The Olympic Trials is one of my favorite events every four years. I hold it in the same esteem that I have for the major champs, from Worlds, to Commonwealth Games, to European Games, and yes, of course, the Olympics. The battles, the shear focus, the years of hard work to get there put the best athletes on the line, and then, the teams are decided, mostly, by the first three finishers.
It is also an adult summer camp. From my friends in the Oregon dorms, and the chatting at the Wild Duck Cafe each day, to the time spent with Aggies at the stands near the 1,500m starting line, to the media seating under the tent, the Trials are full of memories.
I spent most of the Trials posting pieces and editing pieces for our team of writers. This is my time to catch up on observations I made on the Trials. Here are my first five lessons from the Olympic Trials.
June 30: (Honorable Mention): Bravo to Tracy Sundlun on the 20k Trials. We did five stories on the 20 kilometer walks and they were well read. As Canada has shown, if one focuses on the race walks, two of the most iconic of the Olympic events, they can develop athletes who can compete in this event. In the U.S., we obviously have the athletes who could compete well here, it is about keeping them motivated, supported and motivated.
July 1: Lesson 1: Galen Rupp has a decision to make, the 10,000 meters, the marathon or a double? Nothing new here. The 10,000 meters in Rio will be hot, muggy and tactical, the kind of race that Galen Rupp has done well at in the past. I see Galen as having his best chance to medal in the marathon, again, a flat course, with humidity and heat. Which will Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar choose? It will be fascinating to watch, as Galen Rupp’s moment or moments may be just weeks away.
July 2: Lesson 2: Molly Huddle has nothing to prove. But, she thinks she does. The AR at 5,000 meters had her finest moment in the 10,000 meters, pulling away from the field and keeping her celebration until after the race. Will she be in the battle for a medal? I think so. Is she in the best shape of her life? I believe so. Has the hazing she took after Beijing hardened her? I believe so. Molly Huddle is a tough athlete with doe eyes, but do not let that concern you. Huddle will be battling three Kenyan and three Ethiopian athletes, and of course, a surprise or two. The U.S. Women’s team, with Molly Huddle, Emily Infeld and Murielle Hall will represent us well in Rio.
July 3: Lesson 3: Ashton Eaton is at about sixty percent of his full fitness and he scored 8750. He will, more than likely, be able to win in Rio with such a score. That should begin to let you understand just how great and unique of an athlete we have in Ashton Eaton. His pole vault was quite impressive. One other note, very good shot to see a second medal in the decathlon from Rio. Jeremy Taiwo is my bet.
July 4: Lesson 4: The men’s pole vault, the men’s 800 meters, and women’s 800 meters were the finals on this day. I am always impressed by Sam Kendricks, who possesses mental toughness and a refreshingly straight and honest demeanor in his speaking, as well as his pole vaulting skills. In a conversation with the media, Sam Kendricks noted that when he spoke to his friend, World Champ Shawn Barber, about clearing six meters, Shawn said, “there is nothing I could tell you about clearing six meters that would help you. You vault so much differently than me.” Sam Kendricks is destined for greatness, watch him, and be happy that he is representing our country.
July 4, Honorable Mention: The women’s 800 meter was, to use the vernacular, “a shit show”. I am happy for the athletes who made the team, but saddened for what could have been. Molly Beckwith Ludlow is my second honorable mention. Molly Ludlow has finished fourth in two consecutive Olympic Trial 800 meters. She gave it her all. And I was saddened. I had spoken to her two weeks before in Boston when she ran sub two minutes to finish second to Ajee’ Wilson. On July 15, 2016, in Monaco, one night after a senseless night of terrorism in Nice, France, a half hour away, Molly Beckwith Ludlow ran 1:57.68, finishing fourth, her personal best. That was her moment of Molly, something well deserved, and a moment she will cherish whether she races for another ten years or never again.
July 4, Lesson Five: Being an Olympian is more than finishing in the top three. The ideal that Baron Pierre de Coubertin had when he ressurected the modern Olympics, was that Olympians had a higher standard and ideal that normal athletes. Bringing back the Olympics after a fifteen hundred year break was no mean feat, and the good Baron was, well, obsessed, in a good way. The ancient Olympics had been cancelled, because, shock of shocks, around 393 A.D., due to human frailty (cheating)-quel surprise-and that Emperor Theodosius wanted to whip a little new religion, Christianity, on the Romans.
In the women’s 800 meters, Brenda Martinez was knocked down, and while she tried valiantly, she did not make the team over 800 meters. But, what made her so amazing, was her composed comments after the race. Later, when I saw it, I had to turn my head, as my eyes were filling up with tears. How does one justify the 12-15 years of one’s life dedicated to one goal? How does one deal with the dream coming crashing down, as one hits the track? It was very hard for me to understand how someone could be so composed after having been totally screwed out of an Olympic team position. But, as I thought about it, Brenda Martinez actually lives that Olympic ideal, and another moment would present itself.