The beauty of the Olympic Trials is that you never know what’s going to happen. Between July 1 and July 10, 2016, I saw plenty of things that I was not expecting to see.
- I did not expect to see two high school boys make the men’s 200 meter final, be seeded in lanes four and six for that final, and come in fourth and fifth in the race. Remember the names Noah Lyles and Michael Norman.
- I did not expect a high school junior to make the Olympic team in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. Sydney McLaughlin is only 16 years old. Look for her in Rio.
- I did not expect the age difference between the first and second place finishers in the women’s high jump to be fourteen years – Chaunte Lowe is 32 and Vashti Cunningham is 18.
- I did not expect to see both Sanya Richard-Ross and Jeremy Wariner pull up injured in their 400 meter races (Richards-Ross in the first round, Wariner in the semi-final). Both athletes stopped about 200 meters into their race and then slowly made their way around the track towards the finish line, in order to exit the track. In both cases, the Hayward Field crowd gave them nice ovations out of respect for all that they have accomplished during their careers. In both cases, the athletes waved back to the crowd.
- I did not expect to see Gil Roberts false start in the men’s 400 meter semi-finals and then file a protest that allowed him to run the race and come in second despite the disqualification. When his appeal was upheld (he claimed that his false start was due to noise from the speaker in his starting block), Roberts was into the final. He got out hard and led for much of the final before tying up badly; he barely held on for second place and a spot to compete in the Olympics.
- After watching Allyson Felix struggle in the opening rounds of the 400 meters due to injury, I did not expect to see her move from fifth place to first place with a furious final kick in the women’s 400 meter final.
Then after seeing Felix’s great 400 meter race, I did not expect to see her finish off the team in the women’s 200 meter final.
- I did not expect the American record holder in the women’s 100 hurdles, Kendra Harrison (12.24), to not make the Olympic team (she finished in sixth place).
- I did not expect the US leader in the 400 meter hurdles, Shamier Little, who had a 53.51 coming into the Trials, to run two seconds slower (55.64) and not qualify for the women’s 400 meter hurdle final.
- I did not expect 2012 London fourth place finisher Duane Solomon or the newly minted NCAA Champion and junior record holder (1:43.55) Donovan Brazier to both get eliminated in the first round of the men’s 800 meters.
- I did not expect to see a massive pile up 150 meters from the finish of the women’s 800 meters causing race favorites Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez to fall to the track (and out of contention) or Molly Ludlow to stutter-step and then miss the top three by .04 seconds.
- I did not expect to see a woman who only started running the 800 meter race seriously two years ago make the Olympic team. As recently as 2014, Chrishuna Williams ran a lot of 400 and 200 meter races for the University of Arkansas. Her two 800 races in 2014 were 2:09 and 2:06. In 2015, she focused on the 800 and brought her PR down to 2:01. Now, one year later she is an Olympian after surviving the crash described above and finishing in third place.
- Here is a time out from the “I did not expect” list for me to brag that I DID EXPECT Kate Grace and Clayton Murphy to win the women’s and men’s 800 meters. Only Malinda really knows this is true because I was jabbering about them all through the early rounds of the 800. You’ll just have to believe me. Also, after the 800 meter fall, I did expect Brenda Martinez to bounce back and make the team in the 1500 meters. OK, back to the list.
- I did not expect the US to send three women to the Olympics in the women’s triple jump, for the first time since 1996. For this to happen Christina Epps jumped 14.17 meters on her fifth attempt, to leap (pardon the pun) from fifth place to second place and to also achieve the needed Olympic standard of 14.15 meters.
- I did not expect to see total domination in the women’s javelin by Maggie Malone. She not only won the event with a throw of 60.84 meters but also had the second and third best throws of the meet and she would have made the team with any of her four best throws.
- Although before the race I expected both Courtney Frerichs and Donn Cabral to make the Olympic team in the women’s and men’s steeplechase, when during the race they both fell off the pack with a lap to go, I did not expect either of them to make it into the top three. But, both had very strong last laps that booked their tickets to Rio.
- I did not expect to see Kim Conley, one of the favorites to make the Olympic team in the women’s 10,000 meters, lose a shoe during lap nine and then spend eleven laps trying to catch the pack. She moved from thirteenth to sixth before packing it in and dropping out with five laps to go to save her legs for the 5000 meters. And then eight days later she came back and made the team in the 5000 meters.
- I did not expect to see the carnage that took place in the men’s 10,000 meters. After 18 laps (at 7200 meters), the top six runners in the race were Galen Rupp (20:14), Shadrack Kipchichir (20:15), Bernard Lagat (20:18), Hassan Mead (20:22), Leonard Korir (20:27), and Eric Jenkins (20:31). Then things got crazy. A half lap later, Lagat pulled out of the race. Then less than two minutes later, Mead slowed down to a jog and Jenkins completed lap twenty and kept running right off the track. All of a sudden the only runners really left up front were Rupp, Kipchirchir, and Korir, as they had about a :15 gap on fourth place with five laps to go. Other than wondering if another front runner would succumb to the heat and humid conditions, the drama of the race was over.
