It was a full 20 minutes after the race and still Julie Jenkins was barely able to talk. Standing in the athletes' tent, she finally lifted her eyes toward the ceiling - and sobbed. "It's all over," she said, her voice breaking. "Except the emotion."
For the moment, her Olympic dreams were over. Running in the finals of the 800-meter run in the U.S. Olymic Track and Field Trials Monday night in Indianapolis, Jenkins, one of the pre-race favorites, finished fifth - two places and two seconds away from making the U.S. Olympic team. She had seemed to be in such good position to strike with only 200 meters to go, poised as she was on the outside shoulder of the leader, Kim Gallagher. But midway through the turn Jenkins faded, and with 150 meters to go she knew she was finished, that she couldn't go with the leaders. She tied up in the homestretch and finished in 2:01.62.Gallagher, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist, was the winner, setting a meet, stadium and personal record of 1:58.01 in the process. Delisa Walton-Floyd was second in 1:59.20, Joetta Clark third in 1:59.93 and Debbie Marshall fourth in 1:59.97, thus marking the first time four American women have run under two minutes in the same race.
"I tried," said Jenkins, her eyes filling with tears again. "I just wish I had more to give."
It was a bitter defeat for Jenkins, the 1987 NCAA champion from BYU and Plain City. She had dedicated the last seven months almost entirely to this single race. She moved to Colorado to train under Joe Vigil, worked part-time in a sporting goods store, moved in with her sister's family, slept on a rollaway couch and, at one time when money was tight, lived on bread and milk. Her spartan existence and singlemindedness paid off. In Jenkins' nine races before the trials (including two qualifying rounds), she had walked away a winner eight times and twice ran under 2:01.
In the Olympic trials Jenkins cruised through the first two rounds to land a spot in the final. And then, after one long sleepless night, she found herself lining up in lane 7 for the start of the biggest race of her life. At the sound of the gun, Jenkins went with the leaders, just as she had vowed to do, but the early pace seemed foolhardy. Essie Washington, Floyd and Gallagher hit 200 meters in 26.7, with Jenkins close behind. Washington, Marshall and Jenkins split 56.15 at 400 meters, with Jenkins running wide in the outside half of the lane, as she would the entire race. It was a pace that would finallytake its toll in the homestretch.
Jenkins and Gallagher bolted as they hit the backstretch, a move Jenkins would later regret. "I was too emotional with 300 meters to go," she said. "I was too excited. I should have been more patient." Midway through the turn, Floyd, Marshall and Clark caught Jenkins and Gallagher, and as they entered the homestretch Jenkins began to fade.
"I guess I wanted it too badly," said Jenkins, and then she apologized as she began to cry softly again.
Even in despair, however, Jenkins hadn't lost hope. Shortly after the race, she decided to compete in the 1,500-meter run, an event she has run only rarely (not since the '87 NCAA outdoor meet). She had entered the 1,500 at the meet's outset in the event things went awry in the 800. She'll be a long-shot in the longer race, but perhaps her Olympic hopes aren't finished yet.
Jenkins wasn't the only Utahn to suffer a narrow miss on Monday night. Niki Nye, the former Roy High School and Weber State student-athlete, finished fourth in the javelin with a throw of 181-0 - which left her exactly three feet behind third-place finisher Lynda Sutfin and a berth on the Olympic team. And then there was Teri Okelberry, the Weber High graduate who will be a senior at Weber State next year. After barely qualifying for Monday's finals, Okelberry finished sixth with a throw of 174-10. Not bad for a slender 5-foot-8, 122-pound heptathlete who might well become a middle-distance runner next year.
It was a night for near misses, but Henry Marsh, the three-time Olympic steeplchaser from Bountiful, had no such luck. Pulling into the stadium parking lot an hour before his first-round race, he got in a minor car accident. Leaving his wife, Suzanne, to deal with the wreck, Marsh ran off to warm up for his race, which he navigated better than he did his rental car. Running last for the first three laps, as always, Marsh gradually worked his way through traffic for the next 41/2 laps and easily qualified for Wednesday's semifinals. He finished sixth in his heat with a time of 8:42.19.
Just behind Marsh, in seventh and eighth, respectively, came two more BYU products - Ted Mecham (8:42.33) and Steve Chipman (8:42.61). A fourth Utah collegian, Paul Henderson, formerly of Weber State, wasn't as fortunate. He finished last in his heat with a time of 9:11.08 and had to be helped off the track.
For Marsh, the two-time defending Olympic trials champion, it was business as usual. "I felt fine," he said. "If you have trouble in the qualifying rounds, you're in trouble."