When last we saw the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, the BYU Trio was quietly stealing the show in the distance events. First, Paul Cummings breezed to victory in the 10,000-meter run. Then Henry Marsh sprinted to a win in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. And, finally, Doug Padilla took the 5,000-meter run to make a clean sweep of the distance races for the Stormin' Mormons, as the media would call them.
Alas, much has changed in the four years since then, and during the next eight days at the Olympic trials there will be nothing to equal the golden days of '84. Cummings won't even be there. He couldn't qualify for the trials, a victim of illness and perhaps encroaching age. Both Padilla and Marsh have been in a steady state of decline the last two years - the former because of allergies, the latter because of age, illness and increasing business commitments (read: waning dedication) - and their prospects for winning at the trials aren't good; in fact, the Olympic trials could mark the end of the line for both of them.Marsh, 34, will retire at the end of the year, if not sooner. "If I don't make the team, this is my last race," says Marsh.
Says Padilla, "If I don't have a good year this year, I could be forced into retirement." A good year means making the Olympic team.
Marsh and Padilla are two of the 10 Utahns who will compete in the Olympic Trials, which begin today and end July 23. The list could have been considerably longer, but several Utah prospects fell by the wayside for various reasons - Cummings, Keith Robinson, Jay Woods and Eyestone, who will skip the track trials to concentrate on the Olympic marathon.
Here is a quick look at the Utahns in the trials, including the dates of their qualifying races and, if they make it, the finals:
- Henry Marsh (Steeplechase, PR: 8:09:17) - Given his performance so far this season, Marsh, the American record holder, seems unlikely to repeat his Olympic trials victories of '80 and '84. After an erratic training program, he began the serious part of his season by stumbling over a water jump at the Jenner Classic and failed to finish the race. He finished a distant fifth at Pepsi with a time of 8:36.64, then won a tactical race at the Prefontaine meet in 8:34.81, but even that victory left some questions. "The question is, can I handle a fast pace?" says Marsh.
What might help him is the relative weakness of his American rivals. "I don't think there are three guys who are in 8:20 shape," says Marsh, who ran 8:15 and some change to win the last two trials.
Marsh, 34, also can fall back on experience. He's hoping to make his fourth Olympic team. (Race dates: July 18, 20, 22.)
- Doug Padilla (5,000 meters, PR: 13:15.44) At 31, Padilla should be at the peak of his career; instead, he has been in steep decline since '85, when he ranked No. 2 in the world. In the last 21/2 years, he has run under 13:30 just once. Sydnee Maree and Terry Brahm rate the favorites in the trials 5,000 (Brahm is 2-0 against Padilla this year). The third spot is up for grabs. What Padilla lacks most of all is strength (translation: "I can't go with the group if it's a fast pace," he says.) Padilla would prefer a slow pace in the finals, which would play into his strength, which is speed, which is exactly how he won the TAC 5,000. (July 20, 21, 23.)
- Julie Jenkins (800 meters, PR: 2:00.52) - Jenkins, who grew up on a horse ranch near Plain City, is perhaps Utah's best bet to make the Olympic team. She has raced nine times this year and won eight of them. Her lone loss was a second-place finish in the national championships. She has run under 2:01 twice this year, but she thinks it will take more. "I think I'll have to run 1:58 to make the team," says Jenkins, BYU's 1987 NCAA 800 champ. The competition will be tough - the Clark/Walton-Floyd/Washington trio, plus '84 silver medalist Kim Gallagher, who is making a comeback and getting stronger every week. (July 16, 17, 18.)
- Russ Meldrum (hammer, PR: 225-0) - In the year since graduating from BYU, Meldrum has begun his studies at the University of Utah medical school, lost 30 pounds, stopped lifting weights and limited his throwing practices to one a week. And yet he finished sixth in the national championships and has thrown consistently in the 215-foot range. "So you tell me, why am I throwing this well?" asks Meldrum, a Provo native. But he is realistic - "It's a long three-point shot for me to make the team." (July 17, 18.)
- Wes Ashford (1,500 meters, PR: 3:41.8) - Illness nearly cost Ashford his life, not to mention most of his track career while at BYU, but he has rebounded this year to have his best season ever. He has spent much of the past two months touring Europe. Such experience could help his showing in the trials, but he'll have to run considerably faster to survive the first round. (July 21, 22, 23.)
- Paul Henderson (Steeplechase, PR: 8:36.82) - Henderson has competed only sparingly since using up his NCAA eligibility at Weber State, but last spring he moved back to Ogden to train with the Wildcats and produced his PR. He might need another PR to survive the first round. (July 18, 20, 22.)
- Ted Mecham (Steeplechase, PR: 8:38.51) - Mecham began the track season as a 1,500-meter runner, but at the suggestion of teammates who saw him hurdling in practice one day, he tried the steeplechase for the first time in March. He went on to finish second in the NCAA championships. Since then, Mecham has begun training with Marsh, the master, and Padilla. He finished fifth in the Prefontaine meet, beating a number of veterans in the process. He could be a sleeper in this, one of the meet's softest events. "Ted's getting more confident," says Marsh. "But he's in the same boat I am: can he handle a fast pace. He hasn't run a fast time yet." (July 18, 20, 22.)
- Celsa Bowman (5,000 meters, PR: 16:18.07) - Bowman, a native of Salt Lake City, was one of 12 women runners invited to compete in a special, invitation-only 5,000-meter run at the trials (it is an exhibition event, since there will be no 5,000 in the Olympics). Bowman produced her PR last spring while completing her senior year at the University of Utah. (July 21.)
- Terry Okelberry (Javelin, PR: 177-1) - A heptathlete at Weber State, Okelberry was forced to concentrate on the javelin this year because of injuries and, well, here she is, in the trials. The former Weber High School star probably will have to break 190 feet to make the team. (Qualifying round: July 17, 18.)
- Niki Nye (Javelin, PR: 182-4) - Nye, a former all-state volleyball and basketball player for Roy High School, has blossomed into a fine thrower in the college ranks. After transferring from Weber State to Texas a couple of years ago, she finished fourth in the recent NCAA championships. (Qualifying round: July 17, 18.)