The 800 meters was a hard race for Brenda Martinez, and not of her own making. She is, as Lindsay Rossmiller tells us here, on the cusp of another final, the 1,500 meters, and how will she fare? Well all hope, as track fans, very well, and the ghost of adversity ignores her.
By: Lindsay Rossmiller
EUGENE, Ore. – For the second time in less than a week, Brenda Martinez found herself on the cusp of a final at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
In the second heat of the women’s 1500 meter semifinal, Martinez closed the last lap in 62.05 seconds to jump from sixth to first and give her one more shot at making the U.S. Olympic Team. Martinez finished in 4 minutes, 11.05 seconds.
Martinez moved decisively as she made her move, powering past other runners with a look of determination on her face, long black ponytail streaming behind her. The rain-soaked crowd at Hayward Field roared their approval.
“It just makes me appreciate the people that support me and they’re in my corner,” said Martinez. “So if they can relate to what happened to me and they can move forward with whatever is going on in their life, then I feel like I can kind of lead the way for them.”
Just four days before, Martinez was in the women’s 800 meter final as one of the pre-race favorites who had managed to make it through the tough two prior rounds. In one of the more memorable moments of the 2016 Trials, she was in position coming off the final curve when some kind of contact occurred. Alysia Montano was knocked off balance and fell to the track while Martinez managed to stay on her feet, but was knocked out of rhythm to finish seventh in 2:06.63, nearly four seconds behind sixth place. Kate Grace managed to avoid the chaos and slip through on the inside to take the win in 1:59.10, leaving Martinez (the 2013 World Championship 800 bronze medalist) off the team.
“Honestly, I was trying not to let it phase me and again, it happened,” said Martinez Friday. “There’s nothing I can do. That team is already set and I have to be happy for those girls and I had to move forward.”
Fortunately, Martinez also was registered in the women’s 1500 meters that began when competition resumed on Thursday.
She won her first round 1500 heat Thursday in 4:23.38 and followed it up in Friday’s semifinal to advance to the Sunday final.
Martinez has gotten this far in her career largely by her determination. She was an NCAA runner-up in the 1500 and three-time All-American, but was unsigned out of college. Eventually, Joe Vigil agreed to coach her from afar while her husband, Carlos Handler, handles her daily workouts.
“I have one of the best coaches in the world Joe Vigil and he has a medal in the 800 and the marathon so I know he knows his stuff so that gives me a lot of confidence as well,” said Martinez.
In 2014, Martinez and Handler moved to Big Bear Lake, Calif. where they began the Big Bear Track Club. They’ve brought in other runners, like Boris Berian, and given them a chance other groups weren’t interested in. Berian is well-known for having been working at a McDonald’s before getting the chance to come train with them and subsequently having a breakout year. They all live in Big Bear Lake at an altitude of over 6,000 feet, but work out at sea level a few times a week.
It’s because of this strength and determination that Martinez feels prepared to take on yet another final and whatever may come on Sunday.
“Honestly, I’m ready for anything. If it’s going to be fast, I’m going to prepare myself mentally,” said Martinez. “I mean it’s hard, but I know I’m fit.”
And as Martinez told Lewis Johnson on the field after the semifinal, “Honestly, I think it’s a blessing in disguise. What are you going to do when adversity hits you? Are you going to feel sorry for yourself or move forward? Track doesn’t care about your feelings so you’ve got to just move forward. I had to learn to deal with that.”