Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Michigan juniors in Poland

When we say "juniors" we usually mean 11th graders. However, in the rest of the track world, "juniors" means athletes who are 19 & under (technically, they must not turn 20 during the year). So virtually all high schoolers are eligible for these competitions, as are most college freshmen.

The World Junior Championships are going on in Bydgoszcz, Poland, a town in desperate need of more vowels. We have two former Michigan high schoolers on the roster. Shayla Mahan, a Mumford alum running for South Carolina, and Elizabeth Graney, from Grosse Pointe North and William & Mary.

Graney had placed second at USA Juniors in the steeplechase, running a fine 10:34.11 (her best is 10:31.97). Mahan placed third in the 100 at 11.39.

On the first day of competition in Poland, Graney clocked 10:37.96 for 6th in her heat and 16th overall. She did not advance to the final. Mahan's 11.61 won her heat and puts her fourth overall, so she made it to the semifinals. In the semis, she clocked 11.66 and qualified for the finals, as the slowest seed in the field.

Said Mahan, "I wasn't really nervous, but I couldn't get my starts right during the warmup. I didn't want to really get out on my start in case it wasn't right. Waiting around for the last heat was okay, it just gave me extra time to think about it... Running in the SEC this season at South Carolina really prepares you for a meet like this. I'm looking forward to the second round, I know I have to stay calm and get out."

Monday, July 7, 2008

What Alan Webb needs to do

Since everyone else in the world is chiming in on the Alan Webb situation, I’m going to have to finally dive into the debate. And while there are dozens of issues to splash around in, I’m going to keep my point simple.

Alan Webb does not have the instincts to be a champion 1500m man. Period. He can run very fast in paced races, and is capable of breaking more American records in the middle distances. But for Olympics and World Championships, he needs to look at the 5000m (possibly) and the 10,000m (definitely).

The more races I see the more I am convinced that while an athlete can learn better tactics, the very best tacticians have an inborn talent that enables them to instinctually make great racing decisions without a moment’s hesitation.

At the high school and even college levels, a miler can become great simply through great physical talent and conditioning—where Webb has excelled. But in international championships, the difference between champion and failure is razor-thin, and a moment’s hesitation on the track can easily lead to failure.

More than once Webb has displayed that kind of indecisiveness. It doesn’t matter how smart he is, or how good his race plan is, in championship racing, he who hesitates is lost. If he stays in the mile, he faces a career full of public recrimination for “failures” such as his fifth-place run yesterday. To win gold, he will need luck—amazing luck.

Luckily, Webb does have phenomenal skills that can take him beyond four laps. In his first ever track 10,000m he ran 27:34.72 and beat Dathan Ritzenhein. (And don’t look at Ritz’s lackluster Trials 10K performance and conclude he’s chopped liver. He ran 120M that week and his only tapering was going to single runs instead of doubles the three days before the race).

With his speed, and his proven long distance ability, Webb could be very dangerous in a championship 10,000m. He could be the master of the sit-and-kick. (And don’t be deluded by the Prefontaine mythology on sitting-and-kicking. In championship races with closely matched runners, he who leads usually loses.)

And because a track 10,000m is more spread out, and close-contact tactics don’t play anywhere near as big a role as they do in the 1500, Webb could excel at 25 laps, without ever exposing his weakness.

I would love to see Webb regarded as a success. Just because he had the misfortune of running 3:53 in high school doesn’t mean he should be sentenced to the mile for life.

Notes from Raff: Sunday

The Olympic Trials feature the prime events for the last day. Today the short hurdles, the metric mile (the 1500 Race), the 200 dash, women’s pole vault, discus, javelin, and triple jump took place within a three hour time period.


Two Michigan hurdlers attempted advancing to the finals. Michigan’s Tiffany Ofili and Southern Cal’s Candice Davis were in two separate semi-final heats. Ofili, a two-time NCAA champion, placed fifth in 12.76 just inches from making the finals. Davis, an Ann Arbor Pioneer grad, was more fortunate and placed fourth in the second semi-final also in 12.76.

In the finals Davis placed fifth in 12.66. Both Davis and Ofili can look to Trial hurdling champion LoLo Jones, who was not an Olympian four years ago. Both Washtenaw county athletes have bright futures, and advancing to the final day of competition should give both hurdlers confidence for 2012.