- After seeing him drop out of the 10,000 with six and a half laps to go, after seeing him finish in a well beaten tenth at the 2015 USA Championships in the 5000 meters, and knowing that the man is 41 years old, I did not expect Bernard Lagat to not only make his fifth Olympic team, but to win the men’s 5000 meters. A side surprise would be that, after seeing Mead’s race go awry in the 10,000 meters, I did not expect him to be leading the men’s 5000 meters down the final homestretch (only to be caught by Lagat) and qualify for his first Olympic team with a second place finish.
The beauty of the US Olympic Trials is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen. The difference between making the team with jubilation versus missing the team with utter devastation can be measured in hundredths of seconds and in centimeters. That’s what makes it so exciting. Because you never know what you are going to see. But you do know that what you will see will be pretty amazing.
The long jump competition at the US Olympic Trials on July 3, 2016 was full of drama and excitement. At one time or another, six different men were sitting in the coveted top three spot to qualify for the Olympics. The Olympic standard, second best jumps, and the wind were all major factors.
The Olympic standard in the men’s long jump is 8.15 meters. This mark must not be wind aided (the wind cannot exceed 2.0 meters per seconds). Coming into the final, all the main contenders for the Olympic team except Will Claye had the Olympic standard. Claye missed the standard by one centimeter in the preliminaries with an 8.14 jump. The general sense was that in order to place in the top three, a jumper would need to exceed 8.15 meters anyway so there wasn’t a lot of speculation about Claye not having the standard. But no one took the wind into consideration.
After the first round of jumping, Jeffery Henderson was in first place with a jump of 8.41 meters. Jarrion Lawson, who was also competing in the 100 meters on this day was in second place with a jump of 8.20 meters. Damarcus Simpson was in third place with a jump of 8.12 meters.
After the second round jumps, Henderson was still first, Lawson improved to 8.32 meters to remain second. Mike Hartfield jumped into third place at 8.23 meters.
Round three saw Maquis Dendy, who was in eleventh place and needed to move into the top eight to receive three additional jumps, temporarily take the lead with a jump of 8.42 meters. Henderson then leapt 8.59 meters to take back first place. That 8.59 would end up being the winning jump. Hartfield improved to 8.34 to remain in third. KeAndre Bates was right there in the hunt, too, two centimeters back with an 8.32, although, he, too, lacked the Olympic standard on a legal jump (non-wind aided).
Somewhere in here, Lawson checked out from the long jump to run the 100 meter semi-finals, where he ran 10.01 to qualify for the 100 meter final.
In the fourth round, Henderson remained first. Lawson had his best jump of 8.58 to move into second place, one centimeter behind Henderson, where he would remain for the rest of the competition. Lawson’s jump made him just the ninth American to ever jump over 28 feet (28 feet, 1.75 inches) with legal wind. Feeling secure that his spot to Rio in the long jump was safe, Lawson would pass his last two jumps to rest for the 100 meter final. Denby, already hobbled from an injury suffered at the Prefontaine Classic, re-injured himself, pulling up on his fourth attempt. His mark remained 8.42 and he was now third. Also during this fourth round, Hartfield improved to 8.39 to be fourth, three centimeters back. Claye jumped 8.38 but it was wind-aided so did not count as an Olympic standard. So Claye was fifth, just four centimeters out of third but still lacking the standard.
In the fifth round, Henderson and Lawson remained in first and second place with their 8.59 and 8.58 respectively. Claye tied Dendy with a jump of 8.42 meters. The good news for Claye was he owned the tie-breaker with Dendy by virtue of the better second best jump 8.38 vs 7.75.The bad news for Claye was that this 8.42 was very much wind aided (+5.0 m/s) so he still lacked the Olympic standard.
With one round of jumping remaining, this was already a historically good long jump competition with six jumpers over 8.30 meters. This is what the scoreboard looked like:
- Henderson – 8.59
- Lawson – 8.58
- Claye – 8.42 (ahead with better second best jump of 8.38; no Olympic Standard)
- Dendy – 8.42 (behind on worse second best jump of 7.75; injured and unlikely able to jump anymore)
- Hartfield – 8.39
- Bates – 8.32
Somewhat unceremoniously, no one improved on their jumps in the last round. Claye, more needing the wind to die down so he could jump 8.15 legal (i.e. NOT wind-aided), jumped 7.93 meters and it was again wind-aided anyway. Lawson passed to save energy for the 100. Hartfield was not able to improve to move into the top three. Dendy passed due to the injury. Henderson did not improve on his mark.
Henderson, Lawson, and Claye would be the three medal winners.
Henderson, Lawson, and Dendy would be the three qualifiers for the Olympic long jump.
Lawson would place seventh in the 100 meters shortly after the long jump ended. Six days later Claye would win the triple jump competition to earn a spot to Rio in a different event.
But the story was not over. On July 29, Dendy pulled out of the Olympics due to the injury and Hartfield was named as his replacement.
This long jump competition that began on July 3, had at one time or another six different athletes in the Olympic-qualifying spots. Finally, on July 29, the US Olympic long jump team was set. Henderson, Lawson, and Hartfield will be the three Americans jumping in Rio.
Sunday, July 10, 2016. Hayward Field. University of Oregon. Eugene, Oregon. Track Town USA.
It’s 3:00 P.M. Malinda and I have settled into our seats in Section C, Row 28. It’s the last day of the 2016 Olympic Trials. The race we’ve been waiting all week for, the Women’s 1500 meter Final is at 5:00 P.M. T-minus two hours to go. 120 minutes. How will we pass the time?
