Chanman's Blog


2016 Olympic Trials – What I Wasn’t Expecting

Posted in Race/Meet Report,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on August 12, 2016
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The age-less Bernard Lagat makes his fifth Olympic team

The ageless Bernard Lagat makes his fifth Olympic team

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 was not expecting_Richards-Ross

    Sanya Richards-Ross giving an interview on NBC and then waving to the fans

    I was not expecting_Wariner

    Jeremy Wariner acknowledging the fans

  • 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.
  • Felix way back with 100 to go

    Felix way back with 100 to go

    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.

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An Exciting Long Jump Competition

Jeffery Henderson was in 1st place for almost the entire long jump competition

Jeffery Henderson was in 1st place for almost the entire long jump competition

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.

Jarrion Lawson had a busy day, long jumping and running the 100 meters.

Jarrion Lawson had a busy day, long jumping and running the 100 meters.

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:

  1. Henderson – 8.59
  2. Lawson – 8.58
  3. Claye – 8.42 (ahead with better second best jump of 8.38; no Olympic Standard)
  4. Dendy – 8.42 (behind on worse second best jump of 7.75; injured and unlikely able to jump anymore)
  5. Hartfield – 8.39
  6. 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.

And Rio makes it a Trio

Photo by Michael Scott

Photo by Michael Scott

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.

And Rio makes it a Trio_309 post

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.

And Rio makes it a Trio_449 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.

 

Put on your lipstick and let's celebrate 3 Olympic teams!

Put on your lipstick and let’s celebrate 3 Olympic teams!

First there was Beijing. Then there was London.

And Rio makes it a Trio.

 

Mark Wieczorek a.k.a. Stripes

Mark Wieczorek racing the 800 at the Olympic Trials

Lost in the sea of Nike swooshes, obscured by an ocean of adidas stripes, far below the airplane pulling the Brooks run happy banner, there was a single athlete in the men’s 800 meter final at the US Olympic Trials, with no sponsor. He wore a blue and green striped t-shirt that he bought at American Eagle and a matching blue headband. He looked somewhat out of place next to athletes in state of the art competition uniforms, made to be lightweight, sweat wicking, and aerodynamic. Who was this unattached runner and what was he doing in the 800 final?

This story really began on Friday June 22 during the first round of the men’s 800. A runner dressed in the above described attire came out on to the track to run in heat two. I immediately started making fun of him, thinking he was someone who just barely made it to the Olympic Trials. I yelled “Go Stripes!” as he did his warm-up striders. When I stopped making jokes about his shirt, I finally checked my program to find out that his name was Mark Wieczorek. Less than two minutes later, lo’ and behold, Wieczorek placed third in his heat and qualified on to the semi-final.

The semi-final was on Saturday June 23, and out came “Stripes,” dressed the same. I made a couple jokes about doing laundry to wash his striped shirt and then we settled in to watch the race. Stripes placed fifth in the first heat and was on the bubble to make it to the final. Heat two was slower than the first heat and Stripes was qualified for the final as the last time qualifier!

Now that he was one of only eight American men still competing for a shot at the London Olympics in the 800 meters, I started doing more research on Wieczorek. He attended MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where he was a five-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American and the 2006 NAIA national champion in the 800 meters. He has run for Team XO and the Oregon Track Club Elite. Between training sessions, he did some work for RunnerSpace.com.  At the 2011 US Championships he placed fifth. In addition to racing the 800 at a pretty high level, Wieczorek is also a high school coach and in the fall of 2011 he was named Washington cross country coach of the year after leading Gig Harbor to the 4A state championship, a number 10 ranking in the US, and a berth at the Nike Team Nationals meet. Not bad for a first year coach. Despite a fair amount of internet attention, including a story by David Monti for RaceResultsWeekly (RRW), winning a contest on LetsRun.com, and being the topic of a LetsRun.com message board thread, Wieczorek remained unsponsored entering the 2012 Olympic Trials.

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ekXRpb0EuZA&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

There was no shortage of information about Stripes and I immediately became a fan, even making him the centerpiece of the Pamakids Olympic Trials Question of the Day game. Instead of doing that, maybe I should have been offering him a sponsorship deal to race in the Pamakids uniform. Seriously, the night before the Final, Malinda, John and I speculated whether or not one of the shoe companies would jump on the opportunity to sponsor Wieczorek. What a marketing opportunity – put him in your company’s logo but make the uniform resemble the blue and green stripes that he’s been wearing. Offer him a some up front money with  a huge bonus if he makes the Olympic team. The running geeks on LetsRun and RunnerSpace would go crazy and the company would reap the benefit of supporting “the little guy.”

Alas this sponsorship conversation was not being had anywhere but our hotel room. Wieczorek came out for the 800 final in his now trademark shirt and headband. He was still unattached. That didn’t stop him from running a personal record, 1:45.62 and placing seventh.

Wieczorek’s story doesn’t even end here. He’s gotten a bit of a cult following, with his own webpage hosted on the RunningSpace website, a staring role in the Party Run Anthem video, and paparazzi who dress up just like him.