The women’s pole vault brought about personal and American records and also a frightful few moments.

Erica Bartolini cleared two personal best heights of 14-7 ¼ and 14-11 to become an Olympian headed for China with a third place finish.

April Steiner Bennett, formerly from Arkansas, vaulted 15-1, placed second and also is now an Olympian.

Jennifer Stuczynski missed two attempts at 15-1, her opening height where a third miss would have devastated the record crowd of 21,176.

Next the New York native vaulted 15-7 ½ for a new Olympic Trial record, cleared 16-1 ¾ for a new American record, and just missed two times at 16-5 ½ , which would have been a new world record. She passed her last attempt.


In the 1500 race for men, the meet’s final race, our country’s three best milers became our candidates for Olympic medals. Bernard Lagat (3:40.37), Leonel Manzano (3:40.90), and Lopez Lomong (3:41.00) took the Trial’s first three places.

The race began as a “jog,” but former Stanford ace Gab Jennings leaped to the front after the opening 300, as the 12 starters crossed the first lap in 61 – 62 seconds. Jennings increased the second lap to 58.5 seconds, but as always Lagat, Manzano, and Lomong followed the leaders.

Said Ahmed literally pushed his way to first place for a brief moment, but the three Olympians dominated the race’s final lap, which took 54 seconds.


The University of Michigan’s Lindsey Gallo ran 4:15.06 in a tactical 1500 meter final as Sharon Rowbury, the pre-meet favorite, strong running Erin Donahue (4:08.20) and Christin Wurth (4:09.48) took the Olympic places.

Spectators always hope for fast 1500 races, but no miler wants to set a fast pace and end up in sixth or seventh; therefore slow-paced, tactical miles take place.


The Trials are now history, and I don’t know who is more tired: the athletes or the every-day spectators?

Many of our new tour group members rated the meet as an “A” and many veteran members appreciated the cooler Oregon weather, the knowledgeable fans, historic Hayward Field, and the morning Oregon newspaper accounts of the previous day’s events.

Above all, the athletes appreciated the enthusiasm of the track and field fans.


Place 2012 on your track and field calendar of events.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

State record in hammer for Flanary!

Great news today from Ryan Flanary, whose daughter Shana shattered the state record in the hammer throw. The old best was 131-10 by Alana Robinson of Grosse Ile, who went on to a successful collegiate career at South Carolina. On Saturday, Shana, just a sophomore at Carleton Airport HS, added more than 10 feet to the record by throwing 142-4 at the USATF JO Regional in Ohio.

I love it, because I think we need to start working harder to expose Michigan high schoolers to the full range of events available to them in college. It's foolish to think the MHSAA is going to add the hammer, the steeplechase, the decathlon, the triple jump, or the javelin any time soon. However, I would love to see more post-season opportunities in the state for athletes to try these events. Usually, events like the hammer and javelin see athletes thrive who may not have been great in the shot and discus. I think there are many Michigan athletes out there who would try college competition if they had a chance to dabble in these events and find out where their talents lay.

It's called exposing kids to opportunity, and we should all be for it. If anyone wants to host clinics or competitions in these events, you can count on me to help publicize them.

Sunday: Davis misses Olympics by 0.04

She came close, so very close to making the Olympic team. Candice Davis, an alum of Ann Arbor Pioneer and USC, finished 5th in the 100 hurdles today, clocking a wind-aided 12.66. That missed the third place time of 12.62 by just 0.02. Up ahead, Lolo Jones won the race in a scintillating 12.29w.

Davis had made the final by the skin of her teeth, finishing 4th in her semi at 12.76 (w1.7). Tiffany Ofili had worse luck. She ran in the previous semi, ran the exact same time, with the exact same wind reading. She finished 5th, and only the top four qualify. Kellie Wells took 2nd at 12.58, but collapsed injured after the finish line. Under current rules, that left an empty lane in the final, which is a crying shame, since Ofili would probably would have been thrilled to fill that lane.

In the 1500, we saw a typical championship race, in that the place was slow and no one was ready to take the burden of leading on a very windy day. Saline's Steve Sherer ran smart, and stayed near the front of the pack. Finally Gabe Jennings, who lacked the A qualifier for the Games, was forced to take the lead and try to speed the race up. The wind chewed him up and spit him out (he ended up dead last).