We’ve come to watch and cheer for Shannon Rowbury. Shannon arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral as a freshman in the fall of 1998. It was also my first year as the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Eighteen years and hundreds of memories later, here we are.
You would think that after multiple USA Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games and this, our third Olympic Trials, we wouldn’t get nervous anymore. We do.
I decide to take a selfie and post the picture to social media. That will eat up some time. It should be noted that the sign Malinda is holding in the selfie was made earlier in the Fan Fest as a means of eating up time and alleviating nervousness.
It’s now 3:09 P.M. Down to 111 minutes.
I busy myself watching the pole vault and high jump. I spend some time looking up the heptathlon scores heading into the final event on my smartphone. I make some small talk but at times like this, I prefer to be just left alone – me and the thoughts screaming silently in my head. The women’s 5000 race starts and it’s pretty exciting. That distracts me for about fifteen minutes and five seconds.
Suddenly it dawns on me. Very few people among the 22,000 spectators in the stadium have such an emotional investment in the outcome of an event. For most, if your favorite athlete makes the Olympic team it’s, “woo-hoo” and high five the person sitting next to you. If they miss out on an Olympic spot it’s, “darn it, that’s too bad,” and on to the next event. I’m one of the lucky ones. I REALLY care if Shannon finishes in the top three or not. It’s that mystery of not knowing if it will be the thrill of victory of agony of defeat that makes sports so riveting. It’s why they run the race. This revelation, that I am blessed to be in my current stressful situation reminds me of a quote I often share with the Sacred Heart Cathedral teams, “pressure is a privilege.” If there’s no pressure, you either have no chance or you are such a sure thing that it isn’t challenging and thus not as much fun. You actually should want there to be pressure.
I decide this deserved another social media post.
Now it’s 4:49 P.M.
I look over and notice that Shannon’s friend Aysha is putting lipstick on Malinda. This hot pink or red lipstick has become Shannon’s signature look, an homage to her grandmother Nonie, who passed away five years ago. Aysha asks me if I want lipstick. I look at her questioningly. But then Shannon’s mom, Paula, says “Oh come on, Andy.” Hey, an Olympic spot is on the line. If I need to “lipstick up” to help get the job done, then I better pucker my lips. The timestamp on my phone says that by 4:53 P.M. I had done my part to get to Rio. Now it was all on Shannon.
Shannon and Jenny Simpson were the clear favorites in the race. Brenda Martinez, doubling back in the 1500 after a heartbreaking fall 150 meters from the finish line in last week’s 800 meters, was also someone to contend with. Morgan Uceny, the 2012 Olympic Trials champion, has been looking strong and should not be counted out. The field was deep and there could easily be a couple other runners from the pack who could make this challenging.
The first two laps were typically on the slow side with lots of bumping and pushing. All the contenders were bunched together and in position to make their run for Rio. With about 450 meters to go, right behind Shannon, Alexa Efraimson and Lauren Johnson made contact, with Johnson being bumped off-balance.
With 400 meters to go, Uceny passed and cut-off Shannon, causing Shannon to fall back to fifth place. Shannon was boxed in with Uceny in front of her and Efraimson to her right. There was nowhere to go. I remember hearing Malinda screaming in a very panicked voice. I kept thinking, “there’s still 45 seconds of running left. She’ll get out of the box and then she’ll kick.”
With 250 meters to go, Shannon passed Sara Vaughn to move into fourth place. But with 200 meters to go, there still wasn’t a whole lot of room for Shannon to start her kick. “Still 30 seconds of running. There’s time,” I said to myself, this time my rhetorical voice sounding a little more panicked. Shannon would tell me later at dinner that she stayed patient and she knew there would eventually be an opening and when it came, she’d take it and go.
Finally, with about 150 meters left, Shannon got past Efraimson and had a clear path to chase Uceny and Simpson. Martinez was closing hard as well and Amanda Eccleston was right there in the hunt, too. But Shannon shifted gears and easily pulled into second place where she safely remained until the finish line.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. We waited for Shannon to come around on her victory lap to give her hugs. She seemed thrilled to see me wearing the lipstick and we of course took a picture together. From there we went out to the Fan Fest where we danced to the live music, drank a few beverages, and cheered wildly when they presented the awards for the women’s 1500 meters. As we left Hayward Field, we noticed they hadn’t added Shannon’s name to the “Who Made the Team” board. Taking out my Sharpie, I decided to help them out.
First there was Beijing. Then there was London.
And Rio makes it a Trio.
Somewhere in Bahrain, Maryam Jamal’s high school coach may be writing a blog about how Jamal deserves the gold medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500. But I was not Jamal’s high school coach. I was Shannon Rowbury’s; and therefore this blog is from the point of view that Shannon deserves the silver medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500.
First, I want to go back to August 2012 in London. On August 9, the day before the women’s 1500 final, I wrote a blog entitled, “Keep Calm and Kick.” I was both nervous and excited to be watching Shannon run in an Olympic Final for the second time.
