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Lessons in perseverance – the Olympic Trials 10,000 meter races (Part 2)

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.

Lisa Uhl stops to tie her shoe

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.

Ritz – 4th in the Olympic Trials Marathon

 

Hastings – 4th in the Olympic Trials Marathon

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!

 

Ritz – 3rd in the 10,000, Olympic Trials going to London

 

Hastings – 1st in the 10,000, Olympic Trials going to London

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Lessons in perseverance – the Olympic Trials 10,000 meter races (Part 1)

300 meters into the men’s 10,000. 24 1/4 laps to go. Rupp and Ritz were out in front immediately.

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.

Fourth Place

The 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials took place in Houston on January 14.

Zoila Gomez, Khalid Khannouchi, Blake Russell, Trent Briney. What do those four runners have in common? They were the fourth place finishers at the 2008 and 2004 US Olympic Marathon Trials. Fourth place. When talking about Olympic spots, fourth place is the most painful place….in essence, the first loser. The top three go on to compete in the Olympics. Fourth place just leads the hundreds of others who must wait four more years for another chance.

For Dathan Ritzenhein (aka “Ritz,” who was a 2008 Olympian) and Amy Hastings (no Olympics yet), they reluctantly add their name to the Gomez, Khannouchi, Russell, and Briney list. If it’s any consolation, four years after her fourth place finish, Russell qualified for the next Olympics in the marathon. In addition, both Ritzenhein and Hastings can still race at the 2012 US Olympic Track & Field Trials in June to try to make the Olympic team on the track. Both of them have pretty solid chances of making the team in either the 10,000 meters or 5,000 meters. Ritzenhein is a former American record holder at 5,000 meters and was sixth at the 2009 World Championships in the 10,000 meters. Hastings is coming off a season in which she made the World Championship final in the 5,000 meters in Daegu.

“Trying out for the olympics (sic) is being willing to serve your heart on a platter along with a knife and carving instructions.” That was US professional runner, Lauren Fleshman’s Facebook status the other day. Fleshman would know. Although she has been the USA Champion for 5,000 meters twice (2006 and 2010) and competed at three IAAF World Championships (2003, 2005, and 2011), she has endured two disappointing “tryouts for the Olympics” (also known as the Olympic Trials). In 2004 she was injured and unable to compete. In 2008, she faded to a non-Olympic team qualifying fifth place.

The US has a very objective system to qualify for the Olympics. Four years of training comes down to one race. It’s all or nothing. It insures that the US Olympic marathon and track & field athletes have earned their spot on the team, having endured the pressure that accompanies the Olympic Trials. Before the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials, I read a line that stuck with me, “trying to add the word Olympian to their name.” By placing in the top three, one qualifies for the Olympics and does have the word Olympian associated with their name for the rest of their life. That’s quite the reward, but with such a mighty reward comes pressure and the potential for disappointment – thus “serving your heart on a platter with a knife and carving instructions.”

As it turned out, of the six qualifiers (three men and three women), only one truly added Olympian to their name. That would be Desiree Davilla. For the other five, this is a return trip to the Olympics. This will be Meb Keflezighi’s third Olympics, Ryan Hall’s second, Abdi Abdirahman’s fourth, Shalane Flanagan’s third, and Kara Goucher’s second.

It is no wonder that Ritzenhein and Hastings were so distraught at the finish line of the Olympic Marathon Trials. Both of them shed tears as the reality that they did not miscount, they were fourth, set in.

Ritzenhein, who was only eight seconds behind Abdirahman for the coveted third place spot, was described as disconsolate at the finish by bloggers covering the race. Despite running a PR, in post race interviews he said things like “Obviously being fourth is the worst place to be, and I’m trying not to react in the completely negative, but the marathon has been a continued problem. I’m not saying that I will never run another marathon but I am going to shift my focus back to the track. I am really going to focus on the disciplines and distances that I am good at.”

Hastings, who finished over 70 seconds behind Goucher,  said in a Runners World interview that she had known for the last two miles that she was not going to finish in the top three but that she held back tears for miles 25 and 26 because crying then would affect her breathing. But the tears rained down when she finished. Still, she composed herself to attend the post-race press conference as the official USA Olympic Marathon alternate. That takes some class.

There’s something noble about being fourth at the Olympic Trials. I wish I were the fourth best at something out of everyone in the USA. If that something happened to be an Olympic event, all the better, but I’d settle for being fourth American at anything. The sting of fourth place will be there for a while for Ritz and Hastings but hopefully over time they will be proud that they gave it their best and they will rebound to battle for an Olympic spot in the future.