Olympic Trials' 10 Special Moments
By Dave Hunter
If you reflect upon the recently-completed Olympic Trials, it is difficult - but nonetheless entertaining - to select 10 special moments from the cornucopia of memorable performances - some exhilarating , some heart-breaking, some frustrating - that highlighted 10 marvelous days of track and field. It is tough to limit the list to only 10. I was forced to leave off some stunning moments [e.g. Brittany Borman's final-round javelin throw - a PR "A" standard heave that won the event and placed her on the Olympic team]. Here are my 10 picks - 5 from the women's events and 5 from the men's events:
TOP 5 WOMEN'S MOMENTS
Number 5: Chantae McMillan's "A" Standard Performance In The Heptathlon
Knowledgeable track and field fans wrote off McMillan's chances for an Olympic berth when, in the heptathlon's fifth event, she turned in an 18'1 ½" subpar performance in the long jump. McMillan, who lacked the all-important Olympic "A" standard of 6150 points, rallied to score 1720 points over the last two events, finish with 6188 points, to snare third, and to secure her ticket to London.
Number 4: The Electrifying Conley/Lucas Finish In The 5000
In one breathless moment during the chaotic finish to the women's 5000, Kim Conley, who had lacked the A standard, out-leaned a wobbly Julia Lucas at the line for the final Olympic spot. Conley's dramatic rush over the final lap allowed her to beat Lucas by 0.04 seconds and to achieve the essential "A" standard by 0.21 seconds. Ironically, it was Lucas' own self-initiated drive over the final 1200 meters that left her defenseless and unable to respond on the final straightaway and provided the essential up-tempo race pace over the final three laps that allowed Conley to secure her "A' standard mark. Both of those elements, which basically Lucas provided, were essential to put Conley in third with a qualifying mark and send her to the Olympic Games.
Number 3: Career-Spanning High Jumpers
The women's High Jump provided a unique opportunity to see four athletes who represent the evolution of a high jumper: (i) the emerging young record-breaking talent [Gabrielle Williams, who tied the 15 year-old age group world record]; (ii) the likely next great up-and-coming high jumper [Brigetta Barrett, who set two PR's on her way to clearing 2.01 and making her first Olympic team]; (iii) the dominant reigning indoor world champion in her prime [OT winner Chaunte Lowe]; and (iv) and the aging, legendary athlete who is able to summon up the talent and the effort to make a 5th Olympic team [high jumping icon Amy Acuff].
Number 2: Allyson Felix's Spectacular 200 Meter Win
After enduring a week of distraction and hubbub that resulted from the quirky dead heat third-place tie with Jeneba Tarmoh in the 100 meters, the poised Allyson Felix came out for the Trials 200 final, dominated the race from the gun, and won in a scintillating time of 21.69 - the third fastest time ever run by an American and the fastest 200 ever run by a woman on American soil. Only Florence Griffith-Joyner, Marion Jones, and Merlene Ottey have ever run faster. In securing her first 2012 Olympic team position, Felix soundly defeated a world class field that included world championship gold medalists Carmelita Jeter and Sanya Richards-Ross.
Number 1: The Felix/Tarmoh 100 Meter Tie
In future years when track and field fans reflect back upon the 2012 Olympic Trials, one prevailing memory will not be of exhilarating athletic success or of a last-minute winning race surge, jump, or throw. It will be about the improbability, the bewilderment, the covert meetings, the agonizing and often inexplicable delays, the announced and then altered resolution process, and, finally, the disappointing and downright sad outcome that was borne out of the down-to-the-one-thousandth-of-a-second third place tie between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the women's 100 meter final. With Tarmoh surprisingly withdrawing from the highly-anticipated match race to settle the issue, the matter is resolved not on the track, but in a covert manner which may never be completely known or fully understood. Some will point out that Tarmoh is still eligible to serve as an alternate for the 100 and to participate, if selected, on the USA 4 x 100 relay team. But that would have been the case even if she had participated in the match race and lost. For a growing segment of the track and field community, the apparent absence of any motivation for Tarmoh to withdraw unexpectedly only fuels unfortunate speculation that some sort of nefarious and undetectable consideration was provided to Tarmoh to throw in the towel. For Allyson Felix, destined to be recognized as one of the greatest sprinters in track and field history, she will compete in the 100 meters in London and her 2012 Olympic dream of winning possibly 4 gold medals remains alive. For Tarmoh, a solid competitor who heretofore has never made an Olympic team, she is destined to be a footnote to the 2012 Trials. The track and field community will speculate about this for many years.