Immediately after the race, these were the results:
|1||Asli CAKIR ALPTEKIN||TUR||4:10.23|
|3||Maryam yusuf JAMAL||BRN||4:10.74|
|12||Hellen Onsando OBIRI||KEN||4:16.57|
|Morgan UCENY||USA||Did not finish|
Shannon’s sixth place finish gave me mixed emotions. Of course sixth at the Olympics is pretty amazing and it was one place higher than in 2008 in Beijing. But there was also a feeling of frustration that maybe not all the women in the race were playing on a level playing field.
The top two runners from Turkey, Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut, had come out of nowhere. Cakir had served a two-year ban from 2004-06 for a drug infraction while she was a junior athlete. Tatyana Tomasheva of Russia who placed fourth served a two year suspension from 2008-10 for “fraudulent substitution of urine” – she basically tried to cheat on a drug urine test.
It was also suspicious that these two runners from Turkey and Russia, did not compete at the 2011 World Championships and were not regular competitors in the Diamond League meets, meets where there would likely be drug testing. Cakir, a former steeplechaser, had never made an international championship final before 2012 and had improved her 1500 meter time 7 seconds that summer. In 2011, Bulut’s best time in the 1500 was 4:18. In 2012 she suddenly ran 4:01 and qualified for an international championship meet for what would be her first and only time. Tomasheva competed almost exclusively at home in Russia.
But thinking like this, felt like sour grapes. So instead we went for dinner in the mall by the Olympic Stadium and waited to meet up with Shannon and her family. In a recent Unscriptd interview, Shannon revealed that she was in tears on the practice track during her cool-down because she felt robbed by these dopers. She worked hard to put on a brave face for her family.
Usually dinner with Shannon after her finals race is a fun dinner with lots of laughs and toasts. Thinking back to that night now, that was by far the least celebratory after the meet dinner we’ve all experienced. In the group picture we took that night, we may all be smiling but deep inside we were all pretty upset at the circumstances. I didn’t even blog about this race because I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound accusatory and controversial.
In late 2013 I saw a picture of the 2012 London Olympic 1500 Final. It was a nice head on shot of the runners as they approached the finish line. Almost every runner’s face was clearly visible. I decided to make a scan of the picture and I saved the file on my computer with the filename “2012 London 1500 Final_x out the druggies as they get caught.”
For a year and a half, that jpg just sat there untouched. But in August 2015, Cakir failed a drug test. She is currently serving an eight year ban and her Olympic gold was striped. I got to make my first X on the picture.
I now realize that there were a few bans in 2014 of runners who finished behind Shannon. The initial ninth place finisher Ekaterina Kostetskaya of Russia was given a two-year ban for a drug violation from a test at the 2011 World Championships. Her ninth place finish has been nullified by the IAAF. The initial seventh place finisher Natallia Kareiva of Belarus had her finish nullified and received a two-year ban for doping after her biological passport showed abnormalities.
Going back to the runners who finished ahead of Shannon, with the Cakir suspension and voiding of her results, the feeling most of us had was that Shannon was rightfully fifth. In the summer of 2015, all hell broke out regarding Russian athletes. First it was rumored that many, Tomashova included, would be named as dopers and have their results expunged. Next, came news that Russia’s anti-doping agency lacked adequate and proper drug testing and would be suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for non-compliance. Russia’s infractions are severe enough that it is still unclear if any of athletes from the Russian Federation will be allowed to compete in Rio at the 2016 Olympics. This obviously shrouds Tomashova and her fourth place finish in London even more.
On February 29, 2016, it was announced that fifth place finisher Abeba Aregawi of Sweden by way of Ethiopia had tested positive for meldonium. A week later on March 7, 2016, after a drug test showed irregularities in her biological passport, Bulut was suspended pending further investigation.
In many ways, this is vindication for Shannon. What we were all feeling that night in London was not sour grapes but justified. It remains unclear what will happen with the official results and medals from the 2012 London Ollympic 1500 race. To date five of the first eight finishers have been busted for drugs. If you believe that they should not be in the results, then the final results should now stand as:
Gold – Maryam Yusuf Jamal, BRN
Silver – Shannon Rowbury, USA
Bronze – Lucia Klocova, SVK
Shannon may or may not ever get a medal from the London Olympic Games. She and her fans will never have the moment back in the Olympic Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, taking a victory lap and being on the podium to receive a medal. That’s what makes me mad and frustrated.
Maybe the best thing to come of this is in Shannon’s mindset. You couldn’t help but wonder back in 2012 if Shannon’s best as a clean athlete would always leave her around sixth place and the dopers would continue to win the medals. But thanks to increased testing, the cheaters are getting caught. What’s left, hopefully, are only clean athletes.
Shannon’s best is good enough to compete against the other clean athletes.
As the Pamakid Open Men prepared for their third USATF Cross Country Club National Championship Meet (Club Nats), they were looking to improve on 50th (and last) in 2011 in Seattle and 45th (and last) in 2013 in Bend. Beating someone, anyone, was all we were asking for.
During the week leading up to the 2015 Club Nats, it was unclear if the Pamakids would be placed into the A race or the B race. While willing to run in whichever race we were placed in by USATF, deep inside, most wanted to compete against the best of the best in the A race. An invitation to run in the A race would also give us the opportunity to do what had alluded us in 2011 and 2013…to get out of last place. It turns out that we were initially placed in the B race but the Pacific Association Cross Country Chair, Carl Rose, argued on our behalf that it was wrong to have the Pamakids as the only club whose A team was being placed in the B race. Rose campaigned for meet officials to move us into the A race and when the start lists came out, the Pamakids were in the A race.
