Morgan Uceny had a terrible night last night. Here is how Jon Gugala puts it into perspective…
An Open Letter to Morgan Uceny
LONDON – Dear Morgan Uceny,
This has to be a strange, cruel morning for you, waking up and realizing that the women’s 1500-meter Olympic final is over and that somehow, incredibly, you fell. Again. When Zeus throws lighting bolts, he does not miss, either time.
Because who could have predicted it? You were the form woman in the world last year in the 1500m, but that herculean achievement seemed a game show parting gift after you went down in the world champs 1500m final. (It didn’t matter that American Jenny Simpson won world champs gold; that an American other than you took that honor couldn’t have softened the blow.) But at least it was just the world champs; the real prize was the Olympic title and 2012 gold. And what were the odds of you going down again? Can such absolute misfortune curse the same individual twice?
(To be struck by lightning is a one-in-600,000 chance. Twice? One-in-360 trillion–provided you survived the first bolt.)
You impressed the hell out of us at the 2012 Olympic team trials final. Kicking from the front with 400 meters to go and still winning? Who does that? Who is of the Mount Olympus of milers to throw the gauntlet down at the bell and say, “I am so much better than all of you that when I make my move, none can respond”? Not even 2011 World Champs bronze medalist Matt Centrowitz, who tried that tact and was kicked down by little Leo Manzano, who whipped off the Bowerman curve and foreshadowed his Olympic silver.
Dammit, girl, if you didn’t use the exact same strategy in the trials and win. And though Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson in second and third smiled and spoke big (Rowbury: “I can’t think of a better U.S. women’s 1500-meter team to be sending. Watch out, world,” with that special brand of saccharine optimism she’s known for), we knew it was you on whom American medal chances were solely pinned. You alone from that team had shown that you were a world-beater in those deep Diamond League fields in 2011, and it was you who had posted a U.S.-leading 1500m time this year (4:01.59) by over three seconds.
But your trials performance, while demonstrative of your vast superiority to the other U.S. women, was still worrisome. In the prelims it was poor, cherubic-faced Katie Flood of the University of Washington that clipped your heal, and you snarled back so viciously before going on to win your heat that it betrayed the cutesy charm necklace that has become your trademark.
“Given my history, it just makes me uncomfortable,” you said after the race. And you laughed. Ha ha ha. But it was one of those exterior laughs that politicians use to fool the saps. Did going down in the world champs make you somehow better? “Um, sure,” but then you added, “I don’t think it changed me one way or another.”
Lies! The truth is, you evidenced a psychological scaring from the world champs track, and it was reflected in your racing tactics. You led from the front always, which made me worried as hell for you in an Olympic final (to adapt that popular Lord of the Rings meme, one does not just ‘run away’ from a world-class field).
Last night, in a final that had gone out in such a pedestrian pace (a 75 second opening lap? What is this, a California high school dual meet?), who would have predicted you going down? Sitting on the outside of the pack inside lane two and far from the rail, you were seemingly in the safe. But it did not matter: your knee was clipped by the back kick of a Russian and down you went, 15 meters past the finish line going into the bell lap.
photo by PhotoRun.net
You would cry and pound the track and stay there long after the race was over. It’s unlikely that you knew that Asli Cakir of Turkey took the gold in 4:10.23, that compatriot Gamze Bulut claimed the silver, that Maryan Jamal slipped into the bronze, or that Rowbury would finish sixth, the highest placing ever for an American in an Olympic final. No, your thoughts were inward and on the phantom medal that you had not won. You left the track and did not talk to a media that would ask if you were incredulous of what had just happened and What’s Going Through Your Head Right Now.
Later on your Facebook page you’d post that you’d never expected such a heart-breaking moment, that you thought you were in the perfect position, and that you even caught yourself thinking “‘I AM getting a medal'” just before you went down. “I feel like I’m in a dream, and that I will wake up tomorrow to August 10th to race the 1500m final over . . . but no,” you said.
Jeez, Uceny, there’s nothing to say. Can one person be cursed by the gods so much? Whom did you anger? Was it that vindictive bitch Hera? And can she be appeased?
After last year’s world champs, you were changed, but there was hope that with the fulfillment of expectation at the Olympics, you could heal. Now, can you? Can one person survive not just the first bolt of lightning, but the second?
Uceny, I’ll leave you with your deep wounds and own words from the trials, whether you believe them or not: “You can’t think about it too much,” you said. “There’s still a race going on.”
Heal up, girl. There’s a country waiting for your return to the top.