The Hardest Team to Make-the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, Considering our Selection process, by Larry Eder


On the seventh day of the Trials, I finally got a few words with Josh Rowe, Federation manager for Nike. Josh was the guy who figured out how hard it was to make the US Track team for the Olympic Games. It had always been my feeling that this was true, that a US distance runner had a better chance, to paraphrase, for playing base for Ted Nugent than making one of 26 positions in US Olympic distances!

This piece, or a variation will appear in some of the title published in the Running Nework and Shooting Star Media, Inc. I focused on highlights and am trying to put the ten days in Eugene into perspective. A wonderful time, now back to reality and washing by basement out this weekend, if the rain stops....

Eugene 2008: if you build it, they will come.......

The first track meet held on the University of Oregon campus was held in 1895 on a track built for $4,000. The coach for the Eugene team was Bill Hayward, the first of the three Bills on the Duck campus: Bill Hayward, Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger. In the renaissance of Duck Track & Field comes Vinn Lananna and Mike Reilly. Under the Eugene 2008 team, co-chaired by Greg Erwin and Vinn Lananna, nearly $6.5 million was spent rebuilding the track (Beynon), evening the field, adding runways, redoing the stands, and preparing thousands of constantly smiling volunteers...

From June 27, 2008 until July 6, 2008, the sport of track & field showed all that it could be: exciting, drama, moments of ecstasy and moments of agony. Consider the following for a moment: 900,000 participants in football each year, and about 1200 play professional football, 800,000 participants in basketball each year and there are nearly 1000 professional basketball players. 500,000 boys and 400,000 girls run track and field each year in high school, and 130 will make the U.S. Olympic Track & Field team. If you want to get more severe, consider this: 350,000 boys and girls run cross country, and in the spring, half of the 900,000 preps in track run the 800 to the 3200. On the Olympic team this year, from 800 meters to the marathon, there are 36 possible positions.

Day One-the women's 10,000 meters

Each day brought moments of joy and moments of sorrow. On day one, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher had 20,000 fans enthralled as they fought over the last lap, foot by foot. But the real race was for third, as Amy Yoder Begley, pushed her body to run like she never had for the last eight laps, finishing with a 67.2 for the final 400 meters, making the Olympic A standard by 1.2 seconds! Yoder's last 5,000 meters, in 15:33, was eleven seconds faster than her best 5,000 meter race of the year! Kara Goucher said it best, " The story was not about Shalane or I tonight, the race was about Amy Yoder Begley."

Day two-Sweaty palms, nerves of steel in Men's Shot Put

On day two, Adam Nelson, Christian Cantwell, Reese Hoffa and Dan Taylor battled for the men's shot put team. Nelson, who has competed in the Trials since 1996, told us later, " I just did not throw well, I was as nervous as my first time." Nelson took third. Reese Hoffa, on his last throw took first, with a heave of 72 feet, six inches, pushing Christian Cantwell into second. Cantwell, all six foot 8, 330 pounds of him, was elated-he had missed the team in 2004 by scant inches. This time around, Dan Taylor missed the Olympic berth by less than two inches! Day two was the Women's 100 meter final, as Lauryn Williams, Helsinki gold medalist and Osaka silver medalist duked it out with Muna Lee and Torri Edwards. In the end, Muna Lee, healthy and back with her college coach, took the win, with Lauryn Williams in second and Torri Edwards in third. Marshevet Hooker, the women who blasted a wind aided 10.72, in the heats, took fourth. Also on this day, there was a near miss, as Tyson Gay misjudged the finish line and barely made the second round. In round two, Tyson Gay showed his business side, running a 9.77, breaking the American record, and he slowed down after seventy meters!

Day Three-Tyson Runs 9.68!

Day three gave us the men's 100 meter final, where Tyson Gay ran 9.68, wind aided, to win, the fastest time run under any conditions! Walter Dix and Darvis Patton, with Doc taking third in 9.85 with Dix second in 9.80, made the 100 meter team complete! Tiffany Ross Williams and LaShinda Demus, former world junior record holder and new mother of twins duked it out over the 400 meter hurdles. Ross Williams, all five feet five of her, charged the last three hurdles and took the win in 54.00, with Queen Harrison pushing into second and Shaunte Tosta took third from Demus by .02!

