Bountiful's Henry Marsh kept his Olympic medal hopes alive here Monday, qualifying in the opening heat of the 3,000-meter steeplechase, but Park City's Madonna Harris, riding in the women's cycling road race, saw her medal hopes dashed when her tire went flat halfway into the race.
Marsh, who is competing in his third Olympic Games, easily moved into Wednesday's steeplechase semifinals with a clocking of 8:33.89 around the Olympic Stadium track. The qualifying heats, of which there were three, actually served little purpose, eliminating only seven steeplechasers in the process - all with times near or above the mediocre nine-minute mark."We shouldn't have even had this race," said Marsh. "But I don't think it took too much out of anyone. Wednesday is the race to worry about. We'll eliminate 13 people (from a total of 26), and there are so many fast runners that it could take an 8:20 just to qualify."
By contrast, Marsh qualified for the U.S. Olympic team by running an 8:24 at the U.S. Trials in Indianapolis.
But as was the case Monday, you run what you have to. The first-round heats called for survival, not speed. Marsh stayed in the eighth position throughout most of his race, and then moved into sixth near the finish line, to ensure qualification.
"I definitely ran within myself," said Marsh, who has been pleased with his workouts the past two weeks. "In a way, though, it's as hard going at a slow pace as when you're running fast. I had to back off the water jump every lap because my pacing wasn't right, and then try to kick off the barrier."
Marsh lamented that he didn't draw the No. 3 heat instead of the No. 1 heat. By the third heat, the runners knew what was needed to qualify and were able to slow down even further. The winner of that heat, Patrick Sang of Kenya, finished in 8:36.11, more than two seconds behind Marsh's time and nearly six seconds behind Raymond Pannier of France, who won the first heat in 8:30.94.
The fastest qualifier was Italy's Francesco Panetta, generally considered the pre-race favorite. Panetta clocked 8:29.75 in the second heat, almost four seconds ahead of runnerup Julius Kariuki of Kenya.
Fearing too fast of a pace Wednesday, Marsh said it would be to his advantage to not draw the same semifinal heat as Panetta.
The steeplechase final is set for Friday at 2:20 p.m. (10:20 p.m. Thursday night MDT).
Doug Padilla of Provo is also scheduled to run Wednesday, in the first heat of the 5,000 meters. The semifinal heats are set for Thursday and the final Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. Friday night MDT).
In the women's cycling 82-kilometer (51-mile) road race Monday, Harris - a Park City resident who was representing her native New Zealand - was in a closely contested race with the leaders until her tire was punctured at about the midway point of the race.
She was running third, with Catherine Marsal of France in the lead, when her back tire hit a "large pebble" and blew.
The support van was slow in coming to her rescue, and when it took nearly two minutes to change the wheel, she was effectively eliminated. To add to her problems, the spare wheel was brand new and not of racing quality.
"It was like something you'd put on a delivery bike," she said. "It was mushy and soft. I may as well have ridden my flat tire."
She was a minute and 47 seconds behind the pack when she rode past the combination start-finish line after completing three laps of the five-lap race. She chased the riders for another lap and then decided, since she was now more than four minutes to the rear and losing ground, that she should just pull into the New Zealand pits, where she cast aside the spare wheel in disgust.
"I really felt comfortable (before the puncture)," she said. "I was riding well. I was in a position where I could just hang back (of the leaders) and watch every move they made, going with them when I had to."
Harris was completing a rare Olympic double. She also represented New Zealand in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, in cross-country skiing.> "I liked the course," she said of the bike course that was laid out in the rolling hills on the outskirts of Seoul in an area called Kup'abal. "It's a good course, except for a lot of little pebbles."
"I noticed them when I trained," she added. "Maybe it was a premonition. If I did it again, I'd go with a heavier tire.">