The next step was to find a team of similar speed that we could battle to get out of last place. I scanned the entry list and one team name couldn’t help but jump out at me, the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. I didn’t know much about them but I decided to get the Open Men fired up by issuing them a challenge via a group e-mail. The next few hours saw a furry of e-mails that included some predictable laundry jokes. Steve Holcombe did some scouting, also known as Facebook stalking. Before long we had the rundown on their team – one 2:30 marathon runner up front, some 39 minute 10K runners, and a super senior who jumped in to fill out their team. We had our rivals!
The key to victory (yes, that’s what we were calling not being in last place….victory), was for our #1 runner to get as close to their #1 as possible and for our #2 runner to hopefully beat their #2 runner by the same number of places that their #1 beat our #1. Then it would come down to our #3-4-5 runners winning their match-ups, and possibly making up a few more points for us if necessary.
At the starting line, our Open Men went looking for their rivals so we would know what uniform we were targeting. To no surprise, they wore nicely pressed and just laundered Kelly green uniforms. It was game on!
It was amazing how our back pack runners quickly found their rivals. Having not been at the starting line for this race, I didn’t yet know what the rival uniform looked like. My wife, Malinda, ironically carrying a white laundry
basket that the team was using to carry sweats back to our tent, started to describe the Kelly green uniforms to me. But then Ray “Tower” Yu ran by just before the one mile mark and he was pointing excitedly at the runner ahead of him. Now I knew what I was looking for.
Just before the 3K mark, I saw Adam Roach, the Launderer’s #1 runner. Malinda and I started counting the runners between him and our #1 runner, Steve Lloyd. But then Malinda saw Nick Symmonds and yelled, “Hey look, it’s Nick Symmonds!” “Where?” I asked. As we had this conversation we lost track of what number we were on. We cheered on our top two runners, Steve L and Justin Mikecz, and then I started counting the runners between Justin and their #2. But again, I got distracted as people started talking to me. My gut feeling was that it was close but we were probably behind. “The boys are going to have to go to work the second half of the race to make this happen,” I thought to myself. We would later learn that I was pretty much spot on. According to the chip split times, at the 3K mark we were losing to the Launderers by 20 points.
Malinda and I went back into the Polo Fields to cheer for them again. This time I tried to stay away from people I knew so I could stand alone and count undisturbed. I approximated that Steve L was losing his match-up by 90 points and that Justin was winning his match-up by 50 points. That meant we needed our 3-4-5 runners to pick up 40 points for us. Things were trending well. Steve H passed the Launderers #2 (David Erstad). Ryan Pletzke and Ray were not only pulling ahead of their #3 (Mark Moehling) but also closing the gap on Erstad. It was also helpful that our #6 and #7 runners Merick Dang and Jeff Huizinga were beating the Launderer’s #4 (the super senior, Jim Tiffany). Now was not the time to defer to your elders. Take him out! John Gieng running as our #8 runner was still helping the cause, displacing the Launderers #5, Ryan Dunham. We were gaining an important extra one point because at Club Nationals, they score eight runners.
We ran back to the 7K mark. A lot of the runners had passed already and I missed Roach, so I couldn’t count what the lead over Steve L was. I did count that Justin was 50 or so placed ahead of Erstad. I had the same feeling that we needed to pick up some more points. The points were hard to come by for our 3-4-5 runners because there weren’t that many runners in striking range around them. I felt that Steve L and Justin were the key. With a good finish they could pick up ten places and that might be what we needed. We kept yelling to our guys, telling them where our rivals were and to fight for every place. The chip timing splits would later bear out that it was indeed close. We had made up the gap and pulled ahead by a mere two points at the 7K mark. A big part of this turnaround from 20 points down to two points ahead was Justin moving up 20 places while his match up #2 runner was in the same place.
The way we were passionately yelling for our guys, you’d think we were cheering on the Hoka One One guys fighting for the team championship. The guys were focused like never before, game faces on and laser stares with their eyes. We kept feeding them information about the Landerers. At one point when we were yelling at our team and pointing at one of the Launderers, saying, “That’s their #2! That’s their #2!” The Launderer made a weird expression on his face as if to say, “Are they talking about me? Why does anyone care that I’m the #2 runner on my team?” Didn’t he know this was Club Nats and the Pamakids were coming for them?!
With less than a half mile to go, the runners streamed by us again. It was going to be close so we just kept cheering on our guys. The Launderers #2 runner (it was now Moehling, who had passed Erstad due to an apparent shoelace issue on JFK Drive) was a few steps ahead of Ryan and Ray. This was huge. We could swing two to four points with a good finish. Ray nodded as he came by and I knew he was measuring his kick to pass Moehling and run us out of last place. Ray ended up passing Moehling to give us four runners ahead of their #2. Ryan, Merick, and Jeff all beat their #3. We were picking up “little” points that could be the “big” difference.
