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!
Almost lost in the drama of a new world record in the decathlon and a tie for third place in the women’s 100 meters were two compelling Olympic Trials 10,000 meter races on Friday, June 22. In the end, both races can be seen as lessons in perseverance, but I am getting ahead of myself. First the race re-caps.
The men’s 10,000 meter race included eight runners with the Olympic A standard (Galen Rupp, Robert Curtis, Tim Nelson, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Derrick, Brent Vaughn, Ben True, and Joseph Chirlee). These eight runners probably wanted a slower paced race to keep anyone else from achieving the A standard. The other sixteen runners in the race, if they wanted to qualify for the London Olympics, had to not only place in the top three but also run under 27:45. Included in this group was two-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein. Ritz was a 2004 Olympian in the 10,000 and a 2008 Olympian in the marathon. But at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston last January, he placed fourth, which left him off the marathon Olympic team. His only hope for a third Olympics would be the 10,000 meters, a race he still needed an A standard in.
Before the race I figured there were three possible scenarios for Ritz:
Scenario 1 – Ritz goes out on A pace alone and tries to run 27:45 all by himself. Pacing and leading a race for twenty-five laps is a pretty daunting feat. On June 9 at the Portland Track Festival he ran a 5000/5000 double in 13:19 and 13:58 with only a thirty minute rest between efforts, perhaps to practice running alone?
Scenario 2 – Ritz and some of the other runners without the A standard make an agreement before the race to take turns pacing so that they all have a shot at running under 27:45. To me this makes the most sense but it rarely happens and I don’t know why. It seems that runners without the A standard should band together to go for it. This is the Olympic Trials. Why not throw caution to the wind and go for a 27:45 rather than run conservatively and stay in the main pack?
Scenario 3 – Ritz’s teammate Galen Rupp will set a pace to help Ritz get the A standard. This would be a logical thing to happen since they are both coached by Alberto Salazar and train together all the time. However the precedent did not suggest this would happen. One, rarely have I seen Rupp take any risks, such as setting the early race pace, that could affect his own qualifying. Also, in 2008 Salazar coached runners Kara Goucher and Amy Yoder-Begley. Goucher did not work to help Yoder-Begley get the A standard (in the end Yoder-Begley got the A standard by running a hard last 5000 meters by herself).
With a steady rain falling on the runners, the gun went off to start the men’s 10,000 meters. Immediately we knew which scenario was taking place. Rupp sprinted to the front and Ritz settled in behind him. Rupp was going to help Ritz – scenario 3 was underway. After 64 for the first lap they settled into a metronome like pace with every lap falling between 66 and 67. Rupp led for two laps, and then Ritz led for two laps. Oregon’s Luke Pusekdra led laps five and six. Then it was Rupp for two more laps and then Ritz for two more laps. Although he said later he was not trying to help with the pacing, Puskedra made his way back towards the front of the pack for laps eleven and twelve. Ritz led the next mile and the splits suggested that, barring a total collapse, they were going to get the A standard.
With nine laps to go, Rupp dropped a 63 second lap and only Ritz and Tegenkamp went with this pace. Suddenly the three with the most experience (Rupp, Ritz, and Teg) were clear of the field. Derrick and Aaron Braun (who did not have the A standard) were ten to fifteen meters back in the chase pack. The drama was essentially gone. Rupp, Teg, and Ritz would easily hold on to the top three spots and secure their spots to London. Some would later criticize Teg for not sharing the pacing duties, instead just hanging off of the work done by Rupp and Ritz, but that’s the sport. Teg’s job was to get himself on to the Olympic team, not to help Ritz get on the Olympic team. In hindsight it wasn’t a surprise who the three that qualified were. Rupp (PR 12:58.90), Teg (PR 12:58.56), and Ritz (PR 12:56.27) are three of six men in US history to break 13 minutes in the 5000. Talent-wise, they were the class of the field.
To be continued in Part 2.
If you follow the Olympic Trials in Eugene from June 22-July 1, 2012, you will hear a lot of talk about the Olympic A standard. Here is an explanation of what and how the Olympic A standard works.
