Tracktown, USA: Last night’s recap and 1500m Previews

 

by Chris McClung

Epic. That is the only way to describe last night in Tracktown. I am lucky enough to be in Eugene, OR now and was at the stadium last night to witness the events of the night including 5K finals. I have been to historic Hayward Field before but never during a track meet and definitely not during the Olympic Trials. Words cannot describe the mix of excitement, anxiety, passion, joy, suffering, and hope that fills that place, not just from last night but whispering from thousands of races past where hopes and dreams were made or dashed on the oval in the middle. If you haven’t watched a track meet at Hayward Field, it should be on your bucket list.

There were so many great moments last night that brought goosebumps to my skin, more so than any chill that came with the mid-50 temperatures and rain.

Some of the highlights:

The Men’s Discus:

I know nothing about the discus throw and can say that I have never paid attention to the sport. Last night, the final of the men’s discus was on the infield as other running events were taking place on the track. Often times, the field events go unnoticed, since everyone is paying attention to something else.

Last night was different. The crowd became aware that the man leading the discus still needed the A standard distance to make the team, otherwise the next 3 athletes on the list would go in his place even if he won the night. It was down to his final throw, and he needed to throw 2 more feet on his next one to make the team. 22,000 people started clapping in unison to show their support as he approached the throwing circle. We continued clapping as he began to feed off of the energy and encourage us to get louder. The next few moments seemed to last for minutes as he spun, threw, and unleashed a throw that was initially wobbling but then leveled to fly clean and true. It was the most beautiful, arching throw of the night. The crowd watched and then gasped as we knew that it was a good one but that it would be close. Silence replaced the clapping and cheers as we all waited on his distance to pop up on the scoreboard, knowing that he needed to clear 213 feet to make the team.

Then, 213’ 9” flashed and we erupted in cheers and a standing ovation as Lance Brooks celebrated wildly on the infield getting embraces from his closest competitors and new team members. He was an Olympian, and he made it when it counted most with all eyes on him and one final heave to go.

The Women’s 5K:

This one proved to be as dramatic as we thought it might be. The race for the final 3 spots came down to the final straightaway and ultimately the women’s 5K Olympic team was decided by lean and 4 one-hundredths of a second. Check out this picture of the finish for 3rd here: http://www.letsrun.com/2012/lucas-0629.php.

Kim Conley was the story of the race. With 200 meters to go, she was in 5th and 25 meters behind then 3rd place Julia Lucas. Lucas was slowing dramatically as she had pushed to the lead too early and then started to fade, but Conley still needed to pass 4th place and close the gap. Plus, she had to do it fast enough to achieve the A standard that she still needed. And, she did it. She closed the gap, nipped Lucas at the line, and finished .2 seconds below the A standard.

Her interview is definitely worth a watch: http://www.flotrack.org/coverage/248612-2012-US-Olympic-Team-Trials-Track-Field/video/645018-Kim-Conley-shocks-21000-at-Hayward-Field-with-5k-3rd-and-A-standard-at-2012-Olympic-Trials

In the opening to the interview, she talks about watching the Olympic Trials in 2008 from home. She was talking to her mom and saying that she could make it in 2012. Her mom agreed, but then she realized her mom was talking about making the Olympics, while she was just talking about just making it to the Trials. Now, she is an Olympian, and her mom was right!

The Men’s 5K:

The story of the men’s 5K came down to an epic battle for 1st place. Galen Rupp beat Bernard Lagat at his own game with a ridiculous 52 second final lap to nip him at the line, get his win against Lagat on this 13th try, and set the US Olympic Trials 5K record while doing it. The prior record holder from 30 years ago? The great Steve Prefontaine. Unreal.

Rupp proved that he is not just a legitimate medal threat in the 5K and 10K at London, but that he could go for the gold. If you aren’t watching those races during the Olympics then you will miss out!

On to the 1500m…

The 1500m Crapshoot

The Basics

If you like to gamble, then the 1500m is your race to watch. The very nature of the race, especially during a tactical, championship final, means that anyone can win. Add to that the fact that every single 1500m runner thinks they have the fastest closing kick, and you have a pair of races for both men and women that are set up to be high drama, likely not decided until the closing meters.

One logistical note, the 1500m is also unique in that it is contested over 3 rounds. Each round narrows the field until there are 12 athletes left on each side for the final. Last night was the qualifying round where the fields were reduced from 30 to 24. Today is the semi-final round where the fields will be reduced from 24 to 12 to make your final start list for Sunday.

I don’t have time for a full preview of both races, but they should be great ones.

On the men’s side, 7 men have the Olympic A standard and any of them could make the team with the right kick. Those 7 are: Russell Brown, Andrew Wheating, Leo Manzano, Jeff See, Robby Andrews, Matt Centrowitz, and David Torrence. You should watch and cheer for the local boy and UT grad, Leo Manzano. He is my pick to win because he always does it when it counts. Watch the tiny Leo close hard and get them at the line.

The women’s race will be equally exciting as 5 women have the A standard – Anna Pierce, Jenny Simpson, Morgan Uceny, Alice Schmidt, and Shannon Rowbury. Again, any of those 5 could make the team and watch out for darkhorse Brenda Martinez who could squeeze and get the A standard if the race goes the right way.

Morgan Uceny is in a class of her own and should get the win. Beyond that, it is anyone’s race. When the dice get rolled, we will see who shows up!

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