Day Four-Three Oregonians in Men's 800 meters! Most competitive race of the Trials!

In the men's 800 meters, the Oregon crowd got a treat, as the fourth 20,000 plus crowd in a row were treated to Nick Symmonds making a "hockey move" running from fourth lane to first lane over the last 200 meters, taking the race in 1:44.01. Running from eighth to second, Andrew Wheating, all six foot five of the Oregon sophomore rushed down the final stretch to the astounding applause of the Oregon faithful. And then, Christian Smith, did the Lazarus move-he came back from the dead-running on the inside, Smith leaped over the finish, leaving blood, some skin and to the delight of the crowd, making the third position on the 800 meter squad a reality.

Bryan Clay lead Trey Hardee and Tom Pappas on the decathlete team, with a personal best and the best US decathlon point total in sixteen years!

Chris Solinsky dropped half of the pack with his 58.8 second eleventh lap in the 5,000 meters. Solinsky dropped a 58 flat and it was down to Ian Dobson, Solinsky, Matt Tegankamp and Bernard Lagat. Lagat took off with 200 meters to go and that was it, Lagat took the 5,000 meters. Matt Tegankamp, the Osaka fourth placer, felt sick with two laps to go, but held on for second place. In the end, third place came down to a hard charging Ian Dobson, as Solinsky, tired after trying to break open the race, dropped to fifth place. Tegenkamp noted, " I was not feeling well in the race, I was just holding on." The champion, Bernard Lagat noted, " The 5,000 meters does not have tactics, it is about running fast when you have too, running slow when you have too. When I took off, I did not hear anything behind me, I was focused."

Later that night, at Villard Street Pub, Nick Symmonds told me, " I had one move and I made it work!" He was still pumped up hours later!

Day Five-Wariner vs Merritt, Down the Stretch.....Willard Astounds in Steeplechase!

Day five was a tough day for some. Jeremy Wariner and La Shawn Merritt staged one of the most impressive 400 meter duels on U.S. soil. Wariner, the two time World champion, and defending Olympic gold medalist, was even with the World Junior champ Merritt as they hit the 200 meter mark. As Wariner made his normal move, he hit the 300 mark and Merritt was still there. Wariner pushed, Merritt pushed. In the end Wariner faltered, with the win going to La Shawn Merritt, 44.00 to 44.20. David Neville took third in the 400 meters. Sanya Richards ran a superb race, overcoming her illness from last year to take the 400 meters. Mary Wineberg held on for second, after being sick all week, but just barely. Dee Dee Trotter, who had not broken 53 seconds all year, overcame a knee injury and blasted the straightaway, moving from eighth to third over the last fifty meters.

Day five ended with the second American record of the Trials. Anna Willard, running in second most of the steeplechase, behind Jennifer Barringer and Lindsay Anderson. Willard is the ultimate steepler: 2:04 half miler, 54 second quarter speed! Anna went by Barringer at the bell and that was that--she just cleared each barrier well and used her speed to run 9:27.59, a new American record! In second, Lindsay Anderson an 9:30.75 and in third was Jennifer Barringer, with a new personal best and a collegiate record to boot! Anna, with her red punked hair, had just become engaged to fellow steepler, Jonathan Price earlier in the week!

Day Six-High Jump, Great 5,000 meters, and Men's 10,000 meters!

Day six was all about the high jump, baby! Chaunte Howard started rough, taking two clearances for 1.84m, then five straight heights on her first attempt! Her 1.97 or 6-5.5, won the trials. Four time Olympian Amy Acuff cleared six heights on attempt one and missed once at 1.95m, and saved her last two attempts for 1.97m which she missed. Sharon Day had a superb Trials, with her second attempt at 1.91m getting her the bronze.

The men's hammer was my Zen moment, as Kevin McMahon, who was convinced to try the hammer throw by Terry Ward, Bellarmine High in San Jose, CA , made his third Olympic Trials team, but does not go to Beijing because he does not have the A standard. A high school teacher, Kevin exemplifies many of the athletes here who compete because they love it, and their compensation is the whir of the hammer in a lonely hammer cage, at the backlot of a school field. AJ Kruger won the hammer and will represent the US in Beijing.

