Julia Lucas' Perfect Storm, by Dave Hunter, note by Larry Eder

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Julia Lucas made a game run for the 5,000 meters team, and game agonzingly close. Dave Hunter wrote this column about her battle for the Olympic team, finishing fourth, as she lost her team position in the last fifty meters....

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Julia Lucas, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 5000 meters final,
Photo by PhotoRun.net

A Daily Journal From The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials / Track & Field

Highlights From Hayward

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By Dave Hunter

EUGENE, Oregon
June 29, 2012


As time goes by and the 22,602 track and field fans who packed Hayward Field on Thursday pause to reflect on a single remembrance from that day, they will have many choices.  

Some will think of Galen Rupp's gritty final 400 in the 5000 - as he called upon new-found leg speed gained from a year of under-distance racing to edge, at last, the legendary Bernard Lagat and end a 12-race losing streak against his decorated rival.

Others will recall the storybook finish in the men's discus - as Lance Brooks' final throw of  65.15m [213' 9"] not only sealed his victory, but also finally gave him the  Olympic "A" standard mark he needed to secure his ticket to the London Games.

But for more than a few, their memory of Thursday's events will not be of hard-earned success, amazing comebacks, or fairy tale finishes - it will be about Julia Lucas.  Their lasting recollection will be about Lucas and her courageous, yet unsuccessful, attempt to make this United States Olympic team in the women's 5000 final.  

Lucas, a North Carolina State product, came to the Trials having already posted an Olympic "A" standard time earlier this spring.  She glided through the opening round and stepped up to the line in the 5000 final with the third best time in the preliminary heats.  Not atypically, the final began as a cautious, tactical affair with bunched runners staying attentive, yet unwilling to throw in any type of strong move.  It seemed as if no one was willing to fire the first shot - except Lucas.  Coming off the Bowerman curve approaching three laps to go, Lucas went all in.  "The plan was either to go with three laps to go or to go with 600 to go," she said during her post-race press remarks. "My legs didn't feel like they had the pop to run a really fast finish over the last minute or so."  So she began her fateful surge with 1200 remaining.  "I felt that on this day, I would be the best athlete - able to put in a long grind to the finish."

And so the war of attrition began.  Lucas' push strung out the field as the pace quickened.  But Lucas went harder and soon pushed out to a 20 meter lead over the chase pack led by American record holder Molly Huddle.   "I felt comfortable," noted Lucas.

At the bell, Lucas, who had been pushing for the two prior laps, was running hard and looked in control.  With each passing moment, it seemed less likely that anyone else in the race could overcome her growing 20+ meter lead.

But then it started to get ugly.  On the final backstretch, Lucas' relentless tempo began to wobble, and with slightly more that 200 to go, Huddle, with eventual winner Julie Culley at her elbow, blew past Lucas.  Coming off the Bowerman curve, it was clear that Lucas was in trouble.  "In the last 100 meters, I was just underwater. There wasn't a thing I could do about it," said Lucas with resignation.   On the final straightaway, Kim Conley, perhaps 50 meters down on Lucas at the bell, passed spunky Dartmouth runner Abbey D'Agostino, was in full flight, and had Lucas in her sights.  In one breathtaking moment, the charging Conley threw in a perfectly-timed lean at the line to nip Lucas in the final foot and wrest away the third and final Olympic team spot.

But there was more ironic agony for Julia Lucas.  It was painful enough to know that her very own self-initiated long drive to the finish left her defenseless on the home straightaway.  But her protracted grind over the final 1200 meters also elevated the race pace just enough to allow the hard-charging Conley, who began the race without an "A" standard mark, to cross the line in 15:!9.79 - thereby securing for her the "A" standard time by .21 seconds and assuring her participation in the London Olympics.

It took courage for Lucas to run boldly from the front, to initiate the 3-lap grind to the finish - a race plan she felt gave her the best opportunity to make the Olympic team.  But it probably took even more courage to do what she did next: patiently and unblinkingly field questions from the media about the final and her race strategy.  She handled this difficult and most public task with candor and honesty.  "In an Olympic year, the standard for success is making the Olympic team.  And I didn't.  I gave that race away. I screwed it up.  I lost an Olympic Trials race," admitted Lucas.  "I had put myself in such a wonderful position.  I have done so well and put myself in this spot [to make the team].  At the beginning of the season, I said, 'If I have a fighting chance on the line at the Olympic Trials, that's all I want.  I'm the toughest person on the line.  I'm scrappy. I'll make it happen.'  And I was doing that,'" she lamented. "I gave myself that chance, a good chance, a better chance than nearly anyone else in the race had.  And I gave it away.  It is on my shoulders."  The media was unusually quiet and patient as Lucas offered no excuses, "My body cooperated the full season.  I have a great coach [Mark Rowland] who I think does a really good job in getting his athletes ready.  And it was my responsibility to get through this race well - and I did not.  The best athletes show up on the line and deliver - and I didn't."

Lucas concluded her remarks with a final observation about her ill-fated race plan, "I thought that [her race strategy] would be my best shot.  I was 50 meters short."

Julia Lucas is most certainly entitled to a period of extended reflection in light of her disappointment.  When she is ready, she might well benefit from a conversation with Amy Hastings and Dathan Ritzenhein - two athletes who experienced crushing disappointment earlier this year when their fourth place finishes in the USA Olympic Marathon Trials left them off the Olympic roster.  But they both regrouped, re-focused, and earlier in these Trials each took care of some unfinished business, achieved redemption, and made the Olympic team in the 10,000. If Julia does have the opportunity, and is able to speak with Amy and Dathan, she'll know what she needs to do. 

Dave Hunter

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