Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Track Trials - Final Thoughts

If you’ve been following along lately, you know that I just got back from the Olympic Trials for Track & Field in Eugene, Oregon – or as I like to call it, the greatest sporting event I’ve ever been to.  I can honestly say that, even though I only attended the second half of the meet.  Yes, even though I missed the Decathlon World Record, the 100m tie, the 10,000m, the 800m, and the women’s triple jump, where Amanda Smock became Minnesota’s only Olympian (not counting Kara Goucher), I still had a tremendous time.  Rather than recap all the events I saw, I thought I’d share some of the highlights from my trip that occurred away from the track – at least for the most part.
June 28th
I woke up at 4 AM in order to catch my plane.  This is going to be a long day!  I’m no sooner off the plane in Portland when I spot my first Olympian, American Record Holder in the Pole Vault, Jenn Suhr, formerly Stuczynski.  She had already punched her ticket to London and was on her way home.
I’ve been to Hayward Field one other time, during my honeymoon, 14 years ago to the week.  The site of it again makes me think that this is what Lambeau must look like to Packer fans.

Hayward Field
The first events on the track that afternoon are the qualifying heats of the men’s and women’s 1500m.  As I’m sitting with my buddy Paul Mullen, NBC announcer Ato Boldon appears in the stands right next to us and starts telling us the story behind these glasses.
Ato Boldon
A few minutes later, Oregon’s legendary coach, Bill Dellinger, takes a sit about 20 feet away from us.
During the very first race, I get my first taste of how “into it” the Hayward Field crowd can get.  As the runners approach, the nearby crowd begins to clap rhythmically.  This clapping leads the runners around the entire stadium, sort of like “doing the wave” at a football game.  They do the same for athletes competing in the field events.
June 29th
Since the main events that I wanted to watch didn’t start until the mid-afternoon, I was able to meet up with Bruce Mortenson for an 11 mile run along the Ridgeline Trail.  If you’re not familiar with Bruce, he ran at the University of Oregon in the mid-60s and was even the National Champion in the Steeplechase.  As you can imagine, running around his old stomping grounds was an absolute treat for me.
I realized that my media pass allowed me to stand very close to the track – just passed the finish line.  As I’m standing there today, I witnessed the emotion between a coach and athlete.  One of the women’s shot putters, Tia Brooks, placed 3rd and she came over to hug her coach.  I don’t know anything about the shot put, but witnessing first-hand the sheer joy between a coach and athlete was pretty cool.
The evening included dinner at King Estate Winery with Bruce Mortenson, his wife and about 15 other track fans – including two guys that used to run at Oregon too.  Listening them wax nostalgic was a great experience – especially when you consider that these guys knew legendary Steve “Pre” Prefontaine.  He’s more than just some running legend to them.  He was a friend and teammate and his death touched them much differently than the rest of us.

King Estate Winery
Night #2 concluded with a brief stop at what seemed to be the most popular bar around, the Wild Duck.  The highlight there was meeting Matt Scherer.  You probably don’t recognize the name, but if you watch any track meet that has a rabbit/pace setter, you’ll probably recognize Matt’s hulking frame (at least compared to the runners he’s pacing).  He currently makes his living by rabbitting track races.
June 30th
Even though I’m on “vacation”, my training doesn’t stop.  I’m training for TCM and I have to get in a long run, so I head to Pre's Trail for an 18 miler on a beautiful woodchip trail.
One of my favorite events of the trip surprised even me.  It was the women’s high jump.  There were a ton of different storylines, including Amy Acuff making her 5th Olympic Team at age 36, the University of Arizona’s Brigetta Barrett PRing twice in one meet and breaking Acuff’s collegiate record, and high schooler Gabrielle Williams setting a new high school record, clearing 6-2 1/4 and placing 5th – as a sophomore!
The evening began at Max’s with a college buddy, Joe Uhan.  He placed 9th at the Western States 100 mile race the week before, so it was cool to hear all about his experience. 
Joe Uhan showing off his Western States belt buckle.
I followed up Max’s with another trip to the Wild Duck where I was introduced to 2000 Olympian Nick Rogers.  He talked about how his coach, Bill Dellinger, had a stroke between the time he qualified for the Olympics and when the Games were held.  He basically said he lost his coach and would have given up his Olympics to have him healthy again.
July 1st
My last day in Eugene started with another run with Bruce Mortenson.  Along with TC Running Company owner, Adam Lindahl and store manager, Kurt Decker, we headed up to Pre’s Rock – the site of the car accident that killed him.
TCRC's Kurt Decker and Adam Lindahl
Pre's Rock
One of the clutch performances of the meet came in the women’s javelin.  Entering the final round, Brittany Borman was in third place, however, she did not have the A-standard so she wouldn’t be going to London unless she improved.  She “simply” threw a PR by over 6 feet, earned the A-Standard and placed first in the meet.  The coolest thing of all (at least for me) is that I was standing by her coach afterwards – the same guy who coached the shot putter I mentioned above. 
After the meet I was hanging around the media tent.  I poked my head outside and found the men’s 1500m team standing about 5 feet way, so I snapped a bunch of photos.
Men's 1500m team; Leo Manzano, Andrew Wheating, and Matt Centrowitz
Not wanting the meet to end, I hung around as long as I could before packing and heading out.  On my way out of town I stopped at Track Town Pizza where I bumped into fellow Minnesotans Erin Ward and Angie Voight.  We proceeded to share stories from the meet – and we began planning for 2016 already.

Angie and Erin - no this photo isn't from our trip.
Hope to see you again in 2016!
Thanks again to MDRA for this amazing opportunity!

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