The trials are off to an awesome start. Tuesday and Wednesday are rest days so it is a good time to reflect. There were great races in the men's and women's 10K. All three women went under 32:00 minutes (Deena Drossin 31:51.05, Jen Rhines 31:58.34 and Libbie Hickman 31:58.58). Two men just missed the 28:00 mark (Mebrahtom Keflezighi 28:03.32 and Alan Culpepper 28:03.35.) All six qualifiers have the Olympic "A" standard (32:30 for women and 28:10 for the men). Close finishes, fast times and good TV coverage (NBC and Pax - cable 19) marked the events. The bummer was that Bob Kennedy, the clear favorite in the race, did not run because of an automobile accident. A car traveling 50 miles per hour hit the back of his car and damaged vertebrae in his back. The injury cost him significant training time and he decided to run the 5,000 instead.
I can't decide whether I like the back and forth between HSI (the sprint club that trains under John Smith) and Michael Johnson or not, but it is entertaining (especially when Inger Miller raps on Michael's new hair) and the showdown on Sunday between Michael Johnson (the world record holder in the 200 and 400) and Maurice Green (the world record holder in the 100) in the 200 on Sunday will be tremendous after all of the trash talking stops. They have run against each other at least twice with each winning at least once. Johnson is the favorite, but Greene is the "fastest man alive." They each hold world records.
Regina Jacobs, what an awesome lady. And only a step behind is Suzy Favor-Hamilton. When you say American distance running is not up to world standards, you better reread their bios. The 36 year old Jacobs has two silver medals in the World Championships, currently is the 4th fastest in the world at 800 meters (1:58.08) and third best in the 1500 (with her trials time), and the owner of a number of US records, including her 5,000 PR of 14:52.49. A quick peak at Suzy's "calendar" year will reveal (http://suzyfavorhamilton.com/photos.htm) that in addition to calendar sales she has her own impressive World rankings to brag about. She is 6th in the 5K (15:06.48) and second in the 1500 meter (4:00.79 run in a great race against Gabriela Szabo). (Please don't overlook Regina's turn to shine in the latest edition of Runners World.) The two have a strong rivalry going that made the 1500 one of the headline events before they stepped onto the track. They did not disappoint as they were virtually occupying the same space at the 1100 meter (one lap to go) mark. Jacobs ducked it out with Suzy Favor-Hamilton in a great race in the 1500 meters winning with a time of 4:01.02 to Hamilton's 4:01.81. They finished up with a 400 well under 60 seconds. Jacobs went 57.6 for 400, 28.4 for 200 and 14.3 for the last 100. (Match those times up with the GWTC performances at the Sunshine State Games - where Mr. Rogers brought home medals for running the 100 in 13.46 and the 200 in 27.35) They will be joined by Marla "you don't have to see to believe" Runyan and give the US women a chance to place three runners in the final of the metric mile at the Olympics. Jacobs and Hamilton are both sticking around to run another event also. Suzy will run the 800, while Regina ran the preliminary round of the 5K last night and won her heat.
The Men's 1500 had its own color as the spirit moved 21 year old Gabe Jennings (the NCAA 1500 meter champion) into first place and an Olympic birth with an "A" standard 3:35.90. His secret? Here are his own words: "I just started listening instead of bitching. Nature taught me a lot. Warming up today, I felt the earth and wind out there along the American River. I felt the spirit." Or maybe this was the key: "I'm a very spiritual guy. Last night was a full moon and I was definitely feeling the cosmic energy. The full moon helped remind me of my spiritual side. I do all sorts of things to give me energy like running to the top of a mountain and just screaming at the top of my lungs--anything for positive spirit and energy. All the things I do keep me from being complacent." He spent the rest of the meet in the stands beating a drum for his Stanford teammates, urging them on with his cosmic vibes. It must be working, as the trials are still full of his Stanford teammates. Apparently Jennings spent much of his years growing up living in a place without electricity. His parents, present at the trials, definitely looked like they never left the 60's and truly have created a free spirit in this National Champion. If you have not checked out his diary, it is a must. Go to http://www.runnersworld.com/road2sydney/outdoors/1st_person/jennings_1.html. Jason Pyrah got the second spot and Jennings Stanford teammate Michael Stember got the third spot. He must get an "A" qualifier to run though.
