bawcom, and Uhl would be London-bound.
The rest of the field, other than the four mentioned above, were in the same situation as Dathan Ritzenheim. In my opinion some of them should have banded together to try to run the Olympic A standard pace (1:16 per lap for a 31:45). Based on their qualifying times, Alisha Williams (32:03), Deborah Maier (32:12), Meaghan Nelson (32:14), and Alissa McKaig (32:14), seemed like the people who stood the to benefit the most from a fast pace. They could realistically run 31:45.
When the race started there was almost an immediate four-person breakaway group that included Williams and Maier as well as Wendy Thomas and Natosha Rogers. Rogers’ is a great story. This was just her fourth career 10,000 meter race. In her debut she ran 34:18. Then she ran 33:47 at NCAA Regionals and then 32:41 to win the NCAA Championship. Now she was running with the big girls at the Olympic Trials.
After two laps on A pace, the inexperienced Thomas started to slow down and no one took the initiative to go by and get the group back on pace. I would learn later that during the third lap Uhl stopped to tie her shoe and Flanagan went to the front of the pack and purposely slowed the pace down so that Uhl could easily catch back up. When Flanagan slowed the pace, people collided and Rogers fell but quickly got back up and sprinted to re-join the front group. Maier then decided that she wanted to go for the A pace and she went to the front. She would lead until the halfway point, at times opening up three to four second lead on the chase pack. Maier would reach the 5K mark in 16:14, with the chase pack at 16:16. It would take a 15:30 last 5K to hit the A standard – possible but unlikely.
Hastings assumed the lead and clicked off laps between 1:17-1:18. The chances of anyone running the A standard went from unlikely to non-existent. The Olympians were going to be Hastings, Uhl, and Cherobon-Bawcom. Still, the final laps were exciting as Hastings, Rogers, and Flanagan battled for the win. I was super impressed that Rogers, who came into the race with only a 32:41 PR and fell earlier in this race, did not back down from the more experienced Hastings and Flanagan. In the end, Hastings sprinted to victory in the final 100 meters with Rogers running another PR (31:59) to edge out Flanagan for second. Uhl was fourth and Cherobon-Bawcom was seventh.
Earlier I mentioned that these 10,000 meter races were lessons in perseverance. At the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston in January, Dathan Ritzenhein and Amy Hastings both finished fourth. They were both one spot away from making the Olympic team in the marathon. They were both devastated.
Less than six months later, Ritzenhein and Hastings got back out there and battled again to make the Olympic team. There were no guarantees they would make the team on the track. There was no guarantee they wouldn’t come up short and be devastated again. But they both got out there and took the chances. They risked bitter disappointment for the chance at their Olympic dreams. For this reason alone, I was rooting for both of them to make the Olympics in the 10,000. It would be a nice example of people enduring a disappointing situation and then coming back and having success – persevering, if you will. That’s why it made me smile to see the emotional tears of joy from both Ritzenhein and Hastings after their 10,000 meter races. They persevered and they deserved it!