The 10,000 meter races last night drew the fan into the events. Great stories, great challenges. Jon Gugula, who loves distance running and track and field, told me last night that he was drawn to the redemptive stories of Dathan Ritzenhein and Amy Hastings.
For both Ritz and Amy, their races had redemptive powers, not only for themselves, but for the fans who watched, and also for our writer, Mr. Gugula. Here is how he viewed the theme:
by Jon Gugala
June 23, 2012
“It’s been a tough road,” Dathan Ritzenhein said in the press conference on Friday evening.
Ritz had just come from his glory lap on the track at Hayward Field after earning his third consecutive Olympic spot, this time in the 10,000-meters after a third-place finish in 27 minutes, 36.09 seconds.
With his time, Ritz was also under the Olympic “A” standard of 27:45.00, which was one of the big question marks for him before the race. Without it, he would be watching the 2012 Olympics in London from his couch in Portland, regardless of trials placing.
But for Ritz, it was the road to this dual achievement that made him say of his latest Olympic berth, “This is the best one.”
So were the stories of a small corps of Olympians minted on June 22, the first official day of the 2012 Olympic team trials: athlete overcoming adversity, achieving.
For Ritz, his road to the 2012 Olympics has been long and winding. An injury and subsequent surgery sidelined him for much of 2011, and as the runner-up in the 2008 Olympic team trials marathon, he began his 2012 trials marathon build-up with an open wound still on his foot (coach Alberto Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project actually jerry-rigged medical apparatus in ways never intended by the manufacturer to allow Ritz to train through as he healed).
Even with the odds stacked against him, Ritz still made it to the starting line in Houston, Tex., on January 14. He would come up eight seconds and one place short, finishing fourth.
It was a crushing result that would test the mettle of any athlete. Ritz had been focusing on the roads for almost two years; he would re-lace his spikes to become an Olympian.
Amy Hastings, the women’s 10,000-meter champion, had her own long road to her Olympic dream, as did men’s 10,000m runner-up Matt Tegenkamp of the Oregon Track Club Elite, who earned his second consecutive spot.
Like Ritz, Hastings also finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic team trials for the marathon. She crossed the finish line in tears, one minute, 11 seconds out of a podium spot in just her second marathon.
“It was just refocusing, basically,” Hastings said of her last few months since Houston. “It was trying not to dwell on the trials and just getting back into it. That was pretty much it: just refocusing and just trying to make the team.”
In the 10,000m, Hastings stayed out of trouble close to the front, finally out-foxing American record-holder Shalane Flanagan who found herself boxed in the last 100m as Hastings blew by for the win in 31:58.36.
Tegenkamp, a 2008 Olympian in the 5,000-meters (he would finish 15th in the final), was seemingly on top of the world in 2009 as he dipped below 13 minutes in the distance to set his PR of 12:58.56. But then injury after injury would keep him on ice for much of the last Olympic cycle. He watched as teammates set national records and joined world championships teams.
“You always just got to keep moving forward,” Tegenkamp said after his 27:33.94. “This sport, nobody is going to look back. Everybody is going to keep looking forward to the next big thing.
“You’ve got to keep that hunger.”
Galen Rupp won the men’s 10,000m race in 27:25.33. It was a dominant performance. But as the saying goes, you appreciate the good because of the bad. For Ritz, Hastings, and Tegenkamp, Friday’s results were all the sweeter because of the long road they traveled to get there. As Ritz said, “That fourth place finish [in the marathon] made this so much better.”