The rest was a bit of a blur. Knowing it would take time for the results to be announced, we took some team photos and went back to our tent for our Pamakid potluck picnic. At some point I looked at my phone and saw that the results were in. I called for everyone’s attention as I was about to read the Open Men team results. I held up my phone and dramatically scrolled down to the bottom of the results….this took several seconds and only helped build even greater anticipation. I checked last place, first. Hmm. The Mostly Bearded Track Club had supplanted us for the honor of last place (it turns out the Mostly Bearded #1 runner dropped out after the 7K mark which resulted in a 200 point swing in their team score). In 58th place, 13 points behind 57th place was….the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners! We were 57th place! A mere 13 points ahead of our new rivals! A big cheer went up in our team area. “They don’t just hand out 57th place, you know,” said Jeff. In the bleachers next to us, the Asics Aggies, who like us missed the podium – with their 4th place finish, seemed to get a kick out of seeing us cheer for our 57th place finish and joined in the whooping and hollering.
Our journey out of last place began in Seattle and included a road block known as Rolling Thunder. The journey continued in Bend. But before we could arrive at our final stop on this journey, we had to battle through a laundromat in Monterey Bay. Thanks for the great race, Wednesday Night Laundry Runners.
The place was Bend, Oregon.
The year was 2013. The same year that I had double bouts of pneumonia, once in February and again in May.
Thanks to the pneumonia, I knew the 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my fastest race. When I previewed the hilly five loop course on Friday, I hoped that 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my slowest race.
For him, 2013 was probably just another year. His third year as a masters runner. Another year removed from the PR’s and glory of the late 1990’s back when we were both in our late 20’s.
In between my bouts with pneumonia, we raced three times. At Sac Town 10 he beat me by a comfortable 7 minutes, 25 seconds. In the 5K, I closed that gap to 1:22.
In the fall at Martinez, it took one of my best races of the season to finish 11th in 23:57. He was 6th in 23:17. He must have gotten lost. Or he was injured. Maybe he had pneumonia.
At Club Nationals, on the first of the five loops, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me – long hair, black jersey. Could it be? I knew I wasn’t tearing it up, so I concluded he was having an off day, probably running despite an injury. I passed him. But he would re-pass me. I kept hoping I would be ahead of him when we ran by people I knew who had a camera. Maybe a picture would be taken showing me ahead of him. That would make this race memorable, I thought, because certainly neither the speed in which I was running nor place I was in in the race were memorable. I was so “not in the zone” and un-focused that this is what I thought about for most of the second, third, and fourth laps.
On the fifth lap he passed me on the final uphill. Normalcy had returned, I thought to myself. Even injured he has so much talent that he beats me. But as we approached the downhill sprint to the finish, I noticed I was catching up to that black jersey. At least I thought it was him. You see, I had never been this close to him in a race before, so I wasn’t familiar with what he looked like from such close range.
The last 200 meters. I may never have a chance to beat him again in my life I thought. And so I gave it my all out kick on the uneven terrain. I passed him in the final glorious meters, edging him out 40:22 (144th) to 40:25 (148th).
But it gets better. My Pamakid teammate, Monica Zhuang, was right by the finish line. And she was taking pictures. She captured the moment.
For him, it was a race that’s probably been long forgotten.
For me, it was the day I beat the 1998 USA 1500 meter champion, Jamey Harris. I have the picture to prove it and a story for the ages.
It was 31 years, 11 months, 21 days between July 26, 1983 and July 17, 2015.
That’s how long Mary Decker Slaney’s time of 3:57.12 stood as the American record.
Shannon Rowbury, who would be the one to better that record, more than 31 years later, was born nearly 14 months AFTER Decker set that mark.
First, let’s go back to July 26, 1983. Decker (then known just as Mary Decker) was just a week shy of her 25th birthday. At the time, she was the queen of USA track and field. In 1982 she won the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in the US. In 1983 she was the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year and the recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, which is USA Track & Field’s highest honor. At one point in the mid-1980’s she held every American record from 800 meters to 10,000 meters.
July 26, 1983 was day one of a two-day dual meet between the US and a Scandinavian All-Star team. It was a tune-up meet for athletes in preparation for the inaugural Track & Field World Championships that would take place in Helsinki, Finland in August 1983. At those World Championships, Decker won gold in both the 1500 and 3000 meters, a feat that would become known as the “Decker Double” and the reason she won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award that year.
Decker was looking to improve on her own American record of 3:59.43 which she had run in Zurich, Switzerland on August 13, 1980.
There is not a lot of information on Decker’s 1500 meter race but thanks to Mike Fanelli and the extensive track & field archives and memorabilia stored in his garage, I was able to see a newspaper clipping about the race.
She went to the front of the race immediately and came through the first 400 in 62.2. Her 800 meter split of 2:07.0 was still more than one second under American record pace. At 1200 meters her split was 3:08.50, which meant she needed to run the final 300 meters in 50.9 seconds to get the record. Decker kicked and ran the final 300 in 48.7 seconds to establish a new American record of 3:57.12. That time that would stand for more than 31 years. In addition, it still stands as the stadium record at the historic Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
Now we fast forward to July 17, 2015. The place is Monaco. The women’s 1500 meters was paced/rabbited by Chanelle Price to set-up a World record attempt by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.
Price led the first lap in 60.31 seconds. Dibaba came through right behind her, followed by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, a second pace maker (Tamara Tverdostup of the Ukraine), and then the Americans, Jenny Simpson and Shannon in fifth and sixth place. Shannon’s estimated first 400 was 61.7.
