Friday, June 22, 2012

2012 Olympic Trials - Day 1

Ah, yes. Back in my element. And it's only been four years...

As a Meet Operations volunteer, I have unfettered access to the track and core areas. Unfettered, I tell you.

I need to use that word more often. As in, "the rain had unfettered access to the ground."

It poured all day. Stuff happens.  

Arrival in Eugene and a stop at the grocery store. I'm waiting at the counter for a deli sandwich, when I see a couple of young kids being tended by their grandmother. One of the girls is probably 2 or so. blond and with a tint of Asian blood and quite familiar looking. I suspect I know her last name.

The kids are restless and agitated. Grandmom calms them, then does it again, and again. Kids, I tell you. Grandmom then looks at me, sighs, and says their dad is competing today.


Dad is the same guy who first told me that Michael Jackson died back in 2009.

You need another hint?

He (dad) is the defending Olympic Champion in the Decathlon.

Bryan Clay.

Elaboration: in 2009, I was assigned to the Athlete Services tent at US Nationals here in Eugene, giving the competitors a chance to relax and refuel between their races. In walks Mr. Clay, staring at his smartphone, and announcing to me (ok, to everyone) that the King of Pop is no more.

When I arrive at my host's home, I discover that the good doctor spent hours harvesting cherries from a huge tree in his yard.
That's a lotta cherries. And good, too...
Later, I’m standing near the 1500m starting line, feeling very official, when I see someone crossing the track. Of course, I stop him.

“Sir, do you have the proper credentials?”

“Uh, it's here somewhere,” he says, as he fumbles for his badge. When he hears me chuckling, he looks up with a puzzled expression, then he laughs and punches me on the shoulder.

Last year's picture; today wasn't nearly as sunny
This is Mr. Fred Newhouse, 1976 Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist. We met several years ago here at Hayward Field, even though I became a fan of his while watching him burn up the track in Montreal. And as soon as the Cuban embargo is lifted, I’m going to Havana and reclaim his second gold medal. You know, the one that was ‘won’ by a suspected steroid user named Juantoreana, with Fred barely a whisker behind.

BTW, I noticed that today’s 400m heats were slower than the times Mr. Newhouse was running 36 years ago. The man had wheels.


Are there two people in the world who are happier than Amy Hastings and Dathan Ritzenhein?


Both of them were a brutal 4th place in the Olympic Marathon Trials back in January, with Ritz a scant 8 seconds back. And Amy went for the lead at about mile 18 but couldn’t hold it.

So here they were, probably their last shot at London.

What does Amy do? Digs deep, deep deep. Not only did she make the top three, she won with a gritty last 300m. You could see it in her face; it hurt bad, but she wasn’t concerned about that.

Ritz had to place in the top three, AND get the Olympic qualifying time of 27:45. His pal and teammate Galen Rupp took the brunt of the pacemaking duties to make it easier for Ritz. Problem is, at halfway they were well behind the required pace. But Ritz and Rupp (sounds like a shoe store?) hit the gas and made a race out of it. Rupp cruised to an Olympic Trials record with splits of 13:56/13:29, and Ritz had room to spare.

It was heartbreaking to watch Ritz and Amy miss out on the marathon. Lots of effort, and no results. This time around, they made it count.

Game, set, match. Nice job, you two. Now go have some Shepard’s Pie, or whatever the Brits do for carbo loading. You’re going.

Finally, there's bad-ass, and then there is this:

Track Town, indeed.

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