The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) oversees the track & field competition at the Olympics. The goal of the IAAF is to have 2000 athletes in the 47 different events at the London Olympics. For every event there is an A standard and a B standard. The A standard is the better mark (faster/farther). For example, in the women’s 1500 meters, the A standard is 4:06.00 and the B standard is 4:08.90. For most events, with the marathon, 10,000 meters, race walking events, decathlon, and heptathlon being exceptions, the qualifying window for an athlete to achieve the Olympic standard is from May 1, 2011 to July 8, 2012.
Each country can send three athletes in each event provided they have achieved the Olympic A standard. If a country only has athletes with the B standard, they can only send one athlete. There is also a special rule that allows countries that do not have any athletes who have achieved the Olympic standard in any track and field event to send one athlete of each sex in one event to the Olympics.
In a nutshell, countries will send three athletes in events where they have at least three A standard athletes. If they have just two A standard athletes, they will send those two. If they have just one A standard athlete they will send just the one. If they have no A standard athletes but multiple B standard athletes, one B standard athlete will get to go.
In the United States, both achieving the Olympic standard and placing in the top three at the Olympic Trials are factors. In most every event, the USA has at least three A standard athletes; in most events, the athletes who place in the top three at the Olympic Trials will have also achieved the Olympic A standard. We’re not known as the best track & field team in the world for nothing!
But there are exceptions and you could hear about those exceptions during the course of the Olympic Trials. Important points to keep in mind:
- In the US, the focus is on the Olympic A standard, not the B standard. In 99% of the cases, any US athlete who is a legitimate contender for the US Olympic team will have at least the Olympic B standard.
- Athletes need to have achieved the Olympic standard only some time since May 1, 2011. They do not have to achieve the mark at the Olympic Trials.
- United States of America Track & Field (USATF), the US governing body, has stated that the Olympic standard needs to be achieved by the end of competition (for each event) at the Olympic Trials. Unlike some other years, athletes will not have the opportunity to “chase” the standard after the Trials. “Chasing” the mark refers to athletes who go to meets after the Olympic Trials but before the Olympics in an attempt to achieve the Olympic standard.
Here are some scenarios and explanations of who will go to the Olympics.
Scenario 1 – top 3 have all achieved the Olympic A standard.
1st – Amy (has A)
2nd – Lisa (has A)
3rd – Janet (has A)
Amy, Lisa, and Janet go to the Olympics.
Scenario 2 – A runner with only the B standard places in the top 3.
1st – Deborah (only has B)
2nd – Lisa (has A)
3rd – Janet (has A)
4th – Amy (has A)
Deborah is skipped. Lisa, Janet, and Amy go to the Olympics.
There is a huge advantage to arrive at the Olympic Trials with the Olympic A standard already achieved. Any athlete who has not yet achieved the Olympic A standard and wants to go to the London Olympics, has to not only place in the top three at the Olympic Trials but also make sure that their mark meets the Olympic A standard. Otherwise they will be like Deborah in scenario 2 above, skipped over by athletes with the A standard.
The date May 18 holds special meaning to me. On that date in 2008, in some ways, the world changed.
When I woke up that morning Shannon Rowbury was one of many promising US middle distance runners. She was scheduled to race at the Adidas Track Classic, it was her second attempt of the season to run the 1500 meter Olympic “A” standard of 4:07.00. While running under 4:07 would not guarantee her a spot on the Olympic team, it would make the road to the Beijing Olympics quite a bit easier. Two weeks earlier at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford she had just missed the standard, running 4:07.59.
By the time I went to sleep that night I had a new “claim to fame.” I was now the high school coach of the fifth fastest American woman 1500 meter runner in history… and the owner of two tickets to watch the women’s 1500 meter semi-final at the 2008 Olympics.
But my story really begins the day before.
