The trip to Eugene, Oregon from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin was a bit of an odyssey. For the past several weeks, as many know, the Midwest has been in the midst of a so called five hundred year flood. All I can say is that it was too much water. Water in my basement, several feet in my backyard, and water and mud everywhere else. But, I am the lucky one, because it is a mess to cleanup, but my home is safe.
The trip to Eugene, which started on Wednesday afternoon just shows how much trouble US airlines are in. Sitting in Denver for several hours, we were told that the originally planned plane for us, fitting 80, was canceled due to mechanical difficulties..
We were then supplied with seventeen seater. Seeing the problem with the math, and my first interview of the day being cancelled for Thursday, I was first in line to offer my seat for a) trip to Eugene instead of Portland-long story, b) free round trip, c) hotel, and some sleep. Three hours later, i was on my way to Eugene, Oregon.
I arrived in Eugene at the Hilton just as the USATF press conference was starting. Sanya Richards, Lauryn Williams, Wallace Spearmon and Allyson Felix were on the podium. It is hard to think of four more articulate athletes in our sport, but these four do a nice job and kept the media, from all over the world, about the women's 100 meters and men's first rounds as well.
" There are no favorites here, " noted Lauryn Williams, " there are probably eight to ten women who could make this team. It depends on the day" noted Lauryn. Lauryn is one of the favorites in my mind: she has the amazing ability to get better in the rounds and she commented on that: " I tell myself that I am getting better and better and the focus is there." One reporter asked her if she does something in her training, and she said no, she is just a better round runner.
Sanya Richards was, as always, well prepared and poised. She seemed a bit nervous, as she should be, as any athlete should be in running in the Trials. Names mean nothing, reputation means nothing. Make it or break it. If you do not make the top three, you are more than likely not on the team. That simple. Sanya seems to have recovered well from her illness, although her and coach Clyde Hart are not taking any chances. She has two days rest between the semi and the final. " I still get nervous before races. The big difference between this year and last year is that I missed very little training this year, in 2007, I missed a lot training and this( year's training) is helping me.
Wallace Spearmon and Allyson Felix are in a different place. Both are 200 meters specialists who dabble more than others in the 100 meters.
" It does allow me to relax, as the 100 is not like the 200 meters for me, " noted Allyson Felix, who had the entire European media surrounding her. " The 200 meters is my focus, and I have not run as well as I have wanted in the 100 meters this year." Allyson is poised and, at her young age, one of our most talented and popular athletes. (We will feature a piece, courtesy of adidas on Allyson's new spikes and the plans to move the shoe to the consumer marketplace).
Wallace Spearmon has come of age. He is relaxed, knows how to play with the media and the fans and is one of our most dynamic long sprinters. But, do not give up on him over 100 meters, " Tyson is like my big brother, and I have followed him into events. I am learning about the 100 meters. "
The press conference did get me thinking about the absolute pressure on the athletes and the level of competition that we are about to see in Eugene over the next ten days.
The first final of the Olympic Trials will be the women's 10,000 meters. Olympic Trials crowds love a good distance race, and this one should get the heart pumping. The 10,000 meters will pit Shalane Flanagan, new American record holder against bronze medalist from Osaka, Kara Goucher, with former American record holder, Deena Kastor, using Eugene to prep for her marathon run in Beijing. Also making this a brutal race will be Jen Rhines, who ran well over 5,000 meters this season, and should make the pace honest. Molly Huddle and Katie Macgregor will add enough surprises to this race to insure that only Shalane is a sure bet on this event.
My picks for the women's 10,000 meters: Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher, Blake Russell, Kate O'Neil -winner-Kara Goucher. My reasoning-Goucher is a championship racer, and her 4:06 1,500 meters is an indication of her fitness. Shalane could blow the field away, but with a double on her agenda, so, she has to manage her energy. Watch Magdelena Lewy in the 10,000 meters as well.
In the women's 100 meters, you have Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards, Carmelita Jeter, Lisa Barber, and Allyson Felix, as well as Muna Lee. The racing in the rounds will be tough, but my first team pick of the ten days, for the Women's 100 meters is
Muna Lee, Lauryn Williams, Allyson Felix, Torri Edwards.
So, there we go, I have started the prognostication. I could pick them all ( hardly), or miss them all, but the key is to enjoy and celebrate the next ten days in Tracktown USA withe the Hardest Team to Make--and that is the U.S. Olympic Trials.
A final introductory note. The Eugene O8 folks have some amazing things planned to celebrate the sport around Hayward, and we will update you on those! Four blocks from Hayward, at the Villard Street Pub, the man who has never missed a party, the man that time forgot, Peanut Harms, has nine days and nights of fun planned. I went by last night and hooked up with several of my former coaches and friends. Don't miss it, as we all know, talking about track and field with your friends is part of the fun!