Usatf SUNDAY 29 June 2014
Sacramento, June 29 -- Once every four years, when there are no national teams to be selected for the Olympic Games or World Championships, the USATF National Championships take on a special aspect. Many leading professional American track and field athletes don't bother to enter; they look at the coming summer as a chance to earn really big money on the European circuit, as opposed to the $4,000 first-place award here. Now, I'm nobody to sneer at four thousand bucks, but many of these top U.S. stars can get paid a lot more than that on the 'circuit' just for showing up; "appearance money" it's called.
Sometimes it's paid by the European meet's director, or its sponsor; sometimes it's paid by the athlete's sponsor, who wants to see its latest high-tech running shoe displayed by the star in such a spotlight. Nothing wrong with that; we know these athletes are professionals.
For example, a friend who knows a lot more about these things than I do explained to me that, after winning his 400-meter qualifying heat here, 2013 world 400m champion LaShawn Merritt withdrew from the meet and flew off "to honor a professional obligation to run in a meet in Lausanne this coming week."
I'm sure there are other like Merritt who have skipped the U.S. Nationals here However, when the stars don't run, this creates opportunities for young, up-and-coming athletes to become national champions. And we saw several of them today.
In the women's 400-meter hurdles, Stanford star Kori Carter outraced her former Pac12 rival from Arizona, Georgeanne Moline, in a classic one-on-one duel, 53.84 to 54 flat. Knowing how tough the 400 hurdles can be as a combination of speed, stamina, intelligence and sheer guts, I found in their side-by-side homestretch struggle the epitome of what I love about track and field. Wow!
More hurdles. Devon Allen is going to force Oregon sports fans to make a difficult choice. Allen, who came to Eugene on a football scholarship, scored a major upset a couple of weeks ago when he won the NCAA 110-meter hurdles championship. Here today, Allen did it again; he outleaned defending USATF champion Ryan Wilson to become our Number One high hurdler. Both were timed officially in a swift 13.16, but the Finish Lynx photofinish picture showed that Allen's 13.16 was 1/200th of second faster than Wilson's. So, is Allen a track star or a football star? You Duck fans will have to decide. Vote one "Quack" for "Tuack," two for football.
A lot happened in that race. Ex-Oklahoma star Ronny Ash, the fastest qualifier for the final (12.99), was leading by a couple of feet when he clipped a hurdle and went down in a heap. We saw him being driven away in an EMS vehicle a few hours later, and asked, "What happened, Ronny?" "I don't know," he answered with a big grin. "A lot of things. Sprained ankle, bruises all over and like that!"
That's a good reminder that one of the key aspects of high hurdling is...courage. Running as fast as you can while clearing a 3 ½-inch barrier every four steps takes guts.
Hurdlers never brag about their courage. But they have it; plenty of it.
I admire them for it.
---- James Dunaway, at the 2014 USATF National Track & Field Championships.