At 800 meters it was Price in 2:04.52, followed closely by Dibaba and Hassan. Tverdostup led Simpson and Shannon through the 800 in approximately 2:06. At this point, both pace setters dropped out.
Dibaba surged and Hassan stayed with her. The two of them opened up about a 2.5-3.0 second lead over Simpson and Shannon in third and fourth place. With 400 meters to go Dibaba was at 2:50.28 and needed a 60 second last lap for the World Record. It’s difficult to see on the video because they are not on the screen but I estimate that Simpson and Rowbury were around 2:55 at 1100 meters and needed a 61 second last lap for the American record.
At 1200 meters, Dibaba was at 3:04.61. Again, Shannon is not on the screen when she crosses the 1200 meter mark but I estimate that she came through in the 3:09-3:10 range.
Dibaba ran an incredible race and, cheered on by the crowd, ran the last lap all alone to set a new World record. Her time of 3:50.07 bettered China’s Qu Yunxia’s 3:50.46 from 1993). Hassan fell back a lot in the last lap and Simpson and Shannon were gaining on her. With 100 meters to go, Shannon shifted gears and went by Simpson, putting one second on Simpson in that last 100 and almost catching Hassan (who herself was running a Netherlands national record of 3:56.05). Shannon crossed the finish third in 3:56.29, with Simpson fourth in 3:57.30 (the second fastest time in her career).
Every since Shannon ran 4:00.33 in Paris in her first season as a professional runner in 2008, I knew that setting the American record in the 1500 was not out of the realm of possibility. Over the years, every now and then, I have given in to the temptation and thought about how proud I would feel if she ever broke the American record in the 1500. But on July 17, 2015, I was not thinking about records. I was looking for signs that Shannon was taking a step towards peaking for the World Championships next month in Beijing.
Instead, we were all treated to a race for the ages. In a matter of seconds a 21 year old World record went down and then the oldest American record in the books, 31 years, 11 months, and 26 days, became history! Congratulations, Shannon!
|Mary Decker||Shannon Rowbury|
It’s the week of the 2015 USA Track & Field Championships. It might as well be Christmas Week for this kid at heart.
Malinda and I have attended the USA Championships (or Olympic Trials as the meet is called in Olympic years) seven out of the last eight years – 2008 and 2012 in Eugene for Olympic Trials, 2009, 2011, and soon 2015 in Eugene for the USA Championships (qualifying meets for World Championships), 2010 (USA Champs in Iowa) and 2014 (USA Champs in Sacramento). It’s a thrill to watch the best in the country compete for spots on Team USA. It’s been an even greater thrill to watch someone that I coached in high school (Shannon Rowbury) compete at the national level.
As I write this, the meet is two days away. Shannon is one of the favorites to qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing in the 1500 meters. Jenny Simpson has a bye into the World Championships by virtue of her winning last year’s Diamond League series. That means Jenny and three others will represent the US in China in August. Shannon has been in this position before, and knock on wood, has come through like the champion that she is every time to make the team.
- In 2008, she was the newcomer on the scene and she won the Olympic Trials 1500 to qualify for her first Olympic team.
- In 2009, she had very strong competition from Christin Wurth-Thomas and Anna Pierce. Wurth-Thomas surged out fast and had a huge lead but Shannon timed her kick and caught Wurth-Thomas in the final stretch to win the US 1500 title for the second year in a row.
- In 2011, Shannon was not at 100% due to an injury but she gamely fought for a spot on the World Championship team. It took an unbelievable final kick to out-lean Wurth-Thomas at the finish line to grab third place and a ticket to the World Championships in Daegu by one-hundredth of a second.
- In 2012, it seems almost wrong to say it, but it really was just business like usual as Shannon placed a solid 2nd at the Olympics Trials to qualify for her second Olympic team.
- In 2013, the one year Malinda and I didn’t go to the meet, Shannon finished a disappointing 4th in the 1500 meters on Saturday. Showing tremendous tenaciousness, she came back the next day and ran the 5000 meters. She hung around the main pack for most of the race but it still took a pretty amazing final 200 meters to move up to 3rd to secure her spot to the World Championships in Moscow.
All in all, it’s been a pretty good run of success and I have my fingers crossed for a new fond memory next weekend.
In addition to cheering for Shannon, going to the USA Championships also means hanging out and drinking an adult beverage with some fellow running nerds and coaches. Peanut Harms always hosts a fantastic party where running geeks can unite after the meet to re-hash what we just witnessed. I am looking forward to seeing some friends at the Wild Duck Café in a few days.
Just like last year, Malinda and I have been faithfully logging on to the USATF Rewards page every day to accumulate reward points. Last year we used points to hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I got to co-host the Cool-Down Show. This year, we will again be holding the finish line for one of the races (not confirmed yet but most likely the men’s 10,000 meters on Thursday night). We also used our points to claim the behind the scenes TV truck tour.