May 17, 2008
Shannon was to be inducted into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame, but she was unable to attend the induction banquet because of the meet in Carson, CA. She asked me to accept on her behalf and I was honored to do so. It made for a hectic day because I was coaching two Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory athletes, Jocelyn Rodriguez and Reilly Hall, at the Central Coast Section (CCS) track & field trials in Gilroy, CA; it was worth it to be able to accept on Shannon’s behalf. Jocelyn ran well and qualified for CCS finals in the 3200 meters and then had to rush back, too, because she was receiving a scholarship from the SF Prep Hall of Fame. So after the meet, we all headed back towards the city trying to make it in time for the dinner.
As fate would have it, as assistant coach Christine Jegan and I were driving up the 101 towards San Francisco, my Ford Explorer started making a weird sound. The car lost power as I pulled off the highway at an exit in Sunnyvale. Now we were really going to be late! I later learned that the car had a blown head gasket, and it was the end for my Explorer. After 14 years and 182,000 miles the Explorer died doing what it did for me for so many years, rushing me to and from a track meet.
Fortunately assistant coach Tomas Palermo, who was already at the banquet with my wife Malinda, drove all the way down to Sunnyvale to get us. Christine and I changed out of our coaching clothes and into our dress clothes in the car while Tomas sped us up the 280 to the banquet. I walked in just as Jocelyn was thanking me, and a few minutes later I was at the podium receiving the award for Shannon. As part of my speech I mentioned that the reason Shannon wasn’t there to receive the honor was that she had an important race the next day.
May 18, 2008
Malinda and I got up in the morning cable-TV-less as usual. We knew we would have to go somewhere to watch Shannon’s race on ESPN, but now were also car-less. We spent too long deciding what to do. Upon realizing we had just 40 minutes until Shannon’s race we ran to the BART station at 24th Street and Mission, rode BART to Balboa Park, and then started running down Ocean Avenue towards my parents’ house. I spotted a K-line street car and we started sprinting to the next stop to get on. I was ahead of Malinda by half a block and it wasn’t certain she would get to the bus stop in time. “Go without me if you have to,” she yelled, “I’ll meet you at your parents.” Fortunately the light turned red so the bus had to wait and Malinda was able to get on to the K with me. As we neared our stop, I called my mom on my cell phone and asked her to turn on the television and open the front door because we were almost there. We got off at Fairfield Way and ran up the hill to my parents’ house. We arrived in my parents’ living room sweating, breathing hard, with less than a minute to spare before Shannon’s race began.
Our big race to my parents’ house was over, Shannon’s big race was just beginning. Shannon ran 4:01.61, not only under the Olympic A standard but also the fifth fastest time by an American woman in history. Like it or not, she was no longer the underdog trying to sneak onto the Olympic team. She was now the favorite to win the Olympic Trials 1500. The subsequent talk on running message boards was of “Rowbury’s medal chances in Beijing.” Our Olympic effort to get to the television to watch the race live was definitely worth it.
We had previously purchased tickets for the women’s 1500 meter preliminaries and final just in case Shannon made it. At home that night, we decided – now that Shannon had run 4:01 – we needed to get our hands on the 1500 semi-final tickets, too. We had to pay scalper’s prices to get these tickets because the men’s 110 hurdles final would be run on the same night and China’s Liu Xiang was hoping to win a gold medal in front of the home fans.
It was really Malinda’s idea to spend the money. She was really into the Olympic excitement by this point. She mentioned that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity presenting itself and that we wouldn’t want to go all the way to China and miss this race because we were worried about spending too much money.
That night, a tagline that I would become known for was born. The people at Visa (the only credit card accepted at the Olympic Games) might not be happy that this tagline uses their competitor’s theme:
Hotel in Beijing – 10,875 CNY.
Tickets to Olympic Track Meet – $520.
Watching the kid you coached in high school run in the Olympics – priceless!
That’s the story of why May 18 is a significant anniversary to me. Shannon’s status as an athlete changed with that 4:01.61. She would never come from off the radar again. While I have always been proud of Shannon, this accomplishment truly ranked ahead of her previous successes. In the weeks that followed there was a bit of a media blitz as people in the running world tried to find out who this “new girl on the scene” was. I was lucky to be part of all the excitement leading up to it.