Welcome to our coverage of the 2012 US Olympic Trials! Here is Jon Gugala’s first column, on Vashti Thomas. Jon will be one of our five columnist, writing daily, on the Trials, which will also be part of the coverage supported by Runblogrun and , our RunningNetwork publications.
Jon has a great voice, and his admiration of the athlete comes through in this article. His understanding of the high standards at this, the nine greatest days of Track & Field in the US every four years also comes through. We hope that you enjoy!
written by Jon Gugala
Meet Vashti Thomas. I just did.
Thomas is a 22-year-old from San Jose, Calif. She’s a senior at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco (the only art school, it should be noted, that has an athletics program). She’s an illustration major.
We met waiting for a flight this morning, June 21, from SFO to Eugene. She was in warm-up gear with her school’s Urban Knights mascot on it, and she was wide-eyed and visibly excited, scribbling distractedly in a sketchpad. It was easy to ask her questions about her season.
In the second meet of her indoor campaign Thomas qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team trials in the long jump (6.31 meter best); toward the end of the outdoor season she earned a trials qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles (PR 13.03). She is the only athlete from her school with a trials qualifier, and therefore the only athlete from her school not on summer vacation.
“Honestly, I’m kind of nervous about it because I’ve grown really attached to having a team with me,” Thomas says. “It will be a growing-up experience.”
But while Thomas retains one year left of eligibility as a super-senior, the trials for her represents something more. Something greater:
Thomas has the audacity to believe that she can turn a love of track and field into a career. And the trials are the next step.
“[Thomas] definitely has the gifts to compete at the next level,” says Charles Ryan, head of AAU track and field. “This is the best experience you can get. This is the toughest competition you can get.”
But for Thomas, competing at the 2012 Olympic team trials is more than just an experience: it’s a choice.
“To me it’s important because it’s a career choice,” Thomas says. “It’s a step in the right direction with what I want to do with the ‘Plan A’ of my future.”
It takes one good performance at the trials, under the scrutiny of every shoe and apparel manufacturer in the U.S., to earn an endorsement contract, when that fantastical “Plan A” of being a professional track and field athlete becomes reality. An offer can happen literally between rounds.
We laud the trials–as we should–for the athletes that are on the top of the pantheon, those who have set their aspirations on not just national appearances, but on Olympic medals and podium positions.
But as these athletes earn wins in their respective events, tomorrow’s stories start today with individuals like Thomas. And with every Olympic dream that is fulfilled at the trials, legions more, like hers, become visible on the horizon of four more years.
Thomas and her coach aren’t delusional of her chances; Ryan openly admits that the women Thomas loses to are the potential Olympic medalists. “Just to be here is an honor,” he says.
But in four years, just as it was in 2008, a new generation will emerge from the low seeds, the just-barely-got-ins of 2012. And then all things become new.