When the sprinting started, Sherer had some problems with being boxed in. He also said afterward that breathing/allergies was an issue. In any case, Sherer was left behind in the kicker's race. His 57.9 last lap put him into 11th place at 3:43.41.

When the dust settled on the meet, we realized we had seen some incredible performances. And we do have an Olympian to watch in Beijing, Dathan Ritzenhein in the marathon. I'll probably cheer for Anna Willard as well, even though she made the mistake of growing up in Maine. Four years from now, though, I bet that some of our stars who got valuable experience in Eugene will be back to make the team.

Michigan’s second generation runners

Two notable Trials competitors come from good Michigan bloodlines. Christine Babcock, who held the national high school 1500m record at 4:16.42 until Jordan Hasay broke it Friday, is the daughter of Kelly Spatz, a former Michigan State runner who competed in the 1984 Olympic Trials marathon. She also won a state mile crown for Saginaw Eisenhower.

In the 400 (6th in 51.26) and the 200 is Ebonie Floyd, who is the daughter of Delisa Walton, who held the state record in the 800 for many years until Geena Gall broke it. Walton married Stanley Floyd, a world class sprinter.

Notes from Raff: Saturday

And now there is only one day of the Trials to go...

Our tour group consists of many different people from many different places. Of course most of the group are teachers --English, phy. Ed., math, art, government, biology, athletic directors, social workers, elementary and history. But some are engineers, lawyers, computer networkers, a pipe-fitter, a future financial adviser, truck driver, accountant, business consultant, advertiser, house-maker, laborer, public health researcher, nurse, credit analyst, and author.

Most come from Michigan – Flint, Lansing, Ann Arbor, suburban Detroit, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Mt. Pleasant, but others come from Minnesota, the East and West coast.

This is the fifth Olympic Trial group tour, which evolved from over twenty-five yearly NCAA indoor championship tours.

And if you would like to make the sixth Trial group, contact tour director Charlie Janke of Jackson, Michigan at 517-592-2346 immediately if not sooner.

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How about another Carter on the Olympic team representing the United States?? Michael Carter’s daughter Michelle won the shot put today with a toss of 61-10 ¼, the farthest throw of her life. Michael Carter, as you know was an Olympic silver medalist n the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. (He also was a noted football player for the San Francisco 49ers.)

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Tyson Gay, who won the 100 dash last weekend, started in the 200 prelims and did not finish because of leg problems. But don’t worry, there will be three top 200 runners on our Olympic team.

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Michigan’s top two hurdlers, Candice Davis of Ann Arbor Pioneer and the University of Southern California and Tiffany Ofili of Ypsilanti and the U of Michigan, advanced to tomorrow’s semi-finals. Both placed third in their quarter-final heats.

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Eastern Michigan University’s Jordan Desilets and Corey Nowitzke finished eighth and tenth in today’s 3000 meter steeplechase finals. Tony Famiglietti took the race out fast and led from start to finish in 8:20.24.

Desilits and Nowitzke looked sluggish after running strong and hard in the prelims on Thursday. Maybe both needed one more rest day.

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Eastern Michigan’s last hope for an Olympic spot in 2008 belonged to Jamie Nieto, a dreaded fourth place finisher in the ’04 games in Greece.

Nieto tied for second at 7-5 ¼ in the high jump today, and the end of the high jump produced much confusion as the officials gave two pairs of jumpers additional jumps for no reason. I’ll investigate the confusion and explain tomorrow.

Anyway Nieto’s second place did not produce an Olympic spot because the EMU alum did not have the “A” Standard of 7-6 ½.

And now there is only one more day of the Trials.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Saturday: Davis & Ofili advance

Candice Davis and Tiffany Ofili both survived the first day of hurdle races, qualifying for the semifinals on Sunday. In her race, Ofili ran 12.84 (1.1w) for third. Davis ran in the last quarterfinal, clocking 12.87 (1.7) for third.

Both Davis and Ofili had easily advanced out of the first round of the 100 hurdles. In heat one, they faced a slight (-0.1) headwind. The first four would automatically advance. Davis won in 12.92, and Ofili ran 13.19 for 3rd. In the final heat, Landria Buckley, a Romulus alum who runs for Howard, finished a non-qualifying 7th in 13.73.

