This is columnist David Hunter’s first column on the 2012 US Olympic Trials. He traveled to the Nike campus to join the festivities over Hammer Time, the actual Hammer Throw Olympic Trials event, so wonderfully sponsored by Nike.
Here is David’s Column:
by Dave Hunter
June 21, 2012
is difficult to imagine a better beginning. Yesterday afternoon, under
sun-drenched skies, the highly-anticipated 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials
for Track & Field began on a regal and enthusiastic note. An
over-capacity crowd of joyful track and field fans gathered on Ronaldo
Field, adjacent to the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike world campus, to
revel in “Hammer Time” – the Olympic Trials for the Men’s and Women’s
Hammer Throw. The throng – which by some estimates numbered over 2500 –
filled the bleachers and ringed the sector to exhort on the hammer
warriors as they battled for the Olympic berths.
The competition kicked off with the women’s event. After two qualifying flights, Amanda Bingson [71.22 meters], newly-minted American record-holder Jessica Cosby [70.77m], and wily veteran Amber Campbell [69.48m] led a field of 9 athletes into final round. With the knowledgeable fans aware that leader Bingson lacked the Olympic “A” standard, speculation as to how the last three rounds might impact the final order of finish and the awarded London berths dominated the conversation.
The final produced the type of athletic battle that befitted this inaugural stand-alone event. Soon after the start of the fourth round, Keelin Godsey jumped from 7th to 3rd with a throw of 70.48m. Later in the round, Bingson continued her steady round-by-round improvement with a PR throw of 71.78m – strengthening her hold on first place, but, more importantly, giving her a performance that exceeded the Olympic ‘A” standard of 71.50m.
As the fifth round got underway, Amy Haapanen knocked Godsey from the final podium position as she dropped a 70.63m bomb – a 10 foot improvement over her qualifying round best and a throw that vaulted her from 9th to 3rd and relegated Campbell to fourth position. Not to be denied, Campbell responded immediately with some fireworks of her own as she uncorked a fifth round heave of 71.80m which jumped her into the lead and ultimately sealed her victory.
The lead changes in the final round did more than provide drama; they ultimately provided clarity on who had captured the Olympic spots. By the end of the final round, each of the top three competitors – Campbell, Bingson, and Cosby – had smashed Cosby’s 2008 OT record of 70.72, had secured the coveted “A” standard, and had punched their respective tickets to London.
After a brief intermission – during which the spectators were treated to a complimentary buffet lunch on the veranda – the attention turned to the men’s competition. Conor McCullough, the collegian from Princeton, grabbed a short-lived lead with an opening round, three-spin throw of 73.55m. McCullough, a gangly and relatively young performer in an event that is customarily dominated by more seasoned athletes, could not improve on his opening mark and did not make the U.S. Olympic squad. Those who have been aware of his dual citizenship with Ireland speculated as to whether or not this young and promising athlete might now pursue an Irish route to the Games.
Reigning national champion Kibwe Johnson soon bested McCullough’s opening mark with a throw of 74.40m and the real battle was on. Two-time Olympian A.G. Kruger and surprising dark horse Chris Cralle would give chase, but neither was quite able to unseat Johnson, whose fifth round effort of 74.97 proved to be the best mark of the day. Cralle would put together a very impressive series and his fifth round toss of 74.36 would capture the runner-up position. But, more than the competition he faced on Thursday, Cralle’s lack of an Olympic “A” standard mark [78.00m] would seal his fate. Johnson and Kruger – who finished third with a best throw of 73.93m – have both surpassed the Games’ top qualifying standard and will represent the U.S. in London. Cralle, the second best American performer this day, will not.
Hammer god Jud Logan had to be delighted with the day’s outcome. The two American men who will be throwing in London – Johnson and Kruger – have honed their hammer skills under Logan’s watchful eye. And while the duo threw well today, they were also respectful enough not to disturb their mentor’s 1992 Olympic Trials mark – a prodigious heave of 80.12m.
It was apparent that Vin Lananna, overlord of these Trials, was pleased with the instant success of this unique, one-off field event staging. His smile grew wider as the afternoon progressed. In explaining the sequence of events that led to this unique prelude to the upcoming battles in Eugene, Lananna noted, “We realized that at Hayward Field we had two choices: we could do it behind the bleachers or we could do it on the field. But then we thought, ‘what about a stand alone?’ I went to USA Track and Field and then to the USOC and attracted their support.” Lananna was quick to acknowledge the importance of Nike’s role in turning this special vision into a reality. “Nike was fantastic in putting this together for us. This [the on-site hammer competition] is Nike’s gift to the sport of track and field.”
There have been a few skeptical whispers in some quarters that this type of stand-alone event on the campus of a monolithic sports conglomerate might be evidence of an unhealthy coziness between a selected corporate giant and the sport we love. Don’t over-think it. By virtually any measure, Thursday’s spirited competition in a pristine and well appointed setting, under perfect weather conditions, in front of several thousand passionate track and field fans proved to be the perfect overture for the ten days of outstanding track and field that will now unfold at Hayward Field.