Here’s a quick look at who to watch during the last four days of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Like hippies making a pilgrimage to Woodstock, the country’s top track stars and their fans have converged in Eugene, Ore., for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials—the most exciting track meet in the country with fierce do-or-die Olympic implications—at the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field.
It’s fitting the trials have returned to Track Town, U.S.A., for the second time in four years to decide who will represent the U.S. at the Olympics in London this August. The excitement for track and field in Eugene is unparalleled anywhere else in the country, as this usually sleepy little college town has come alive to celebrate the country’s best athletes.
The middle and long-distance events—those ranging from 800 to 10,000 meters—always garner the most media and fan attention here. Many of the country’s most celebrated athletes in these disciplines—from Steve Prefontaine and Mary Decker-Slaney in the ’70s and ’80s to modern-day stars such as Nick Symmonds, Jenny Simpson and Galen Rupp—have passed through Eugene on their way to making Olympic teams.
Two of the aforementioned stars–Rupp and Symmonds–have already punched their tickets to London, by virtue of winning their races during the first week of competition, which opened last Friday with Rupp and Amy Hastings taking home 10,000-meter titles. The first-half action concluded on Monday night as hometown favorite Symmonds came from behind to win his fifth outdoor national championship in the 800 meters while Alysia Montano led from wire to wire to take the women’s race.
The drama that unfolds in the remaining races over the final four days of competition will keep fans on the edges of their seats as the rest of the Unites States’ Olympic roster gets filled out one day at a time. Over the following pages we give you a rundown of who to watch during the remainder of these exciting mid-distance and distance events, which take place from June 28 through July 1.
Qualifying: Thursday, June 28 — 3:50 PM
Semifinal: Friday, June 29 — 3:45 PM
Final: Sunday, July 1 — 4:23 PM
Jenny Simpson is the reigning world champion, Morgan Uceny was the top-ranked 1,500m runner in the world last year and Shannon Rowbury, Anna Pierce and Gabriele Anderson are no slouches, either. In what should be the event of the meet, at least five women will battle for the top-three spots and the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the metric mile in London. Simpson and Rowbury, the bronze medalist at the 2009 world championships, have shown they know how to be at their best when the stakes are highest, while Mammoth Track Club teammates Uceny and Pierce each possess the tools to run well on the world level. Anderson surprised many earlier this year, defeating Uceny and others in the 1,500 at the Oxy High Performance meet in May with a personal best 4:06.46 clocking. She’ll need to finish in the top 3–and run under 4:06–to secure her spot in London.
Qualifying: Thursday, June 28 — 4:20 PM
Semifinal: Friday, June 29 — 4:25 PM
Final: Sunday, July 1 — 4:37 PM
The 1,500m is always full of surprises and none were bigger than when 21-year-old Matt Centrowitz found his way onto the medal stand at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, last summer when he captured bronze. Centrowitz enters the event as the pre-trials favorite, while experienced Olympian Leo Manzano, the runner-up at the 2008 trials, will be looking to dethrone the young gun from the University of Oregon. Also worth watching will be David Torrence, who trains with Manzano and is a three-time national road mile champion, along with newly minted pro Robby Andrews, the Oregon Track Club’s Russell Brown and Andrew Wheating, a 3:31 guy and 2008 Olympian in the 800 meters.
Final: Friday, June 29 — 4:45 PM
In 2008 Sara Hall was struggling to find her once solid form after finishing a disappointing ninth in the 1,500m final at Olympic trials. Four years later she’s established her identity as a serious threat to make the team in a different event, the steeplechase. Hall captured gold in the steeple at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Mexico, won the 2012 U.S. cross country championships in February and comes to Eugene riding a great wave of momentum. Reigning national champion Emma Coburn will be looking to defend her crown from last summer, while Bridget Franek and Delilah DiCrescenzo, second and third at last summer’s national championships, respectively, will also be fighting for a spot on the team. Coburn’s University of Colorado teammate, Shalaya Kipp, would love to accompany her training partner to London.
Final: Thursday, June 28 — 6:30 PM
Evan Jager had never run a steeplechase race in his life until this past April, but now he’s a serious threat to make his first Olympic team. Jager walked away with a convincing victory and a meet record at the Mt. SAC relays just two months ago, clocking an outstanding 8:26.14, and looked easy in winning his heat in the qualifying rounds on Monday night. Reigning national champion Billy Nelson won’t go down without a fight, nor will Team Nebraska’s David Adams, who turned some heads with an impressive victory at Stanford’s Cardinal Invitational in April. Ben Bruce of Flagstaff-based McMillan Elite, advanced through the qualifying rounds comfortably, as did Dan Huling and Kyle Acorn.
Final: Thursday, June 28 — 7:15 PM
Molly Huddle holds the American record in this event (14:44.76) and a second consecutive 5,000m title is her’s to lose. Pre-meet favorites Amy Hastings and Angela Bizzarri didn’t make it out of Monday’s qualifying rounds, nor did Jackie Areson, a University of Tennessee grad who opened up her outdoor season in April with a huge personal best of 15:18.31 at the Stanford Invitational. So who’s left? It’s wide open. Lisa Uhl, who has already qualified for the team in the 10,000 meters, will line up for Thursday’s final, as will Eugene-based Julia Lucas, the fastest American this year with a 15:08 clocking. Abbey D’Agostino and Elizabeth Maloy both looked solid in winning their qualifying heats on Monday night, while Kim Conley of Sacramento Elite, Alisha Williams of Colorado, and veteran Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet are all outside shots to contend for a spot in the top-3.
Final: Thursday, June 28 — 7:38 PM
Bernard Lagat has stated his main mission is to win a gold medal in the 5,000m this summer in London and there’s no reason not to believe him. The Kenyan-born 37-year-old, who trains in Arizona, is the reigning national champion and the American record holder in the event. He enters as the favorite and looked smooth in his qualifying heat, but will be given a run for his money by Galen Rupp, who won the 10,000 meters on the opening night of competition in Eugene, and 2008 U.S. 1,500m Olympian Lopez Lomong, a relative newcomer to the 5,000 who ran a then world-leading 13:11.63 at the Payton Jordan meet at the end of April. Brent Vaughn, the 2011 U.S. cross country champion, could fly in under the radar and grab a surprise spot on the team if the right opportunity arises, as might Ben True, Andrew Bumbalough, or Lagat’s younger brother Robert Cheseret. With a deep field of tremendous talent and killer closing speed, look for an epic fight to the finish over the last two laps.