In the steeplechase, we sometimes see athletes produce their best races just to get into the final. That's certainly what happened to our guys, Jordan Desilets and Corey Nowitzke. The two stuck together in the early laps, but never were able to get into the mix. Desilets finished 8th in 8:38.84, and Nowitzke 10th in 8:47.10. PRs from either of them would have put them into 4th place.

Notes from Raff: Friday

Breaux Greer failed to qualify for Sunday’s javelin finals after winning nine straight American championships. Greer’s best throw was, for him, a paltry 220-6, far from his American record of 299-6.

Grand Blanc’s Gwen Wentland cleared two heights, 5-10 ½ and 6-0 ½, but left the competition with three misses at 6-2 ¼ in the high jump. Wentland finished in seventh place as Chaunte Howard (6-5 ½), Amy Acuff (6-4 ¾), and Sharon Day (6-4 ¾) will represent the United States in China.

Saline’s Steve Scherer advanced to Sunday’s 1500 meter finals with a 2nd place finish in the first semi-final heat. The former Michigan State runner now represents the local Oregon Track Club and ran 3:44.20 with laps of 63-63-56 and a closing 400 of 55.

I’m still pulling for Texas’ Leonel Manzano in Sunday’s finals of the 1500. Manzano placed 2nd in the second semi-final with a 3:40.32 pace as the quick Texan miler closed with a 55 last lap.

In the women’s 1500 the University of Michigan graduate Lindsey Gallo won the 2nd semi-final heat with a 4:12.54 as the New Jersey native ran laps of 68-71-63 and closed with a 65 final 400.

Gallo’s training mate Morgan Uceny, former Cornell runner from an Indiana high school, also qualified in 4:13.61.

The 1500 was highlighted by California 11th grader Jordan Hasay who also advanced to the finals on Sunday with a national high school record of 4:14.50.

Hasay’s laps were 68-72-65 and a final 400 of 64 as the crowd noise followed her on that final lap.

I don’t know when the last prep female miler made a national senior final?? If the little senior-to-be runner makes the Olympic team, this stadium will go bananas.

I’m betting on Gallo as one of the final three and that both 1500 races on Sunday will be fast.

As expected Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, and Jennifer Rhines took the top three places in the 5000 women’s finals.

The race featured kilometer splits of 3:08, 3:01, 3:03, 3:03 and 2:46 as the three Olympians ran the last 400 in 65 seconds and the last 800 in 2:12.

The best three 5000 runners will represent the country in China.

The men’s 10,000 meter final closed tonight’s meet with a crowd cheering victory by Abdi Abdirhman in 27:41.89, but Oregon’s Galen Rupp followed Abdi in 27:43.11, and Jorge Torres’ 27:46.33 as the crowd again roared its approval.

The fireworks began above the north end of the field as the three Olympians finished their last five laps.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday: Ritz 8th in 10,000m final

Rockford alum Dathan Ritzenhein, in the midst of his training for the Olympic marathon, struggled to finish 8th in the Trials 10,000. His 1600 splits: 4:27.4, 4:25.1, 4:27.3, 4:28.8, 4:32.9, 4:35.8. For the first part of the race, Ritz stayed in the mix, but after Abdirahman, Rupp and Torres broke off, he ran with the trail pack. For a while he ran in 4th, then it was clear that he ran out of steam. His final time, 28:05.31.

Saline's Steve Sherer looked very strong as he hit his last lap in 54.9 to qualify for the finals of the 1500m. Sherer's 3:44.20 was just 0.03 ahead of Alan Webb, who controlled the pace of the semi and made it into a kickers' race. Times didn't matter, as the top six advanced to the final with no time qualifiers. The top six in the first semi clearly separated from the rest.

Gwen Wentland finished seventh in the high jump with her 6-0.5 leap.

Kermit Ambrose

Photo of 16 year old Jordan Hasay and 97 year old Kermit Ambrose in the east stands at Hayward Field after Hasay's opening race of the trials.
(photo by Matt Gutteridge, cross country coach at Hartland High School)

Notes from Raff: Thursday

Before the evening events begin our National Anthem was sung by a local vocalist. Every night the featured singer raises “goose bumps” on the sentimental patriotic Americans in Hayward Field.

