Morgan Uceny, London's calling, by Elliott Denman, note by Larry Eder

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Uceny_Morgan-FifthAve11.JPG
Morgan Uceny, 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile, photo by Photorun.net

Middle distance runners challenge their bodies, their spirits and their hearts in the quest for the perfect mile. When one watches a middle distance runner after a great race, the emotion on their faces is what comes out in the pictures. Perhaps it is the realization that all of the bad training days, the bad races, the falls in races can now be relegated to memories.

Take Morgan Uceny, the 2011 USA champion at 1,500 meters. Uceny looked great in the rounds in Daegu, after a splendid summer of racing. Her final was changed by a collision, something, that, yes, happens in middle distance racing. Less than two weeks later, Morgan Uceny ran 4:00.06, and won Brussels Ivo Van Damme memorial. Uceny won in the world leading mark for the year. Perhaps the meet's namesake, the late Ivo Van Damme, silver medalist in the 800m and 1,500m in the 1976 Olympic Games,  would have enjoyed Uceny's victory, as Van Damme endured some tumbles and falls in his career.

Truth is, at 800 meters and 1,500 meters, US women's middle distance running may be at its best global level in two decades. London is calling, Morgan Uceny, among others.

Elliott Denman wrote this piece after seeing Morgan run the Fifth Avenue Mile. Morgan Uceny finished sixth in the Fifth Avenue Mile on Saturday, here is Denman's story on Morgan.



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Morgan Uceny, 2011 USA Outdoor, photo by PhotoRun.net

 By ELLIOTT DENMAN

 NEW YORK - High above Cayuga's waters, an Olympian ambition was nurtured.

  When Morgan Uceny, a native of Indiana, came to Cornell University, on the scenic shores of Lake Cayuga, in Ithaca, N,.Y., in the fall of 2003, basketball was her first athletic love.

   By the time of her graduation in the spring of 2007, basketball had long since been supplanted by track and field.

   And look at her now - she's the fastest female 1500-runner on the planet this year (after her big 4:00.06 victory at the Van Damme Memorial meet in Brussels Sept. 9) and is almost surely set to be listed as number one in the world when the 2011 rankings are formulated at season's end.
                           
   In turn, that will likely position her as a leading medal candidate for the London Olympic Games of 2012.

Uceny_Morgan-Lausanne11.jpgMorgan Uceny, 2011 Lausanne, photo by PhotoRun.net

    Cornell has produced such notable male USA track and field Olympians as John Anderson (discus champion in 1932), Charley Moore (400-meter hurdles champion in 1952), Meredith Gourdine (silver medal long jumper in 1952), Bo Roberson (silver medal long jumper in 1960), Walter Ashbaugh (fourth-place triple jumper in 1952), Albert Hall (four-time Olympic hammer thrower) and Peter Pfitzinger (two-time Olympic marathoner.)

  But Big Red fans still seek out their first alumna to make her mark in the Games.

   Morgan Uceny is the logical candidate to fill that bill.

  Running the 800 meters as an undergraduate, she was a four-time NCAA All-American and a six-time Heptagonal/Ivy League champion.

  As a post-collegian and a professional runner training with the high-powered Mammoth Track Club team in California, coached by ex-Villanova star Terrence Mahon, she has stepped up to the 1500 and blossomed out as a global track and field celebrity.

   After the big 4:00.06 win at Brussels - which moved her to sixth place on the all-time USA women's list - Uceny came to New York with high hopes of a solid performance in the season-ending Fifth Avenue Mile, staged by the New York Road Runners, on Sept. 24.

    But it just wasn't to be.

   In a race won by USA World Championships teammate Jenny Simpson in 4:22.3, Uceny placed an unhappy sixth in 4:26.2.

  "Yeah, I've had a long season and I'm pretty tired right now," she said after the race.

   "Maybe it's that road miles just aren't my thing."  (She'd placed sixth on Fifth Avenue in 2010, running 4:26.27.)

  "They're so different (than track races. I'm a rhythm runner and I couldn't get into any rhythm at all.  But it's still a fun event."

   Knowing the many potential pitfalls, she refuses to look too far ahead and will not get caught in the pre-Games hype.

   "Oh, London's a long ways away and anything can happen," she said. "People will emerge, people you don't even know who they are right now.
 
   "You can get injured, a lot of stuff can happen.  You can't count on anything. I'll just try to, best I can, replicate what I did in 2011."

   The main item on her immediate agenda is "vacation."

  "I'll take a few weeks off, relax, and then head back to Mammoth and start it up all over again.

   "I don't run cross country at all, then I'll start back with some smaller meets indoors. Then I'll just take it one meet at a time, one step at a time.  You can't take anything for granted.  

  "Honestly, I'm not even thinking about London.  It's just too far ahead."

   As Simpson was turning the women's 1500-meter final at Daegu into a run for golden glory, Uceny was trying to erase huge waves of disappoinment.

   With less than a lap and a half to go, she was positioning herself for a big finish and a closing burst that would carry her to the medal stand, maybe even the  top rung.

  It didn't happen that way. The script took an abrupt turn.

Uceny_MorganQ-World11.JPGMorgan Uceny, 2011 World Champs, Daegu, 1,500m, qualifying, photo by PhotoRun.net

 She collided with Hellen Obiri of Kenya, fell,  and in that decisive instant found herself down on the track as the lead pack disappeared in the distance.  She got back onto her feet but all she could manage was a saddened 10th place in 4:19.71.

    Simpson went on to take the Daegu gold and Hannah England, running for Great Britain, took the silver.  On Fifth Avenue, 1-2-3 spots went to Simpson (4:22.3), Sally Kipyego of Kenya (4:22.6) and Hannah England (4:22.6, too.)  All three are ex-NCAA champions, Simpson at Colorado, Kipyego at Texas Tech, England for Florida State.

     "But I'm over that now. I'm fine,"  she insisted.

  "It happened so fast.  I was tripped and taken out.  I didn't even know what was happening until I was on the ground.  It's hard to recount because it happened so fast.

  "I got up but I was so mentally out of it by that point..

  "I didn't dwell on it all. I went on to win Brussels." (After earlier Diamond League wins in Birmingham, England, 4:05.64, and Lausanne, Switzerland, 4:05.52.)

 "It wasn't about getting revenge or anything like that.  It was just about doing my best."

   Just two American women have ever run to Olympic titles at distances longer than a single lap.

  Madeline Manning won the 800 meters at Mexico City in 1968 and Joan Benoit Samuelson claimed the historic first marathon gold at Los Angeles in 1984.

  Needless to say, Morgan Uceny would be overjoyed to join that ultra-elite sorority.

She has the talent, the speed and the dedication.

   Put her down as a definite maybe.

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