Fresh off of her We Go For Good – Circle the Bay for Breast Cancer ElliptiGo trip, Malinda has made plans to meet up with the ElliptiGo strategic marketing manager, Darren Brown while we are in Eugene. Instead of going for a run together, the plan is to go for an ElliptiGo ride together. Another example of the running community being really small, Darren’s wife, Sarah, is a national class 1500 meter runner who has her own crazy journey to the 2013 Moscow World Championships. Sarah will be competing against Shannon in the 1500 this week. How cool would it be if Shannon and Sarah make it and we can go ElliptiGo’ing with Darren on the Great Wall of China?!
And, as if cheering for Shannon, raising cold ones at the Wild Duck, holding the finish line, getting a TV truck tour, and riding an EllpitiGo weren’t enough, on Friday, I am looking forward to attending a screening of City Slickers – Can’t Stay With Me, a documentary film on former UCLA coach, Bob Larsen (most famous for being Meb’s coach). Bob was the UCLA coach when I was there and I got to be his manager my senior year. When they were putting this documentary together, I sent them some pictures from my era at UCLA which may or may not have made the final cut.
With all this on the horizon, how can I not feel like a little kid on Christmas week?
“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
“At least, I didn’t have it on my radar for this year. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself this last week, and it became apparent the Pamakids were going to win our first PA team championship in club history, I was beside myself with excitement.”
“Hopefully we will win more. But I will always remember this first one.”
I have been quite fortunate in my life to have been part of numerous championship teams – league titles at Lowell in high school, a Pac-10 championship at UCLA as manager, CCS and league titles as the SHC coach. Not to mention other achievements that have been worthy of a celebration – qualifying the cross country team for state, Shannon winning two individual state championships and qualifying for the Olympics and World Championships. As the coach and president of Pamakids, we hadn’t won any championships….until last Sunday.
“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
We’ve come a long ways since 2007 when the only Pamakid presence in the Pacific Association (PA) was a women’s cross country team. It’s been five years since the announcer at the cross country championships saw a Pamakid cross the finish line and exclaimed, “Pamakids? Wow, I didn’t know they were still around.” We didn’t revive the Pamakid racing team for the glory of winning championships. That was probably the farthest thing from our mind. The only thing father back was our pack of runners behind the race leaders. We definitely owned the middle and back of the pack for several years.
However, our philosophy of welcoming everyone to the club and showing appreciation for all runners, no matter their speed, has paid off. We have great team depth. Our team spirit, which is evident at races, motivated new runners to join and inspired current runners to become faster. All of a sudden, we were a team in the top half of the results.
“At least, I didn’t have it on my radar for this year. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself this last week, and it became apparent the Pamakids were going to win our first PA team championship in club history, I was beside myself with excitement.”
I realized on Saturday morning that it was pretty inevitable that we were going to win the PA Women’s 40+ Grand Prix title. It was important to me that everyone in the club feel excitement and pride in the achievement, not just the 40+ women. My philosophy is that it’s about the whole team, not individual groups within the team. A good example is the SHC track & field team in 2010. When the JV Girls won the league title, the whole team celebrated together – girls and boys; JV and varsity. It was a team achievement and we all felt pride in it. It’s the same philosophy with the Pamakids.
I wanted to do something special to commemorate this championship. I already had a big pre-race motivational speech planned. I needed something tangible that people would get to keep as a souvenir from the day. It would be another reminder that this was a Pamakid championship, not just a women’s 40+ championship.
Championship hats in 24 hours? Uh, no.
Championship shirts from the mall? What am I, made of money?
Homemade championship pennants? Now we’re talking. Usually Malinda gets sucked into my last minute projects. This time, she put her foot down. She would help figure out the process. But if I wanted to make 50 of these pennants, I was on my own. I’m not the most confident person when it comes to being artsy and crafty. My wife usually handles those jobs. But not this time. So off to Lowe’s I went on a mission to buy dowels. Then it was time to print out the pennants, cut them into triangles with the papercutter, and glue them to the dowel. Being the runner/coach geek that I am, I timed it. It took me on average three minutes to glue each one. My PR was 2:38. I made 50 of them. Yes, a significant portion of my Saturday was spent on this project. It was all worthwhile.
“Hopefully we will win more. But I will always remember this first one.”
Making the accomplishment even sweeter, it would be the first PA team championship in club history. You always remember the first one. Five of my most memorable coaching days of my life are the day Shannon won her first state championship, my first dual meet win at SHC, the first time the boys team qualified for state, the day the SHC JV girls won the league title, and the first time both the boys and girls qualified for state. I think about those days often and it always brings a smile to my face. I now have a sixth “first time” memory.
I will never forget opening the bottle of champagne and pouring it into cups for our celebratory post-race toast. I will never forget walking around from person to person, to clink our plastic cups of champagne. I will never forget the sight of the pennants and the smiles and hearing the laughter and cheers.
As the celebration wound down, I went over to Betty’s memorial bench with two pennants and had Thang take a picture of the pennants next to the bench. I later posted the picture on social media and sent Betty, the club’s first president a message:
Hi Betty. You would have been so proud of us today. We won our first PA club championship in club history. And appropriately we clinched the title about 100 meters from your bench. Thanks for getting us started back in 1970. Proud to be carrying on your legacy today.
Everyday is a great day to be a Pamakid. But Sunday, December 14, 2014 was a particularly great one.
To read an account of the race from one of the runner’s perspectives, checkout Heather Johnson’s blog: http://heatherraejohnson.com/2014/12/15/teamwork-can-stop-the-unstoppable/