Galen Rupp leading Bernard Lagat,
photo by PhotoRun.net
David Hunter wrote this piece for June 30, 2013 column, and of course, I missed it. My apologies to David Hunter. The piece is a nice view into the comments from many of America's top stars and up and coming stars, after they have caught their breaths and enter the "Mixed Zone", where the media get their quotes.
Right on Track,
by David Hunter
"Zoning" with the Stars,
by David Hunter
(Behind the scenes in the "Mixed Zone")
The higher echelon track & field meets generally offer a designated post-competition area where the media can interact with athletes after they have completed their event. This sector - the so-called "Mixed Zone" - is a usually a gauntlet of varying emotions. There you can find exuberant competitors enthusiastically reflecting upon a top-flight performance. You can also witness grim-faced, crestfallen performers - backpack slung over their shoulders - who avoid eye contact and step briskly through the fenced area to escape away for time alone. At the recently-completed USATF championship meet - where national titles and berths to Moscow's world championships were on the line - that shared interview area was a frenetic kaleidoscope of activity and expression. Whether it was wisdom, smack, anger, bravado, drama, hope, regret, tears, or joy - during those four days of tense competition you could find it in the Mixed Zone. Here's just some of what went down:
Brianna Rollins - ecstatic 100H champion after her American record 12.24: "I completely just zoned myself out. I was just so overwhelmed. It was so amazing. I just thank God." Her PR at the beginning of the year? "I think it was like 12.70. But training and being dedicated to the sport has definitely helped a lot. I never think about times. I just come out here and do what I have to do."
Matthew Centrowitz - 1500 champion, '11 WC bronze medalist in the 1500, and poker-faced race tactician: "This year, everything is great. I'm stronger. I'm thinking to myself, 'you don't have anything to be nervous about.' I'm in great shape. I definitely want to make a statement at the Worlds. I'm definitely looking forward to improving." On the 1500 final: "Coming into the race, we knew it was going to be slow. We didn't have a set plan coming into it. I just waited for everything to unfold, and once I got up to the front there, I just didn't let anyone by me and that's how it ended I had a few strategies going into this one." Where he is now: "I'm the strongest I've ever been. I'm the fastest I've ever been. Knock wood, I stay healthy as we go to Moscow. I've always been able to push hard in practice - killer workouts. I just want to come out and show all the hard work that I've been putting in. I just want to be rewarded."
Amanda Bingson - hammer throw champion and impromptu back-flip queen: "I've been working on a couple of new entries, getting the rhythm back, getting back to fundamentals, just relying on strength, and going back to technique. I'm just happy that it all came together." Before the competition: "I was a little nervous.," she laughs. "I went over to my coach and I told him that I was really freaking out. I was shaking a lot. He told me to breathe, relax, and get into that ring and just let everything go and trust your body to do what you can do. And I did it. Consistency is the biggest thing I can work on right now. And it definitely has been biggest thing carrying me through. It is great to have that one throw, but if you can consistently hit those marks, it's even better. Every one of my throws was "A" standard. It definitely was the best series of my life." What will it take to medal in Moscow? "It will take consistency - probably around 74 or 75 meters. As we all know, anything can happen on that day - whoever's on, whoever's off. So really it's just about consistency."
Ashton Eaton - WR holder and Oly decathlon champ who played it safe during three-peat deca win: About his win: "I feel pretty good about that. I have quite a bit of confidence. Obviously the high jump was very subpar, as were the hurdles and the pole vault. I think a lot of that stuff was very much safety. So I think if I can score 8200+ with those marks, I think at a 100%, I'd be OK."
Evan Jager - steeple winner: "It is very natural to me. As I have progressed through the steeple, hurdling and water jumping is just natural for me. I feel like I am a pretty good hurdler so it just kind of happens."
Jason Richardson - defending WC 110 champion, WC wild card entrant and reflective 4th place finisher in Des Moines: "There are still lots of pieces of my race that I am putting together, acknowledging that I have about a month and a half to get it right. With hurdling, it's about catching rhythm and it's downhill from there. I didn't catch my real rhythm until Stockholm which was about three weeks ago."