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For the Michigan group, which increased by four today, the Trials are not all Track and Field. This morning, the third annual Mark Corless Open took place at the local put-putt course. Dave Miller, rookie group member and coach at Jackson Luman Christi, took the men’s championship with a solid score of 40. Becky Turbin, and Jan Janke, wife of our tour director, shared the women’s honors with solid 41s, including handicap. Tomorrow the group will celebrate the Fourth of July with an old fashioned picnic with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, watermelon, and all the rest. Paul McMullin, his father, Mike McGuire, Fred LaPlante, and Bettie Wade, will honor us with their presence.

For the first half hour this evening, field events occupied our attention, but then the running began at 7:30 p.m., with the exciting 1500m heats. In the women’s trials, high school wonder from California, Jordan Hasay, finished seventh in her heat and advanced to round two; at first was to run one round and then travel to Poland to represent our country in the world junior championships Monday. However she will run in Friday’s semi-finals.

The University of Michigan’s Lindsey Gallo won heat three in 4:17.47 with laps of 70, 70, 70, and final 400 of 65. She looked smooth as she advanced to Friday’s semi-finals.

Sanya Richards, our country’s best 400 meter runner, easily controlled the 400 finals in 48.89, a new Olympic Trials record. DeeDee Trotter and Mary Wineberg captured the other two Olympic places. It looked as if Richards had two or three more gears left in her one lap victory.

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The former Eastern Michigan University’s Jamie Nieto, now representing Nike, out of Chula Vista, California, easily advanced to the high jump finals by clearing 7-1 and 7-2.5. Nieto is striving for his second Olympic birth.

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Jeremy Wariner was disappointed in his second place finish in the 400 with a time off 44.20, but former Indiana sprinter David Neville, running out of lane eight, excitedly celebrated his third place finish in 44.61, a fitting reward for Neville in his long quest for stardom. Saline's Steve Scherer impressed fans with his second place finish for the NowTrack Club and sped to 63, 63, 60, and a last 400 of 55 seconds to easily advance with second place 3:44.71 behind 2000 Olympic trials winner Gabe Jennings.

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My favorite in the 1500 is Texas’ Leonel Manzano who finished second in heat two with a 3: 43.31 race in laps of 61, 62, 60, and last 400 in 56 seconds. Texas coach and head U.S. team coach, Bubba Thornton calls Manzano, “the University’s greatest ambassador,” with his humble personality.

Some have said that Alan Webb can’t race anymore as if Webb is a forty year old miler. But the American middle distance star looked springy in a quick 3:41.27 to lead all 1500 meter contestants with laps of 58, 61, 61, and a closing 400 of 55 seconds.

The semi-finals and especially the finals of the 1500 will offer us a few more exciting moments.

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Randy Enders an Oregonian whose great-great-great- grandfather settled in Watervliet, Michigan, in 1847 told me the sunset that blazed behind the west stand of Hayward Field whas the most spectacular he has ever seen in the 44 years he has lived in Eugene.

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Monroe and Eastern Michigan’s Corey Nowitzke ran a gutty 8:27.75 in the 3000 steeple chase and advanced to Saturday’s 3 p.m. finals. Nowitzke’s performance was a lifetime best. He ran most of his race in 8th and 9th place, but closed strong to finish fourth in his heat. Nowitzke’s teammate Jordan Desilets of Lake Orion also qualified with a third place 8:34.74 in the steeple's second qualifying heat. Eastern Michigan again showed its steeplechasing prominence under coach John Goodridge.

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Another sell-out crowd at Hayward stadium saw the first ever official female's steeplechase Olympic trial. Former U of M middle distance ace Anna Willard won the championship and a China trip when she broke the race open with a 2:10 last 800 as she claimed the American record in 9:27.59.

Spartan Nicole Bush finished in the dreaded fourth place, but with a personal record of 9:40.27, eight seconds below her former record set in Monday’s prelims.

Thursday: Nicole Bush takes 4th

An incredibly brave race tonight by Nicole Bush highlighted the meet. Wearing the Michigan State colors, the Kelloggsville alum raced to a Michigan all-time record of 9:40.27 in the fastest race in U.S. history. Bush was able to stay with the torrid pace until the last kilometer, but she rallied well to finish 4th. She will be the Olympic alternate. The University of Michigan's Anna Willard easily won the race in an American Record 9:27.59.

Afterwards, Bush said the Trials will give her a big boost heading into her senior year at MSU. "It's confidence and experience. It all comes down to experience."