TOP 5 MEN'S MOMENTS
Number 5: George Kitchens' Long Jump Magic
Unheralded, unattached George Kitchens began the long jump final without an "A" standard mark and against a strong field that included Will Claye, Christian Taylor, and Dwight Phillips - all of whom have won Olympic or world championship medals. Undaunted, Kitchens uncorked a third round jump of 8.21m [26'11¼"] to achieve the "A" standard, capture third place, punch his ticket to London, and deny reigning triple jump world champion Christian Taylor an Olympic long jump berth.
Number 4: 110 Hurdle Final
So much happened in less than 14 seconds: Aries Merritt won in a superb world-leading time of 12.93; Jason Richardson, second in 12.98, became the first American to post two sub-13 clockings in the same Olympic Trials; third place finisher Jeff Porter, in a move reminiscent of Christian Smith's desperate lunge in the '08 OT 800 final, dove his way onto the Olympic team; and the subpar performance of David Oliver fueled further speculation about his ability to regain his former position of dominance in this event.
Number 3: Lance Brook's Storybook Throw
Not unlike many US discus athletes, unheralded discus thrower Lance Brooks came to Eugene lacking the 65.00m mark that would give him the coveted "A" standard. Veteran discus fans were frankly surprised this virtual unknown even made it into the finals. Leading after every round of the finals, Brooks still lacked the "A" standard mark that several of his trailing competitors had already secured. In a finish that defied belief, Lance Brooks, down to his sixth and final throw, and exhorted onward by the frenzied Hayward Field crowd, dropped a bomb by spinning the platter 65.15m - just surpassing the "A" standard mark he needed to secure his appearance in the London Games. This fairy tale finish took on added luster when Brooks' podium remarks suggested he did not fully appreciate that, notwithstanding an OT discus win, his "A" standard sixth throw was essential to permit his Olympic participation.
Number 2: Galen Rupp's Dramatic 5000 Win
Galen Rupp is beloved by the Hayward Field faithful. But even his most ardent fans have occasionally entertained doubt about his closing leg speed and his gritty determination against the most elite competitors over the final 200. He erased that lingering doubt at these Trials when, as expected, he was mano a mano against his old nemesis Bernard Lagat over the final 400 of the 5000 final. This time Rupp possessed that extra gear he needed over the final 80 meters to better Lagat at the line by 0.15 seconds. Rupp's winning time of 13:22.67 took down the 40 year-old Olympic Trials 5000 record held by Rupp's idol, the legendary Steve Prefontaine. The win allowed Rupp to complete an extremely rare Olympic Trials 5000/10,000 double - last completed 60 years ago in the '52 Olympic Trials by Curt Stone.
Number 1: Ashton Eaton's Decathlon World Record
You could feel the electricity in Hayward Field when Ashton Eaton began Day One of the decathlon by setting decathlon world records in the first two events. With Eaton having amassed 2164 points after the 100m and the long jump, both the athlete and the fans sensed that something very special might be unfolding. Competing on the 100th anniversary of the decathlon and of Jim Thorpe's victory in the inaugural Olympic decathlon, Eaton appeared unchallenged by his competitors and battled only with the swirling winds and periodic cloud bursts that plagued the ten events. Undaunted, Eaton soldiered on by winning 6 of the first 9 events. With 8189 points entering the final event - the 1500 - Eaton and the Hayward Field fans had been advised that a time of around 4:17 would allow him to surpass the 11-year old record of 9026 held by Roman Sebrle. With all of the living American Olympic decathlon gold medalists in attendance in the stands, Eaton ran an evenly-paced 4:14.48 to win the 1500, to post 9039 points, and to set a new world record. No one who witnessed this record-breaking display of athletic prowess will ever forget it.