Galen Rupp - putting the dawdling m5000 race in prospective: "That last mile was pretty quick. When I think of championship style races, it is almost to be expected, a little bit. Maybe not to that extreme." Slowest since 1952? "It is fine with me. Everybody thinks they have a great kick in this race now. We are well prepared for it - so it doesn't faze us whether it is fast or slow. So if they want to run slow, that's fine with me." Did 10,000 take something out of you in the last 200? "Maybe a tad, but not too much though. I can tell I had plenty of time to recover from the 10K. The heat made it hot. I was able to get hydrated and rested. I just need to keep working on my speed. I am really happy where I'm at and how I ran today." Any shame in losing to Lagat? "Not at all. He is obviously a legend in track & field. He is always going to be there. I told myself and my coaches before this race that I wanted to challenge myself and wait. I got a little antsy and I wish I would have waited a little later. I'm not sure that would have made a difference. It was a great chance to just work on closing hard in fast races which is what it is going to be like a lot of the summer. It was good practice."
Aries Merritt - 110H WR holder and Oly champ on his 3rd place finish: "The main objective was to qualify and I punched my ticket. So I now have about two months to get ready for Moscow. So I am really excited that I was able to come out and make the team with literally two hurdle sessions before the national championships." The race: "I think my start was OK. I lost my rhythm over four. But I had to fight because I knew I had to make the team. At that point, I probably lost all form and I was just 'Get on down the track' trying to get on the team. I'm not race sharp. And it showed. I ran 13.09 in the semi-final and then I came back with 13.23. So I don't have the endurance that I had last year at this point. But I still have up until the world championship to get my rhythm. I am going to take some time and train a little bit and then hit the circuit. But I do need to get races because I'm not race sharp. My body feels OK. It is not perfect. And I still have some kinks I need to work out with my hamstrings. Obviously, it is taped. It needs support. But I am happy with my performance today."
Ryan Wilson - 110H champion: "It feels good. We all step to the line with the intention to win. Today was my day. I executed, I think, the best of everybody." His start? "My first two rounds were awful. My reaction time in the semifinal was .24. That's got to be a personal record for slowness. But I knew my rhythm was there because I was able to pick everybody up through the rounds fairly easily. So I knew the rhythm was good. And I knew that if I just executed my start in the final, I was good to go. I felt ready."
Andrew Bumbalough - reflecting on the 5000 final where he finished 5th in 14:57.12, but covered his final 1600 in 3:57.73: "This was the slowest 5000 I've ever run, but - at the same time - it was one of the fastest miles I've ever run."
Bernard Lagat - ageless wonder and jubilant 5000 winner: "When I was evaluating the strategies with my coach, we knew it was going to be slow. But nobody was even willing to take it slow today. So I was willing to step up and go slow as well - maybe 80 [second 400's] or something like that. As long as I was moving and out of trouble - that was the most important thing. If somebody wants to come, I was waiting for 6 or 4 laps to go. Then Ben True came over and took it really hard and I was thinking 'this is exactly the beginning of the race.' And that is what I was waiting for." The fast last mile in 3:54? "I ran 3:54 at the Penn Relays. I have had the faster training times with my coach, so that time was not surprising." His body? "I am feeling so strong. No injuries. I am feeling strong because I have had good, good training in altitude in Tucson. I came here prepared. I didn't know it, but I was really ready for this race today." His future plans? "I want to work on my speed so I am going to run the 1500 in Paris and then I want to crack another PB in the 5000 meters in Monaco." His sustained finishing speed: "It is still there. It is not going anywhere. That actually in itself is a confidence booster. Last year I was having problems with my hip. And that is all clear. I have no problems. So that is why I am able to use both legs really strong. Last year, I was basically favoring my right hip because that's where the trouble was. And so I didn't quite have that turnover. So it is a confidence booster to know I can kick in 26 or even 51 if we have to. No problem." Today's race? "You never really feel like you have it until you just give one more gear. At 80 to go, I just realized: OK, I can go. And nothing stopped me from there. My coach told me 'you always make a mistake of going at 200.' I was feeling comfortable and was almost tempted to go at 200 and I thought, 'What did he tell me today? Just chill. 80 meters to go; then you go.' Because I always mess up by going to early." His motivation? "The love of the sport. I really love my sport. It is a family sport. It is the sport that everyone enjoys. There is nothing else I look forward to more. Having my kids going everywhere with me and cheering me is another motivation."
Kate Grace - Ivy League upstart and 4th place finisher in the 800: "I planned to get out like Brenda since we have similar running styles. I got a little bit jumbled mentally for a lap when she came around me and the gap widened too much. I plan to be back here next year and go for it." The last 150 - "I was struggling on the curve, trying to go to another gear. Maybe they were going to another gear or I didn't have it, I don't know. It's going to be a lot of fun working on it for the next time. At that point, I don't know what was going through my mind. I have to be happy for this year versus last year. But I wanted more. I had my whole fan club out there and I was dreaming of being able to run to them victorious. We still have more years ahead of us."