Other Michigan athletes also fared well tonight. Corey Nowitzke, a Monroe alum, ran a lifetime best 8:27.78 to make the finals of the steeplechase. In the following heat, Lake Orion grad Jordan Desilets ran 8:34.74 and also qualified.

Steve Sherer (Saline alum) ran 3:44.71 and easily qualified for the 1500 semis. Said Sherer, "I was happy. This is the first-time I have ever got out of the first round. I usually let my nerves get the best of me and run out like a scared rabbit, but I'm finally learning how to run a championship round. My goal for the next round is to just place in the top-six."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Track Town or Nike Town?

This is not about facts. This is about appearances. Nike is the major sponsor of USA Track & Field, and of the Olympic Trials. This is the Nike that makes the shoes I wear. This is the Nike that has driven much of its marketing with the inspirational images of a runner who died 32 years ago. This is the Nike that has weathered international criticism over the low wages it has paid workers in its Asian factories.

Before I left Michigan for the meet, I joked to a friend that I wondered if I would see the Nike swoosh on the Oregon state flag. For better or worse, Nike's influence on this event is massive. Now I fear we may be seeing some of the worse.

For years I have heard athletes and agents say words to the effect that, "Nike gets what it wants; Alberto gets what he wants." Alberto Salazar that is, former great runner who is now a noted coach and a big power in the Nike machine. Whether or not that's really true, I can't say. I'm writing about appearances.

Today the town is abuzz with talk about Adam Goucher, one of Salazar's top runners, being added to the 10,000m field on appeal. He will apparently run the race, but he was added to it over seven athletes who are not being allowed to race.

Tonight, USATF released a statement saying that the addition of Goucher to the 10,000 was not unusual. It concluded, "“It is not unusual for past national champions who lack qualifying standards to be granted entry into national championship events, and Mr. Goucher's case is no exception.”

Unfortunately, it will appear to many as if big money is pulling strings behind closed doors, and guys who deserve to be in that race are getting screwed. The appeals process needs to be clarified so that we don't get these public relations disasters in the future.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The race of the meet!

Little noticed by the media was perhaps the most dramatic and enthralling race of the Trials, in my humble opinion. The Oregon TC put on a joggers mile, and--because I had made the silly promise to you and my daughters--I ran. This only two days after my back went out on me on an hour run in Alton Baker Park. This would be my first track race since I was outkicked by a heavyset French woman in the media 800 at the World Champs in 2001. She smoked a cigarette afterwards. Sometimes my foolishness knows no bounds--I try not to let pride limit me.

At Hayward Field, an amazing 300 runners showed up for the mile race. The 5-6 heats were grouped by projected times, so I went with the 8-minutes and up crowd. The earlier races were nothing to sneeze at. The fast heat went in 4:24, with Pinckney grad David Emery running 4:26 in training flats, after a seven mile morning run. In another heat, Paul McMullen dusted off his legs and ran 4:52.

Then the gun went off for my race: I had resolved to start slow, so my back wouldn't spasm on me. I went through the 400 in 2:02.6--right on target. I eased into a faster pace, and his 3:52.8 at 800. Then I got into the fun of passing people (to give you an idea of how slowly I started, I had to pass a race walker). Lap three was my fastest yet at 1:45.6. Then I looked up and saw the green grandstands towering over me. Hayward Field--the track where so many legends have run. I almost got a little misty-eyed. I unleashed my devastating kick--so called because it looks especially devastating when used in an 8-minute mile heat. My last circuit of the track took 1:37.1, and my final time was 7:15.5 (keep in mind this was no namby-pamby 1600m. This was a full mile--1609.34 glorious meters).

My back cramped so badly I felt like Quasimodo. But I had raced at Hayward Field in the footsteps of ghosts and legends. And most importantly, I beat my 12-year-old's best time. I've still got it. Not much of it, but I've still got it.

Will the Eugene magic affect the 1500?

Unmistakably, one major ingredient in the magical crowd roar of Monday night was the Oregon element. All three mens 800m qualifiers—Symmonds, Wheating, Smith—train in this town.

Is there any possibility we’ll see a similar result in the 1500? Hmmm. Consider the fact that Wheating is entered and declared, with his qualifier of 3:38.60. The University of Oregon also has Andrew Acosta (3:40.52) and Jordan McNamara (3:41.13). The Oregon TC is fielding William Leer (3:38.11) and John Jefferson (3:39.44). Plus, 2000 Trials champ Gabe Jennings (3:39.59) trains here now.

