California's Whitney Ashley Wins Women's Discus Throw On Day 2 of U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials

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Ashley_WhitneyFE1c-OlyTr16.JPGWhitlye Ashley, discus winner, photo by PhotoRun.net

Here is Mark Winitz's day two column on the performances of the athletes from the Golden State, California!

California's Whitney Ashley Wins Women's Discus Throw
On Day 2 of U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials


In 2012, Whitney Ashley was ready to hang up her competition shoes in the sport of track and field and move on to pursue a Masters degree in Sports Administration. Now, four years later, aided by fortuitous events and hard work, Ashley is a U.S. national champion in the women's discus throw headed to Rio as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team.

"This is exciting and overwhelming and I'm kind of speechless at the same time. It's all come together four years later for me and it's really exciting," Ashley said after topping a field of 12 women on Day 2 of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials before 21, 866 onlookers at historic Hayward Field on a warm day in Eugene, Ore.

Ashley (Moreno Valley, Calif./Nike) secured her victory by recording a best throw of 204 feet, 3 inches (62.25 meters) in the women's discus throw final, over 6 feet longer than runner-up Shelbi Vaughan's (College Station, Tex./Texas A&M) 197-9/60.28m.

Ashley graduated from San Diego State University in 2012 owning school records in the discus, hammer and indoor shot. She won the 2012 NCAA discus title. Despite her successes, Ashley left college but soon abandoned aspirations of pursuing a post-collegiate athletics career. That same summer, she competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials, and finished a disappointing 22nd in qualifying. She thought she was done as an athlete.

Her plans changed after meeting Coach Art Vanegas that same year--one of the world's finest throws coaches. Vanegas saw Ashley's untapped potential and offered to coach her at the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Ashley went home and thought about it for several months before accepting Vanegas' proposal.

Now, Ashley takes pride in the fact that she has made every U.S. national team that she's set her eyes on. In 2013, she made the squad for the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Moscow but didn't progress beyond the qualifying rounds. In 2015, competing at World Outdoors in Beijing, she placed 9th in the final. Last year she also set her personal best in the discus, a 212-7/64.80m toss in Claremont, Calif., the 9th longest throw in the world in 2015.

"I never thought I could be Olympic Trials champion some day," Ashley admitted about her Olympic Trials win. "But last year was the first year that I thought I was capable of getting it, and then I got passed in the sixth round (at the 2015 U.S. Championships) and I thought you know, it's just not meant for me. But it's okay. I'll just continue to have goals and be in the top three. And, that was my goal today--not to think about winning. Just to make this team."

She continued: "I haven't been beat by an American this year, and I loved coming into this meet with that knowledge and that confidence that I can continue to beat top Americans. I think today is definitely a turning point. I just need to keep training and keep getting better so I can make a name for myself and be dominant in this event."

What has Ashley experienced over the past year that has turned her into an Olympic Trials champion? She attributes it to gaining confidence in Coach Vanegas' training system and the U.S. system for helping develop athletes and selecting them for international teams. Plus, more time in the weight room has given her an added boost.

"I'm really one of the weakest athletes in my training group (at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista) and I really had to take hold of a weight lifting program because weights are a real contributing factor to throwing the discus really far," Ashley said. "So, getting stronger, continuing to build my confidence, and training at a high, intense level has definitely helped. I'm usually a person who likes to practice and sort of feel things out. But I've had to learn how to compete in practice so when I get to meets it feels the same."

And, what are Ashley's expectations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio?

"To make the final. I think that's very realistic for me," she said. "Potentially to get top five. I think a medal would have to be a huge PR for me. The Europeans are very dominant in this event. But everyone can have a bad day. And, as long as I keep building I can surprise people."

Additional Highlights Among Californians on Day 2 of the Trials:

• In the women's long jump final, Brittney Reese (Chula Vista, Calif./Nike) produced the longest leap in the world since 2004 with a stunning 7.31m/23-11.75 in the fourth round. Reese, the 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist, also broke the Olympic Trials meet record. The previous meet record of 7.22m/23-8-0.25 was set by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988.

• In the women's 10,000m final, 2012 Olympian Kim Conley (West Sacramento, Calif./New Balance) was an unfortunate DNF. Native Californian Jordan Hasay, now living in Oregon and competing for the Nike Oregon Project under coach Alberto Salazar, finished 9th in 32:43.

Conley was stepped on from behind midway through the race after running among the leaders early, and her shoe came partially off.

"I had no choice but to to stop and put it back on before trying to make a controlled push back to the lead pack," Conley said. "Around the 5-mile point I realized the gap was too far too close and decided the best course of action was to stop racing and save myself for the 5,000m. My body feels fine and I'm looking ahead to it."

Conley will compete in the women's 5,000m preliminary at the Trials on Friday, July 7.

• 2012 Olympic 200m gold medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles/Nike) advanced to the finals of the women's 400m with a 50.31 effort in the semis, the third fastest qualifier. (Yes, she's also entered in the 200m where the first round begins on Friday, July 8.)

• 800m standouts Boris Berian and Brenda Martinez of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. both advanced from the semis to their respective men's and women's 800 finals. Martinez placed first in her semi in 1:59.64 while Berian did the same in his with a 1:45.72 effort.

• In the preliminary rounds of the women's 100m, 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Champion Jenna Prandini (Clovis, Calif./Puma) had the fastest qualifying time going into the July 3 semifinals, turning in a 10.81. And, in the preliminary rounds of the men's long jump, Jeffrey Henderson (Chula Vista, Calif./Adidas) notched the longest jump with a 8.22m/26-11.75.

Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.

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