The women's 5000 meters was a battle royale on day six. Ariana Lambie, nearly tripping Kara Goucher, took the lead and kept the pace at fifteen minute 5k pace, with Flanagan, Rhines, Goucher, Slattery and Fleshman in tow. Flanagan, Rhines and Goucher had dropped all by four kilometers when Shalane Flanagan, winner of the Trials 10k, American record holder at 5,000, 10,000 meters and 3,000 meter indoors, dropped a 71.2. Rhines and Goucher held on, as Lambie was off the back and Slattery and Fleshman fought for fourth. Shalane followed with a 67 lap and began the last lap, picking up the pace. Jenn Rhines looked great, she was not going to be dropped, as Kara Goucher whipped herself around the 200 meter mark and took the lead, putting daylight between her and Flanagan. Rhines then passed Flanagan on the turn and there was your team, all between 15:01 and 15:03!

After the women's 5,000 meters, the 20,000 plus crowd stayed to watch, of course, the men's 10,000 meters. Abdi Abdirahman ran his race. Taking the pack through 13:49 for 5,000 meters, he broke the field down to Jorge Torres, Galen Rupp and a chasing pack of Ed Moran, Josh Rohantinsky, James Carney and Adam Goucher.
Abdi ran an erratic pace, which kept the pack at three. " When we got down to three, I knew I was on the team, I would just have to use my kick, " noted Abdi.
Over the final three laps, Jorge Torres and Galen Rupp both tried to pass Abdi, but he was too strong. As Jorge Torres fell back on the final lap, Galen made one more
tough move, but the 61 second last lap of Abdi Abdirahman made the difference and the team was Abdi Abdirahman in first, Galen Rupp in second and Jorge Torres in third. Galen told us afterwards, " Before the race, Andrew Wheating told me if I did not make the team, I would have to find another roommate (laughing)."
At the finish line, Jorge Torres, waited for his brother, Eduardo, also in the race, who had finished eleventh. Eduardo had looked up from his race with 300 meters to go and smiled as Jorge crossed the finish line...

Day Seven-Tyson Cramps, Fam Commits!
Day Seven was a short session. In the men's 200 meter round two, Tyson Gay came out of the blocks, ran twelve steps and looked as if he were trying to clear a high jump bar, as a strain deep in the muscle stopped him from running. Taken off the field in a stretcher, Tyson was given an MRI and a twelve days of active rest were prescribed, changing the 200 meter team in Eugene and U.S. fortunes in Beijing at said distance.

But my moment on Saturday, July 5, was the men's steeplechase. Anthony Famiglietti, a sub four minute miler, a sub 8:20 steepler, a 13:17 5,000 meter runner and a 27:37 at the 10,000 m is the artist in residence in this event. With a his long black hair and beard, he bares a striking resemblance to an eccentric Belgian painter, James Ensor ( Jesus visits Rotterdam, 1936). Fam was on as he charged the laps building a lead that reach ninety meters. Brian Olinger followed him most of the way, but fell back to sixth. Over the last three laps, Bill Nelson and Josh McAdams moved through the crowd and nearly chased Fam down. But Fam looked back after the last barrier and sprinted home for the win. Bill Nelson, who had set a personal best in the rounds, set another one here, madly sprinting for the finish, with Josh McAdams taking third, all three hitting the Olympic A standard!
" I am excited to go to Beijing. I see this race as one of redemption, I want to redeem myself in the steeplechase, " noted a thoughtful Fam after his Olympic Trials win.

Day Eight-The day of a thousand surprises....Rowbury, Felix, Lagat, Stuczynski all Shine!

Sunday, Day eight of the trials lived up to all expectations. In the women's 200 meters, Allyson Felix and Muna Lee duked it out, down the stretch, with Allyson taking the win in 21.88, wind aided, with Muna Lee in second, Marshevet Hooker, who had placed fourth in the 100 meters, leaped at the finishline and that gave her third by .01 over Lauryn Williams. In the men's 200 meters, Shawn Crawford was watching Wallace Spearmon, who was out of the race until the last meters. On the left side of Crawford did not notice Wallace Dix, who had already taken second in the 100 meters, won the 200 meters as well!

