ASN-affiliated athletes played a part in some of the biggest stories of the U.S. Olympic Trials in track and field the past couple of weeks at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Perhaps none was bigger than Yale dark horse Kate Grace, winner of the 800-meter final where two favorites, Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez, got tangled in the race’s final 150 meters.
Martinez, the 2013 world bronze medalist, was knocked off stride and finished seventh. Montano, 30, wound up crashing to the track. She tried to get up but her legs wouldn’t hold her. She fell again, crushed and sobbing, her legs tucked under her as she sat on the track. A sympathetic crowd cheered her heartbreaking jog to the finish.
Grace and Ajee Wilson of Temple, another favorite to make the Olympic team in a stellar field, finished 1-2 with times of one minute, 59.10 seconds and 1:59.51, respectively, qualifying them for Rio. Wilson, who qualified for her first Olympics, stayed out of trouble by leading at the time of the mishap.
“I think everyone’s coach tells them to be in the front, third, fourth, outside or lane two, so we have everyone trying to get to that position,” Wilson said after the race. “So people are going to bump into each other. It sucks when it’s you, but at the end of the day it is part of the game.”
Grace hugged the inside of the track, usually a dangerous place. This time, it was the sweet spot.
“I have tried to visualize winning, and when I picture it in my mind I always start crying immediately, and I didn’t at all,” said Grace, who also made her first Olympics — and, she said, the first podium of her career. “The fact that this was actually real, I was in total shock.”
BIG 800-METER SURPRISE II
Murphy, the Akron junior who turned pro after winning two NCAA titles (800 indoors, 1,500 outdoors), won the 800-meter race at trials. He’ll be the first Akron track and field athlete to compete in the Olympics.
He finished in 1:44.76, nipping Boris Berian (1:44.92) at the finish.
“I wasn’t sure if I could catch him,” said Murphy, 21, who decided against also running the 1,500 meters. “The goal was to be top three, so when I came off the curve in second I had confidence I could stay in the top three. I kept pushing to the line and was able to get him in the last few steps.”
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “To be an Olympian and represent Team USA is something I’ve dreamed of since I started running. I just can’t wait to get to Rio.”
Ajee Wilson, LaShawn Merritt and Tori Bowie
Wilson, silver medalist in the world 800 indoor, made her first Olympic team. This is her first Olympics.
No one seemed to have an easier time — or more confidence — in winning his signature event than Merritt, the former East Carolina star and 2008 gold medalist who breezed to a win in the 400. He also qualified second to Justin Gatlin in the 200.
Merritt attended East Carolina for a year before turning pro and transferring to Old Dominion. Merritt, who won in 43.97 seconds — .76 faster than the next finisher — said he has speed to burn for Rio.
“I ran smooth. I ran within myself. Coming off the homestretch it was all about getting the right body position,” Merritt, 30, said. “And I feel like if I have the right body position then I am able to execute it and use my strength, which is damn strong and damn fast. So with like 50 to go, I felt good. “
Merritt said the 200, which he ran in 19.79 seconds to Gatlin’s 19.75, had been an afterthought coming into trials, but he’ll likely run them both in Rio.
Bowie, 25, won NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles at Southern Miss. But she’s headed to Rio as the U.S.’s new sprint star. Like Merritt and Wilson, Bowie was considered a good bet to make the Olympic team and delivered, beating Olympic champion Allyson Felix to win the 200-meter race in 22.25 seconds, her best event. She also ran a time of 10.78 seconds to qualify third in the 100. Bowie is expected to run both events in Rio.
“I’m extremely thankful I made the team. I’ve been waiting four years for this moment, ever since 2012” when she broke her jaw and had to watch the trials on TV. “I said today, no matter what happens, I’m going to walk away with my head held high.”
OUTSTANDING IN THEIR FIELD (EVENTS)
Amber Campbell and Rudy Winkler
Campbell, a volunteer coach at Coastal Carolina, earned her third Olympic berth in style when she set a women’s trials record in the hammer throw with a heave of 74.03 meters (242 feet, 10 inches).
Campbell, 35, was tickled that hammer throwers were given their own day at revered Hayward Field, considered the cradle of track and field in the U.S. Typically, the event is held off site because of the danger of throwing a heavy metal ball and chain (16 pounds for men, 8.82 pounds for women).
“I’m in the infield in Hayward,” Campbell told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. “That’s magic.”
Cornell’s Winkler, 21, was a surprise winner of the men’s hammer throw at 251 feet, 10 inches. He’ll needs an at-large bid from track and field’s international federation, the IAAF, to compete in Rio because he hasn’t made the Olympic standard.
True, the Dartmouth graduate who was an All-American in both Nordic skiing and track, failed to make the Olympic team in the 10,000- and 5,000-meter races. In the 5,000, his specialty, he was in the small lead pack caught by a hard-charging Bernard Lagat, who won the race in thrilling fashion with a 250-yard burst.
True, who trains by himself near Hanover, N.H. and is married to top triathlete and Middlebury alum Sarah True, had hoped to join his wife as an Olympian in Rio. It was not to be. TV cameras caught Sarah weeping alone in the stands as the race ended.
True, 30, finished fifth. He was in third on the home stretch when first Lagat flew by, then Eric Jenkins nipped him at the line for fourth.
“I just didn’t have the closing speed I needed,” True said. “I put myself in good position with 400 to go, and I saw Lagat caught back up and passed me. I was trying to keep going and I just didn’t have anything.”
True, the nation’s top 5K road racer, was considered one of a handful of contenders for one of three Olympic berths. Lyme Disease hampered his 2012 trials. He said his left leg tightened up during the race on Saturday.
“Thought I was in shape, thought I was ready to rock. Just wasn’t my day,” he said. “I always said that making the team this year will be harder than making the Olympic final. I think we have a really deep 5k field in the U.S.”
True sounded unsure he’d be back in four years.
“It’s going to be hard to watch the track races on TV for a second go around,” he said.
Contributing: Emma Decker, Zac Neel, Hannah Bonnie, Keeler McJunkin of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication