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Athletics Notes: At trials, winners finish third

1 July 2008
www.wcsn.com

By Dave Ungrady

In Eugene, Ore., third place is the new first.

Sure, winners at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials gain the title of national champion and, due to the global prominence of American athletes in the sport, many are considered medal favorites, if not gold contenders, at the Beijing Olympics.

Still, the feeling of accomplishment at the trials can often be grander for those who finish in third place and capture the last automatic spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Compelling thrills and spills, compliments of the bronze-medal brigade, saturated the first four days of the trials.

Amy Begley provided the initial melodramatic moments on the first day of the trials on Friday. She ran the last 800 meters in under 2:20 to not only finish third in the 10,000 meters in 31:43.60, but also beat the Olympic "A" qualifying standard by a slender 1.4 seconds. A slow first half of the race almost doomed her Olympic team chances, the trials being the last chance for team hopefuls to meet the "A" standard.

"My coach told me to sit in second or third for the first 5K," Begley, 30, said in a post-race press conference. "I was getting a little nervous. He held the reins in a long time and finally let us out with three or four laps. There was that moment where I doubted myself. With 600 to go I just told myself I can do this. I just dug it out and gave it all I had. It still hasn't quite hit me. I still thought I might miss it by one or two seconds and that would have been a really lonely night for me."

Begley gets to share in the euphoria of barely making the Olympic team along with other U.S. athletes such as Diana Pickler, who provided more third-place drama in the women's heptathlon on Saturday. Pickler finished ahead of Virginia Johnson by 10 points to claim the final qualifying spot in the women's heptathlon. After six events, Pickler stood in third place, 20 points ahead of Johnson.

Pickler needed to stay within 1.5 seconds of Johnson in the final event, the 800 meters, to secure the final qualifying spot for Beijing. She finished within .53 seconds of Johnson, who likely missed a spot on the Olympic team after she slowed down just before crossing the finish line.

"I was pretty overwhelmed after the javelin because it has not been my forte to race the 800 to beat someone," Pickler said in a post-race press conference. "I knew I was capable of it. My coach knew I was capable of it. He was really calm. He was like, 'I know you can do it.' It took me a little bit to convince myself but I just stuck on her like glue and knew I could as the race went on. I just kept my eyes on her back and would not let her get away. I just attempted to go with her every time she moved."

Pickler finished with 6,257 points, just 10 more than Johnson.

Lashinda Demus likely shared Johnson's feelings of numbing shock after she finished fourth in the women's 400-meter hurdles. Demus, a 2004 Olympian, entered the finals Sunday with the top time in the world, 53.99, after missing the 2007 season to give birth to twin boys. She cleared the last hurdle in second place, but faded badly and finished in 54.76. Queen Harrison, a rising junior at Virginia Tech University, finished second in 54.60 and 2004 Olympian Sheena Tosta was third in 54.62.

As she walked off the track, reporters asked Demus how she felt. She did not speak, but shook her head in disbelief.

Darvis Patton's third place finish Sunday in the men's 100 meters lacked the dramatic subplots that propped up the 400 hurdles, the pentathlon and the women's 10,000 meters. He simply ran a solid race in the final, finishing in a wind-aided 9.84. Patton ran a personal best 9.89 in a qualifying heat on June 28. At age 30, he secured his first Olympic berth in an individual event.

"Words can't describe what I feel," he said by phone Monday. "To make the team in an individual event is a huge accomplishment. It hasn't sunk in yet. I'm elated, excited, and all the big words I can't spell."

Patton won a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2003 world championships after winning the U.S. title that year. He competed with the 4x100 meter team that won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics after finishing fourth in the 200 meters at the Olympic trials.

Patton missed most of 2005 and 2006 due to injuries. In 2007, he managed only a season's best 10.11 in the 100 meters, off his previous personal best 10.00 set in 2003, and advanced to the semifinals at the U.S. outdoor championships. Revived with an adjusted strength program and better nutrition, he feels the best is yet to come.

"The way I feel, I can go through [the] 2012 [Olympics]," he said.

The 800 finals for men and women Monday offered a mix of third-place thrills. Nicole Teter, 34, finished fourth, but took the final qualifying spot because third-place finisher Kameisha Bennett, who ran 2:01.2, missed the "A" standard by 1.2 seconds.

Teter, a 2004 Olympian, fell 200 meters into a semifinal on Saturday in a four-runner pileup but finished the race in fifth place and was granted entry into the final.

In the men's 800 meters final Monday, first-time Olympian Christian Smith hit the ground on purpose at the finish line to qualify for Beijing. He clinched third place by .06 seconds, out-falling 2004 Olympian Khadevis Robinson, who also finished fourth at the 2000 Olympic trials. Smith, who missed much of 2007 because of a ruptured appendix, finished in 1:45.57, just under the 1:46 "A" standard.

"The last 100 I knew I was going to be in it, I knew it was going to be close," he said in a post-race press conference. "It was just like excitement and fear and everything. At first I thought I was in fourth, and then when I saw I was in third."

Katie McGregor, one of the favorites in the 10,000 meters, will have to wait four more years to make her first Olympic team. McGregor would have been the third qualifier if Begley did not finish with her historic flourish. She had already run the "A" qualifying standard but finished fourth, some 46 seconds behind Begley.