The women's 1,500 meters was run in windy conditions. Treniere Clement took the early lead, with the find of the year, Shannon Rowbury, followed by Christin Wurth Thomas and Erin Donahue. The 800 meters was hit in 68.2 . Lindsay Gallo made a run for it from 700 meters on, hitting the 800 meter mark in 2:15, with Rowbury, Wurth Thomas and Donahue in tow. Shannon Rowbury took over at the 1,100 meters in 3:03. Rowbury was running free, no one to disturb her fine 61 second last lap! As Rowbury realized she had won the Olympic Trials, Erin Donahue was passing Christin Wurth Thomas for second. Morgan Uceny made a big run for the third position, finishing a fine fourth in.

Ian Waltz, on his fourth throw, hit 65.87m, or 216-01 to take the title. Ian had throws of 63.32m, 64.54m, a foul, 65.87m, 63.99m, and a final foul. This is his second trip to the Olympic Games. Michael Robertson was the example of somebody doing it on the right day. Robertson made the team on throw three, a 62.73m throw, or 209-01. That throw took second. Casey Malone hit his best on throw one, with a 62.67 m throw or 205-07 and repeated that distance in his fouth throw. His series was 62.67m, 57.73m, 61.07m, 62.67m, 60.83m, and 60.57m. Malone took third by one inch! John Godina, the best shot/discus thrower of his generation, mutiple World Champs and Olympic medals, threw 187-11 or 57.27m, and finished twelfth, in what will probably be his last Olympic Trials. A great guy, amazingly competitive athlete, John will be missed by his friends and foes.

LoLo Jones, hurdling her best ever, set a Hayward Field record, hurdling 12.45 to run the fastest in the world for 2008 and taking the second semi! Nichole Denby was second in 12.54, Candice Davis was third in 12.58 and Candice Davis was fourth in 12.76.

Shannon Rowbury, who has delighted fans this spring with her gutsy running, ran her race today. Treniere Clement, Amy Mortimer, Shannon Rowburty, Christin Wurth Thomas and Erin Donahue were the lead pack as the field trotted out a pedestrian 68.17. Lisa Gallo took over after the four hundred meters, hitting the 800 meters in 2:15.73, with the pack right there. On the backstrech, Shannon Rowbury began a long run home, heading by Gallo, with Wurth Thomas and Donahue in attendance. At the bell, hit in 3:04.4, Shannon Rowbury was on her own, running fast and looking efficient, with a fine 61 second last lap, taking the Olympic Trials final in 4:05.48. The native of the San Francisco Bay area, Shannon was a fine runner in high school, Sacred Heart, Shannon shows what hard work, a great coach ( John Cook) and a dream can do! The battle royale for second was between Christin Wurth and Erin Donahue. Erin made the move with less than 200 meters to go, and caught Christin, to take second. Erin Donahue finished second in 4:08.20 with Christin Wurth holding on for third in 4:08.48. Morgan Uceny made a game run over the last lap, in the 62 region, moving up from back in the pack to fourth place, in 4:10.85.

Aarik Wilson lets his hop, skip and jump do the talking, and on his last jump, blew out a twenty-two year old Hayward Field record, with his fine 17.43 meters or 57-02.25. Aarik called Hayward Field and the Trials, " A recipe for great performances." He also thanked God and his family. Kenta Bell finished second, on the strength of his first jump of 17.23m, or 56 -6.50. Rafeeq Curry took Walter Davis off the Olympic team with his last jump, hitting 17.21m or 56-5.75. Walter Davis, one of the top jumpers in US history, missed his third Olympic team by .25 of an inch!

Terrance Trammell, two time Olympic medalist, looked great, had a superb start was hurdling very clean! Along comes David Oliver, storming down the middle and he is like a freight train. Well Mr. Oliver, hurdling with passion only seen in an Olympic Trials final, pushes it all the PAST the finish line, insuring his win in 12.95! Wind aided sportsfan, but Oliver was still fast. Terrance Trammell held on for second in 13.00! David Payne, the last minute addition to Osaka, and the bronze medalist, kept it together here and ran a fine 13.25. Aries Merritt recovered from an abysmal start and fought all the way, finishing fourth in 13.27!

Lo Lo Jones, running a perfectly timed race, hurdled clean and leaned at the right time, running the fastest time ever by an American in any conditions, 12.29 (3.8 mps wind). Damu Cherry took second in 12.58 and Dawn Harper ran 12.62 for the coveted third position. Lo Lo adds this to her World Indoor title. Running composed races, hurdling clean and racing well when it counts, Lo Lo Jones is a world beater!