Currently he’s racing in Europe. His familiar striped shirt showed up in a finishlynx photo in Belgium, where he came in second in 1:47.59. On July 17 he ran what I believe is his second fastest time ever, 1:45.96 at a meet in Italy.

I really should have tried to track Stripes down and offered him a Pamakid sponsorship. I would have even thrown in extra singlets so that he doesn’t have to wash his blue and green striped shirt every night between cities.

A Typical Day at the Trials

 

John, me, and Malinda from our seats in Section F.

Now that we’re back from Eugene, Oregon, also known as Track Town, U.S.A., I thought I’d share what our typical day was like during the Olympic Trials.

My wife, Malinda Walker, was willing to make her ninth trip with me to a major track & field meet (2008-Olympic Trials, Beijing Olympics; 2009-Prefontaine, USA Champs, Berlin World Champs; 2010-USA Champs/Prefontaine (Des Moines & Eugene on the same trip!), 2011-USA Champs, Daegu World Champs; 2012-Olympic Trials). London will be our tenth trip. Joining us for the 2012 Olympic Trials was our friend John Gieng. Poor John had to put up with the antics that only an immature forty-one year old track coach and his going-on-five year bride can deliver.

Our typical day began with coffee from our Holiday Inn hotel room coffee maker with coffee bought at the Starbuck’s down the road. The capacity of the coffee maker was four cups. The caffeine requirements of the three of us combined was more than four cups. We had to empty the filter and make a fresh brew a couple times. Did I mention that at the Olympic Trials Fan Festival, official Olympic sponsor Chobani was handing out free samples of their Greek yogurt? I would frequent their booth multiple times every day and thus would have a good selection to pick from out of our refrigerator every morning.

 

Sometimes we combined coffee with checking our devices.

After fueling up, we usually went for a run. Sometimes we would join one of the many group runs happening around town and sometimes we would go it alone. After the run, we needed more fuel so it was usually a stop to get brunch and more coffee then back to the hotel for a shower. Any time back at the hotel meant checking my e-mail, Facebook, blog stats, and LetsRun.com, to see what happened while we were out.

That usually brought us to one or two o’clock. At that time, we started planning when to head to the track for the meet. This year, getting ready to leave for the meet meant John checking the weather on his smartphone. What was the chance of rain? What was the expected temperature? This would lead us to the important decision of what to wear. Six out of the eight times we used our rental bikes to bike to the meet. Sometimes the chances of rain were so high that a glance out the window answered the question. We ended up taking the bus once and driving and taking a shuttle once. We don’t mind biking in the rain but it’s no fun to sit for four hours of a meet in wet clothes.

Biking around Eugene.

Biking to the track was always an adventure for me. While John and Malinda casually pedaled the five mile/25 minute ride to the track, I had to focus to keep up. If my mind wandered to Shannon’s upcoming race or I started writing my next blog in my head, I would look up and find myself a block (or more) behind them.

We had to go through security to get in. Plastic water bottles were allowed. Water in said plastic water bottles was not. No umbrellas. No outside food. Bags were inspected. We all had to walk through a metal detector. Once inside we would visit the Fan Festival for free stuff (did I mention the Chobani yogurt?), buy more coffee from Allann Bros., or visit the USATF appreciation tent. After the Chobani booth, the USATF appreciation tent, which offered USATF members free ice cream, coffee, and kettlecorn the last three days of the meet, was my favorite.

Our seats were in the west grandstand, Section F, row 19. We were on the final straightaway, with the long jump runways right in front of us. For the short sprints, directly in front of us was probably 60 meters to go. We did have an overhang above us but when it rained and the wind shifted we were close enough to the end of the overhang to get wet. At this point, I need to give a shout out to the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders (LMJ&S) because the seat cushion they gave out to all participants of the Woodminster race, while at first seeming to be a silly giveaway, was a valued commodity on the wooden seats of Historic Hayward Field (my dry and comfortable rear end thanks you, LMJ&S!).

 

These were life savers.

When Shannon wasn’t running, there was lively banter between the three of us – who had the A standard, what underdog was going to surprise everyone, who’s uniform was the dorkiest, etc. When Shannon was running, there was nervous tension in the air. The Olympic Trials is very well timed so every event gets its time in the spotlight. The announcer keeps you informed of what’s happening. The scoreboards on the field and the two jumbotrons help you keep track of the field event marks and who’s in what place. On the rare occasions when there was a break in the action, I reached into my backpack to pull out a snack from Chobani.

 

Did I mention how much Chobani I ate? I think I should be in one of the Chobani ads.

After the meet the main questions were: Where are we going to eat? and Are we going to have coffee or beer with dinner?  Some nights we stopped by the local watering hole favored by Northern California coaches and track geeks, the Wild Duck Café. Other nights we ate healthy food somewhere else.

After biking back to the hotel, we had a pretty standard evening ritual. John would update the Pamakids Olympic Trials Game Standings and we’d have lively discussion about how various people were doing, who made good picks and who made horrible picks (horrible ones being the more entertaining of the two), and who Noe’s Moustache might be. I would formulate the next question to be sent out (with suggestions from the peanut gallery of Malinda and John). Once the Google Doc was updated, I would send out the nightly e-mail to the Pamakids Racing Team list serve.

