Larry C. Lawson, All
There are not many sporting events that are as simple and dramatic as the Olympic trials. Athletes either place in the top three and meet the Olympic qualifying mark, or they go home.
There are no polls, no computer rankings, no strength-of-schedule formula, no seven-game playoff series. It's one race to the finish, do or die. The prize: An opportunity to compete on the greatest stage in sports.
When the 11-day U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials begin Thursday at the University of Oregon's famed Hayward Field, at least nine athletes with Utah ties will be on the track, including four current or former collegiate champions.
To achieve the qualifying standards and arrive healthy and in peak condition for the trials is a feat in itself. Nobody knows this more than Weber State's Amber Henry. She has surpassed the stiff Olympic A standard in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, but injuries finally sidelined her. She broke her collarbone in the conference championships, but ran anyway in the NCAA region meet, where she won her heat but hyper-extended her knee. In the NCAA finals, she fell and dislocated her elbow, leaving her arm dangling at her side. Reaching down and resetting her elbow as she ran, she still managed an 11th-place finish.
"That's one tough girl, but all those injuries have caught up with her now," says Weber coach Jim Blaisdell.
She will not compete in Eugene.
It has been a banner school year for former Utah preps on the running scene — to wit: Shalaya Kipp (NCAA steeplechase champion), Nachelle Stewart Mackie (NCAA 800-meter champ), Miles Batty (collegiate record holder in the mile, NCAA runner-up), Luke Pudreksa (fourth place in the NCAA 10,000), Heidi McGill Dahl (a trials qualifier), and Chris Carter (All-America honors in the 400 hurdles).
They'll all be on the track at Eugene. Here's a look at the qualifiers in the Trials:
One day several years ago, Skyline High coach Tom Porter took Kipp aside and told her, "Someday you are going to be an NCAA champion." Kipp has done just that. A junior at the University of Colorado, she won the steeplechase at the recent NCAA championships. Heading into the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, she has the fourth-fastest time in the country and a realistic chance of making the Olympic team.
"It's kind of scary to think you actually do have a shot," she says. "I don't want to get overly excited, but I can definitely be up there."
Kipp was an alpine ski racer for 10 years before going off to college to try running fulltime. Reasoning that a ski racer would be fearless and durable in attacking wooden barriers and water jumps, Colorado coach Mark Wetmore suggested she try the steeplechase late in her freshman year. She placed fifth in the NCAA meet that year, then third the following year and first this year, giving Colorado five steeplechase titles in seven years.
Local track aficionados will remember the 6-foot-4 Puskedra. As a senior at Judge Memorial High in 2008, he became the fastest Utah prep ever in the distance races, running 4:05.17 for 1,600 meters and 8:43.36 for 3,200 meters. He went on to run for Oregon and was named Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year as a freshman. With his fourth-place finish in the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA meet, he closed his collegiate career as an 11-time All-American.
His PR in the 10,000 is 28:33.47. The Olympic A standard is 27:45.00. It's unlikely the Trials race will produce A standard times. As Puskedra noted, "Usually these races are tactical and slower."
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