The 5K prelims almost showed how harsh these trials can be. America's two best distance runners, Adam Goucher and Bob Kennedy, had to rely on small q to get into the final. Both are trying to get over injuries, Kennedy the car crash mentioned above and Goucher an Achilles problem. The trials do not wait though and they must either perform or miss the chance to compete. It will not matter how good they run in September if they don't finish in the top three on Friday. Jennings's drums got his Stanford teammates the top two spots in one heat, while Jason Stewart, running for the Army got the other. Marc Davis, former steeplechase runner, looked very strong in third. He has a world of talent, demonstrated by performing a wonderful back flip into the water during the Olympic Steeplechase in 1996, and could be one of the top three in this event. Jonathan Riley, one of the bright stars for the future, lost one shoe and ran the last 7 and half laps with out it. The most amazing thing was how many laps of these races Pax showed on TV. It was wonderful. The finals should be awesome and I am going to guess fast. I think Goucher and Kennedy are afraid their injuries have left them without a kick and I am going to guess that after barely making the final they will try to keep the pace fast early and "out gut" their competition. There is more talent in this field than any US trial in a long time, so it will not be easy.
The Grand Dame of Track and Field, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, did not have it as she tried to come out of retirement to make her 5th Olympic team. While she came up short, she may have helped another star and her heir apparent keep her hopes for 5 medals alive. 100, 200, long jump, 4 x 100 and 4 x 400. Those are the events she wants to medal in at Sydney. After making it through the qualifying rounds on Friday, Marion Jones was in serious danger of not making it the final round. She had fouled on her first two efforts in Sunday's early rounds and had only one jump left to qualify for the final round of the long jump. She had already dominated in the 100 winning by a big margin, but the long jump is her least consistent event. With the wind swirling and her confidence slipping away, she need to jump 22 feet to make the finals. Jackie, showing the incredible class that was her trademark during her career, took the time to remind Marion Jones that all she had to do was relax and get a fair jump in and she would advance. It did the trick as Marion jumped over 22 feet to move into 4th place and advance to the final round. Once in the final, Marion uncorked the "big one", 23 and 1/2, to get the win. It is now down to the 200 where she will lock horns with rival Inger Miller who keeps explaining to everyone that Marion cannot win 5 medals if she wins three, since they will be going head to head in two of the events. (Maybe she just did not notice that Marion got to the finish line first in the 100.)
Tallahassee's own Kim Batten overcame her foot injury to grab a spot in the 400 meter hurdle race. The world record holder was clearly not at her best because of the injury, but she still was impressive with a 53.33 second place finish to assure her spot on her second Olympic team. The 1996 silver medalist believes she has overcome her toe problem thanks to an unnamed chiropractor. She noted: "Honestly the whole problem with my foot started in about 1995. There was a lot of nerve interference. It was from years of training and not getting it taken care of. That led to a lot of problems. We were all over the country looking for doctors to get it diagnosed. Then I went to a chiropractor and she used some different techniques than you would expect. I had to laugh to myself; it was like voodoo. But about a day and a half later, the pain was starting to decrease. Now I have no pain." Let's hope she found her miracle worker her in T-Town and they are ready to heal the rest of us.
Well, here's to more voodoo in the trials when they resume Thursday. I will crank up my VCR to catch all I can on the late nights with PAX on channel 19. For now it is off to watch the Tour de France and the last day in the mountains! "It is like running a marathon a day for three weeks straight." Go get the Pirate, Lance. No more mercy!