Here is Mark Winitz Day Three feature on U.S. Olympic Trials and the fate of the athletes from the Golden State.
Day 3 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials:
Californians Felix, Henderson, and Roberts Secure Tickets for Rio
By Mark Winitz
Three Californians qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team on the third day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. before 22,424 fans, the third largest attendance in Hayward Field history. Emotions ran high on a warm, sunny, but sometimes windy day as event finals dominated the slate of the 10-day Trials.
For 3-time Olympian and 3-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles, Calif./Nike) the journey to Rio hasn’t been as smooth as she and her coach, Bobby Kersee, would like. Two months ago Felix injured her right ankle doing a medicine ball exercise in the gym and has been re-habbing it since then. Nevertheless, Felix came through with a strong kick coming off the last turn in the women’s 400-meter final, topping the strong women’s field in 49.68 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. Phyllis Francis (Queens, New York/Nike) placed second in 49.94 and Natasha Hastings (Brooklyn, New York/Under Armour/NYAC) was third in 50.17.
“Thankfully, (coach) Bobby Kersee stepped in with a game plan right after I was injured and I started working on it,” Felix said. “My family, Bobby, and Jackie (Joyner-Kersee) didn’t let me go home alone. They’ve had me icing every 20 minutes and they were constantly with me. Physical therapy once a day. It was just a team of people that didn’t let me go through this alone. And Bobby definitely just believed in me, more than I believed in myself.”
“It’s getting stronger right now but it’s really tender,” Felix commented about her injured ankle after the race. “This race was different because I came in not really feeling like myself. Lots of times I’ve come in and I’ve seen the preparation. I’ve had preparation this year but it’s been different with the injury. I definitely haven’t been 100 percent, but now I feel like I have more time, and can get healthier and put it together.”
Next Felix will compete in the 200m competition at the Trials, an event in which she is a 6-time U.S. outdoor champion. The first rounds of the women’s 200m begin on Friday, July 8 with the final on July 10.
“Now, I’m just going to get some rest, go at it again, and give it my all,” Felix said as she resets her focus on the 200m at the Trials. “My goal was just to make the team. It (the 400m) was definitely the most adversity, and what I’ve had to overcome the most. As far as the 200, I’m just going to go out there and try to get it done.”
In a windy men’s long jump final Jeffrey Henderson (Chula Vista, Calif./adidas) secured his ticket to Rio by topping a strong men’s field in one of the greatest long jump shows in track and field history. The event featured seven 27-foot or better efforts (although five were assisted by an illegal wind). Henderson claimed the victory with a windy 8.59m/28-2.25 on his third jump, a personal best. His previous best of 8.54m/28-0 was recorded at the 2015 Pan American Games where he was the gold medalist.
Henderson was an NCAA Division II long jump titlist at Stillman College in Alabama and moved to the San Diego area after graduation in 2013 where he resides and trains today at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista under coach Al Joyner.
“The wind was hectic. The competition was really good and I’m just glad that I came out on top,” Henderson said after the competition. “My expectations for Rio are to just keep doing what I’ve been doing. Easting and training right. Not stepping too late on the runway. Nothing really changes.”
Henderson dedicated his win to his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
“She’s had it since I got out of high school,” Henderson said. “I don’t know whether she’ll be aware of what I’ve done, but I’ll be glad to go home and let her know how much I love her.”
In the men’s 400m final, Gil Roberts (Los Angeles/Nike) made the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field squad by placing second to 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt (Portsmouth, Virginia). Roberts clocked a 44.73 behind Merritt’s world-leading 43.97 effort. Roberts was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the men’s 4Ã—400 meter relay at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships. Now, he is a soon-to-be Olympian.
“I’m ecstatic about making my first Olympic team,” Roberts said. “I put everything into this season and I’ve been healthy, I knew coming into this that I was going to be on the team. I went for it. I never run for second or for third. I always run to win so that’s what I did.”
Roberts said he’ll work on tweaking his form prior to the Games.
“I’ll fix some things when I get back to training and talk to my coach, John Smith, about the things I need to fix. And, hopefully, I’ll execute in Rio. I need to work on standing more upright, executing my arms a little better, and opening up my stride. John is a coach like no other. He has an adaptive system and he and I are understanding each other more and more so I’m buying in to everything he’s saying.”
Roberts attended Texas Tech University, and moved to LA in 2012 before embarking on his first post-collegiate season in 2013.
Two Californians emerged as winners in the special Masters 1,500m exhibition races: Neville Davey, age, 41, (Palo Alto, Calif./West Valley TC) topped the Masters men’s competition in 3:57.67 and Kris Paaso, 45, (Menlo Park, Calif./Strava TC) easily topped the women’s Masters in a wire-to-wire 4:36.34 victory.
“It was a windy day and a bad day to be tall,” a tall Paaso said. “I thought that if I wanted a decent time and a decent race I should go early and I’ve felt strong enough in my training to try it.”
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.