Then we would have more discussion about the meet we just witnessed or what we were looking forward to seeing the next day. The night USATF released their dead heat procedures was by the far the most entertaining evening for discussion and comedy in Room 623 at the Holiday Inn in Springfield. When we’d had enough of LetsRun message boards, FloTrack interviews, RunningSpace videos, and USATF tweets, it was time to turn off the lights and go to sleep….so we could start this whole wonderful cycle all over again. Yes, it was Track Heaven.

Olympic Trials Women’s 1500 meters

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!

Ahh Moments at the Olympic Trials

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.

George Kitchens Jr realizing that he’s an Olympian.

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.

Tears of joy for Kitchens

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).

Will Claye clapping for his competitor Marquis Goodwin.

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.

About 100 meters to go in the women’s 5000. That’s Lucas in third in the OTC green and Conley back in fifth.

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?

The battle for third in the women’s 5000 was shown on replay on the Hayward Field jumbotron.

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.

Kim Conley is in shock!

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!

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

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.

There are no ties in track

Jeneba  Tarmoh and Allyson Felix have many things in common.

–          They both were multiple time California state champions in high school. Felix, 26, won the 100 meters three times (2001, 2002, 2003) and won the 200 meters two times (2002 and 2003) for Los Angeles Baptist High School.  Tarmoh, 22, won the 100 meters and 200 meters in both 2006 and 2007 for Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose. Combined they swept the 100 and 200 at the California State Meet four times (2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007) in a six year span.

–          Tarmoh and Felix are both currently coached by Bobby Kersee.

–          Felix and Tarmoh both came in third at the 2012 Olympic Trials women’s 100 meters.

WHAT?! How can there be a tie?

When the women’s 100 meter final ended, it was clear and quickly announced that Carmelita Jeter (10.92) was first and Tianna Madison (10.96) was second. But it was a proverbial photo finish for third between Felix and Tarmoh. All eyes at Hayward Field (21,795 spectators plus athletes, coaches, officials, and volunteers) were on the scoreboard waiting for the result to flash up. The announcer alluded to the fact that they weren’t trying to be dramatic, only that it was close and the official was reviewing the computer timing photo. After what seemed like minutes but was probably only 30 seconds, the result popped up on the scoreboard. Third place went to Jeneba Tarmoh in 11.07. Felix was given the same time. The announcer told the crowd that one thousandth of a second separated Tarmoh and Felix.

Tarmoh was elated to make her first Olympic team. Felix was devastated. An hour later Tarmoh was at a press conference where she was being introduced to the media as an Olympian in the 100 meters.

However, behind the scenes and unbeknownst to Tarmoh, there was some question about the result. LetsRun.com got an exclusive interview with the man responsible for reading the results of the women’s 100 meters, Roger Jennings from Flashresults.com. Jennings explained that he initially called Tarmoh third because her right arm was ahead of Felix’s torso. However, he immediately called in the meet referees to confirm that this was the correct call. In the end the meet referees (and Jennings) agreed that what they saw in the photo was a dead heat. The United States of America Track & Field (USATF) released a statement to this effect late Saturday evening, about three hours after the race. At that point, they said they were in meetings to determine how the final spot on the Olympic team would be decided.

As the scoreboard shows, there can be a tie in track & field.

I do not dispute the decision to call the race a tie at 11.068 seconds. I do wish that meet officials had handled this better. They should have immediately let everyone know that the result was in question. Tarmoh should not have been at a press conference thinking she had placed third. This is yet another black eye for the sport of track & field because when the television broadcast signed off after the meet, the television viewing world thought Tarmoh had beaten Felix.

But what’s done is done. Next the question became how will the tie be resolved? The only rule in the USATF rulebook is Rule 167, which suggests that: the tying competitors shall be placed in the next round if it is practical to do so. If that is not practical, lots shall be drawn to determine who shall be placed in the next round.

USATF official met to discuss how to handle this situation and around 24 hours after the actual race announced their dead-heat procedures. It basically says that the tie will be broken either by one athlete declining their spot, a run-off, or a coin toss. There are exacting details on the type of coin to be used and the finger position of the person flipping the coin. I cannot do the actual procedures justice so you will just have to read it yourself at this link: http://usatf.org/News/Dead-heat-procedures-announced.aspx. I highly recommend reading the procedures if you have some time and want a good laugh (or ever wondered what your $30 USATF membership fee is paying for).

If you were to ask me what I think is going to happen, I would say that one of the athletes will decline their spot in the 100 meters so that their teammate can go without the need for a run-off or coin flip. I believe that this will not be determined, though, until after the women’s 200 meters, which both Felix and Tarmoh are running, is completed (which is Saturday June 30).

No matter what, this hasn’t been your usual women’s 100 meters.

About 30 meters into the women’s 100 meter final. 70 meters later is when the controversy would begin.

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