It’s an impressive Eugene line-up, to be sure, but so far we’ve heard no one talking about any of them as major factors. Yes, Jennings is an intriguing talent and someone to watch. Wheating, many think, will not even run, now that he is on the 800 team.

And then you have the big guns who aren’t from Eugene. The World Champion, for instance, would qualify as a big gun. Bernard Lagat qualified for the 5000 on Monday and the next day announced, “I will race both.”

He added, “Last year, everybody knew that I had problems with my stomach. I have no problems this year, I feel stronger this year so if I make the team in the 1500, I'm going to pursue the 1500 very hard. I did it last year.”

It would be a mistake to count out Alan Webb, the mile AR holder. He said Tuesday, “I feel good, my training's been going well and I've had a lot of inspiration the last 12 hours on the track. I'm really excited about participating in this meet. It's been pretty awesome to watch.”

Webb said that pulling out of the 800 gave him an extra week of training and more confidence for the 1500. “It's just a matter of getting out there and executing.”

Then there’s newcomer Lopez Lomong, who missed making the 800 team by 0.11. The tactically inexperienced immigrant from Sudan has been tabbed by many in the know as a world class force in the future. But is he too tired from the 800?

“Actually it helps,” he said the day after the final. “I finished my 800 yesterday and I felt very fresh. I just wanted to do some rounds. I finally made my PR yesterday. I didn't make the team, but I wanted to see what my speed was. It really helped me a lot.”

Also high on the formchart are Texan Leonel Manzano, Rob Myers, Chris Lukezic and so on. Plus, there are those who are floating under the radar of the formchart, so to speak, like Steve Sherer (3:36.81 a few weeks ago).

So, will the race be magic? Almost certainly. Will it be Oregon magic again?

Anything can happen, but that’s never the way to bet.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Notes from Raff: Monday

Sunday evening we had the honor of dining at a local Italian place with former University of Michigan middle distance star Lindsay Gallo, who began her Olympian quest on Thursday. Gallo is confident she can compete with the best for one of the three places. She told us, “Whatever the pace, I will compete, and I’ll make sure it won’t be a slow race.” The New Jersey native’s mother’s family background claims Russian ancestry and longer distance genes in combination with her father’s northern Italian spring background make her an ideal miler. Watch the women’s 1500 finals on Sunday and follow Gallo’s race to China.

Writing about Gallo reminds me of Michigan coach Mike McGuire. Where would U-M distance and middle distance fortunes be if McGuire was not the coach? McGuire’s expertise in recruiting, training, and mentoring Wolverine female athletes compares equally or surpasses any famous track coach in the United States and Canada. Let’s hope Michigan realizes his value to the University and its track and field program.


A new addition to the ranks of national caliber decathletes is the University of Oregon’s Ashton Eaton, who is only a sophomore and comes from Bend, Oregon and was this year’s NCAA champion, stood in fifth place after the first day’s competition. He began his Olympian attempt with a 10.61 in the 100, long-jumped 24-7, high-jumped 6-5, and sprinted 47.07 in the 400. The future world class decathlete’s shot put at 40-3 showed Eaton’s youthfulness in the ten disciplined events. If you have ever been to Hayward Field, you know how the crowd reacted to the performance of the host school’s entry in the pole vault when he PRed three times at 16-8 3/4. Eaton’s 8122 points was good for fifth place; not bad for a college sophomore.

You don’t know how glad I am to be in Eugene. It took me four days to arrive here because I blacked out on the plane from Detroit to Denver. When the plane landed in Denver an EMS team took me to the University Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday undergoing cardiac testing, and on Friday at noon I was given a “clean bill of health,” hopped the plane to Portland where my former manager and assistant coach Mark Corless picked me up, and we arrived at Historic Hayward Field in time for the majority of Friday’s events. I’m taking it easy and enjoying the year’s best track and field meet.


My Olympic Trial experiences began in Indianapolis in 1988, when my son Michael, then 17 years old, and I left Holly at 3:00 a.m. in an old Chevette and arrived in Indy at 9:00 a.m. in 95 degree heat. We motel sixed it for eight days at $19.95 per evening. The thrill of the Olympic Trials still exists as I sat in this stadium for the 2008 Trials.

Next update: Friday