McGregor, who also finished fourth at the 2004 Olympic trials, responded to the disappointment with gold-medal class.

"I was hoping I was going to be the one, but you don't wish anything bad on the other person," McGregor, a graduate of the University of Michigan, said in the Detroit Free Press. "I'm happy for her -- that's what the sport is. I'd love to have Olympian next to my name -- it's something that a lot of people validate your career on -- but I'm going to be proud of myself when I'm done with the sport no matter what happens."

The first four days of the U.S. Olympic trials in track and field proved that at this event, anything can happen.

Eugene reunion reflects on missed opportunities: The last time the U.S. Olympic track and field trials were held in Eugene, Ore., in 1980, finishing among the top three made you an Olympian with nowhere to go. A few months before the trials were to begin, the U.S. Olympic Committee voted to support President Carter's boycott of the Olympics as a protest to the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia, which hosted the 1980 games in Moscow.

More than 80 athletes and staff members of the 1980 team accepted invitations by The Local Organizing Committee of Eugene '08 to attend the 2008 trials. Team members took part in an autograph session on June 27 at the Eugene '08 Festival held in conjunction with the trials and later that day participated in the meet's opening ceremonies.

One who planned to go was Stanley Floyd, who won the 100 meters at the trials in 10.19 at the age of 18. Floyd said last week in The Oregonian that he is still waiting for an official apology from U.S. officials. "I think about it quite a bit," he said. "It was such a big letdown. A lot of athletes didn't recover from it. Sometimes, you only get one shot. They just took that moment of our life away from us, and there's no way you can get it back."

Bolt bests Powell, Cambell-Brown beaten at Jamaican trials: Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the 100 meters, beat compatriot and former holder of the record, Asafa Powell at the Jamaica Olympic trials in Kingston on June 28 in the first match between the two since Bolt took the record from Powell on May 31.

Bolt won in 9.85 and Powell was second in 9.97 in Kingston in what was billed as a race between the two fastest men in the world. Michael Frater finished third in 10.04 to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

Bolt also won the 200 meters in 19.97 and will not decide until August if he will compete in both the 100 and 200 meters in Beijing, said his coach Glen Mills said. Marvin Anderson and Christopher Williams also made the Jamaican team in the 200 meters.

In women's events, 100-meter world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown failed to qualify for that event after finishing fourth on Saturday. Campbell-Brown missed out on qualification by just 0.01 seconds, finishing fourth in 10.88. The top three finishers, Kerron Stewart (10.80), Shelley-Ann Fraser (10.85) and Sherone Simpson (10.87), will represent Jamaica in Beijing.

Campbell-Brown won the 200 meters in 21.94 to book her ticket to Beijing. She will join second-place Stewart and third-place Simpson in the event at the games. Brown won a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2007 worlds.

British athletes try to block Chambers' return: Close to 100 top British athletes have signed a petition to block sprinter Dwain Chambers from competing at the Beijing Olympics for having served a drug ban. Those who signed the petition include multiple-Olympic rowing champion Steve Redgrave and Kelly Holmes, who won Olympic gold in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters.

Chambers, 30, has returned to competition after serving a two-year ban for testing positive for the anabolic steroid tetrahydrogestrinone in 2003. He ran 10.06 seconds at a meet in Biberach, Germany, on June 28, below the Olympic 100-meter qualifying standard. Chambers also won the silver medal in the 60 meters at the world indoor championships in March.

He is seeking to overturn a British Olympic Association (BOA) bylaw preventing anyone found guilty of a doping offense from competing for Britain at the Olympics.

Redgrave and Holmes are among 95 members of the British Athletes' Commission, an independent body representing Olympians and Paralympians, who have published an open letter to support the BOA stance.

Holmes wrote: "I have no hesitation in giving my full support to the BOA bylaw and their continuing commitment to seek a lifetime Olympic ban for sports people convicted of taking performance-enhancing drugs."

Craig Pickering, the 2007 European indoor 60 meters silver medalist, also signed the petition. He was denied a place at the recent world indoor championships after Chambers beat him in the trials. The pair could become teammates if Chambers gets the ban overturned.

The Guardian newspaper said on Monday the sprinter's representatives were planning to launch a legal battle against the bylaw by the end of this week. The British Olympic trials take place on July 11 and the BOA will name its team for Beijing before July 20.

Australia selects Beijing athletics team: World champions Jana Rawlinson and Nathan Deakes will head a 41-member Australian track and field team at the Beijing Olympics. Rawlinson is a two-time 400 hurdles world champion and Deakes is the reigning 50-kilometer walking world champion.

More than half the team will be making their first appearance at an Olympics. Walker Jane Saville is the most experienced member, having competed at three previous games.

The squad does not include a single competitor in either the men's or women's 100 and 200 meters sprints.

Portugal to host first European team championships: European Athletics announced last week that the western European nation will host the first European team championships in 2009. The event will replace the European Cup on the outdoor schedule.

Competition in four divisions will take place during the weekend of June 20-21 with Portugal the site of the Super League division. Venues for the other divisions will be announced by October.



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