Running a pedestrian 61.8 for the first lap, Gabe Jennings took the lead, leading the pack through a two minute flat 800 meters. The race was part roller derby from the start, as Rob Myers was pushed at 200 meters, and it just got more physical as Manzano, Lagat, Lomong, Webb, Rankin, Lukesix and Sherer followed Gabe Jennings on his visionquest. Hitting the 1,100 meters in 2;45, Bernard Lagat stayed with Manzano, Lomong, Webb, Rankin, and Myers. Lagat made his move, comfortably, with 200 meters to go and ran to the finish, winning in 3:40.37, with a 54 last lap! Leonel Manzano, the NCAA champ, showed his stuff, running hard against Lagat, taking second in 3:40.90.

As the runners came down the stretch, third was in disupte. William Leer, who has this great seventies mustache and runs like a man possessed, moved from the back to fourth, fighting every inch and pushing Alan Webb back one position. Lopez Lomong had moved with 150 to go and took third and hit the finish line in 3:41.00, with Leer in 3:41.54 and Alan Webb in 3:41.62.

Gabe Jennings, his spirit broken, could not move and finished twelfth, in 3:47.92. Chris Lukesic, looking to move with 200 meters to go, fought from the second pack, was way too far back to make a move, taking tenth in 3:43.26. Rob Myers finished ninth in 3:42.62.

The final event of the trials, the women's pole vault, gave us all of the drama of the hardest team to make in one event! Jenn Stuczynski is the American record holder in the event and at the top of her game. The swirling winds, and the failures of some of America's best male vaulters did not deter her and her coach from coming in at 4.60 meters or 15 feet, one inch. By this time, there are only two vaulters left but Jenn and she misses her first attempt. Then, she misses her second attempt. A hush goes around the stadium as the announcer notes, " If Jenn does not clear this height, she will not be on the Olympic team." Talk about pressure.

Stuczynski puts her pole above her head, moves it to the right, then begins her run down the runway. I did not want to watch, but did, as she cleared 4.60 m to the delight of the crowd. Now, to get the win, she cleared 4.65 and 4.73m a new Olympic Trials record. The bar was moved to 4.92m, a new American record of 16 feet, 1.25 inches. Jenn cleared it on the second attempt as the crowd roared and the men's 1,500 neared its finish. Her coach, Rick Suhr noted afterwards, " She was not afraid, she is at the top of her game. She can go higher." From a volleyball player four years ago to the number two vaulter in the world!

Some thoughts....

Last spring, Vinn Lananna, the head coach at Oregon and the co chair of Eugene 2008 had told a select group of media that the Trials " would be like no other! We would make it fun, and festive!" Vinn and his operations manager, Mike Reilly, more than delivered on the promise, and the 171,000 fans who visited Eugene over the ten days of track worship were treated to incredible acts of courage and
athleticism. The investment Nike made into the facilities, we hope showed the powers that be that track & field. properly presented, is a potent sport in this modern age, and is still the core of the Olympic movement.

Really, really deep thoughts.....

In the 1890's, as Baron Pierre de Coubertin was trying to resurrect the Olympic movement after an absence of 2,700 years, he was inspired by the head master at Arcueil College in Paris, France. Father Henri Martin Dideon had used the Greek phrase, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" or swifter, higher, stronger, to describe the athletes at Arcueil College. De Coubertin was so impressed, he made it the Olympic motto.

Something old, something new. I was discussing Eugene 2008 with Ian Stewart, the runner who came sprinting by Prefontaine in the 1972, 5000 meters, and getting a bronze. Ian is now meet director in the Aviva series of meets in the UK. With his cohorts, Jon Ridgeon and Alan Pascoe, their agency, FastTrack revolutionized how marketing was done and events were done in the UK. British Athletics has a budget nearly eight times that of USA Track & Field. Stewart noted," They did a great job on Eugene 2008..they modeled some of it after European meetings, but the festival, music, food, is top notch. "

Eight great days of track & field, and everything from art shows, to Wine & Beer Festival, Coaches clinics, big screen TV for non ticket holders, and music at night! Eugene 2008 gave 171,000 fans something to think about.

Now, the big question is, how does the sport and USA Track & Field build on this
great trials and the upcoming Beijing success? That is the challenge.

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