Jesse Williams - defending WC HJ champion and WC wild card entrant, reflecting on his 9th place finish ""I am just taking it really slow right now, trying to get healthy. And as soon as I get healthy, I'll start jumping high again. It's my jumping foot. Right now I'm not really further injuring it. I am just kind of getting used to jumping again. I was jumping at 2.25m - a 7'4 1/2" - I am just experiencing getting jumps at that height. I should be able to just go on up the ladder." On the wild card. "There is no pressure on me. It is a really good feeling knowing that if I can get through it - as long as I can stay healthy - then I'm making progress. I know that the mark that is next to my name is not the typical Jesse Williams type of mark, but I'll get there. I'm not worried about anything right now."
Laura Roesler - 5th place finisher in the 800: "I was just trying to run off instincts, feel it out. I was on the inside, running easy - I just couldn't get out of that box to give myself a chance. That was my fault, running a little scared. If I would have run around, I would have had a chance. But another PR, a berth in the US final - I can't complain. I gave up a little bit, but at least I gave myself a chance. I just didn't have it. This is where I wanted to end up at the end of my season - but not 5th place. I can only go up from here. It will keep me hungry. And I getting closer to 2:00. So not a half bad day. I think I have it in me this season. I just have to race a couple more times to dip under [2:00]. And that would be a good end to the season.
Jenn Suhr - anticipating the upcoming world championships: "She [Isinbayeva] is coming to jump. A German is coming to jump. A Cuban is coming to jump. Everyone is coming out to jump. So there is a whole field of girls who are good. First up is the qualifying round - always. I am looking forward to going to Moscow - I've never been there before. I am healthy. I am going to Birmingham and then I'll probably do another tune-up meet somewhere. I've already jumped 4.91m this year. So I'm definitely healthy. I want to take a shot at the world record. I was hoping possibly here, but it was really to qualify here."
Brenda Martinez - 800 runner-up on how her race unfolded: " I tried to gauge how far Alysia would get out. And I gauged it pretty well, so I am happy with that. I didn't want to get out too hard. I wanted to get out comfortably. With 300 to go, I wanted to start gradually accelerating." Did you think you would catch Montano? "It was a possibility. She is very tough. So I am glad she didn't make it easy on me." Future racing: "I am going to build up for about three weeks and then head over to Europe. I am going to try to get a 1500 and an 800 in before Moscow."
Ajee Wilson: 3rd place finisher on the w800 final: "Coming into the final lap I was maybe 4th or 5th. With 300 to go, I just tried to get into good position. I just felt good so I just tucked in." Coming up the last straight with Kate Grace charging; did you feel it? "I didn't. But I heard the crowd going crazy and I thought, 'I hope that's not for me!'"
Alysia Montano - beflowered 800 winner: "That [taking it out hard] was definitely the plan. I didn't want to be here at national championships peaking. I wanted to use it as practice. Where I want to peak is at the world championships. I am looking to be on the podium. I am going to race a little bit overseas. I think I am going to Paris and run a couple of 400's. This is my 6th year as a professional. Sometimes it gets lonelier and lonelier as it moves on. And when you get to the point like this - when you win a championship - it makes it all worth it. And you recognize all the people that have been with you along the way - even though sometimes it feels like you're by yourself." Will you stay with your front-running tactic as the competition becomes more keen: "I am going to be the hippie that I am and I'm just going to feel it out with my body. I don't care what everybody else is doing. The only person I can worry about is myself. "
Erik Kynard - happy for the win, but not satisfied with his clearance: "I am looking to keep working hard and keep jumping well. Today I was just a little close. 2.31m is a bar that I make all the time so I was a little disappointed. But a win is a win. I'm just looking to keep training well, stay healthy, and going to Moscow. I am not a guy who gets hurt. I always stay healthy. I've been doing a lot of things right." On his new status as a Nike athlete and the absence of his customary flashy competition attire: "Hey, I'm a company man now, so I can't do what I want anymore. I got follow all of the rules, you know?"
Beth Alford-Sullivan - U.S. women's head coach comparing the WC women's team to last year's Olympic squad: "I think it is going to be a really motivated team. I think it is a good combination of young and old. But they're very motivated. Everybody who has come through processing has been really excited to get over to Europe and really make a stance for the US again. And I think there is a lot of momentum coming off of London and they want to back it up."
Mike Holloway - U.S. men's head coach evaluating the WC men's team with last year's Olympic squad: "For me, I think we are stronger in some areas because we are very healthy this year. I think we have some big, young kids that really stepped up to the plate. I think we are going to be fine."