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Vermont’s Andrew Wheating Headed to Beijing

Oregon athletes sweep mens 800; Clay breaks OT record in decathlon

EUGENE,
Ore. – The Hayward Field East grandstand roared Monday night with an
intensity that may have awakened even the late Steve Prefontaine.

The occasion?

A
trio of Oregonians swept their way into the men’s 800m Olympics field
at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field. And then
there was that Olympic Trials record by Bryan Clay in the decathlon.

Eugene sweeps 800

The
men’s 800 had been a highlight of each day of competition as University
of Oregon and/or Oregon Track Club athletes filled the qualifying
rounds. Monday’s final featured three such athletes: the University of
Oregon’s Andrew Wheating and Oregon Track Club runners Nick Symmonds
and Christian Smith.

The first 700 meters gave no
indication that a Eugene sweep was in the making. As is his wont,
Khadevis Robinson took the pace out hard, passing 200m in 24.1 seconds.
After 1 lap, the four-time national champion led a surprisingly dense
pack through in 50.33.

With 300 to go, Lopez
Lomong moved up on Robinson’s shoulder, but it wasn’t until the final
90 meters that the race cleared itself up. Off the curve, Symmonds
launched the heroic kick that gave him the Nike Prefontaine Classic
title in 2007, and he went on to win in commanding style, in 1:44.10.
Behind him, some surged while others faded. When the smoke cleared,
Wheating -a Vermont native who only took up track in 2006 – had moved
up to second in 1:45.03, with Smith third in 1:45.47 – a time that gave
him the Olympic “A” standard of 1:46.00 as he dove for the line.
Robinson ended fourth in 1:45.53, with Lomong sixth in 1:45.58.

The
top three finishers in each event at these Olympic Trials, who have met
Olympic performance standards, will earn the ultimate prize of a spot
on the Team USA roster for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Clay reigns with Olympic Trials record

2005
world champion Bryan Clay entered Monday’s second day of decathlon
competition in the lead, and he never relinquished it. Indeed, he made
some history along the way. The 2004 Olympic Trials champ was third in
the 110m hurdles to open the day’s competition, running 13.79 for 1007
points, and he easily won the discus with a throw of 52.74m/173-00
(928). Clay tied for fourth in the pole vault (5.00m 16-04.75, 910
points) and won the javelin (70.55m/231-05, 898 points) before
grappling with his nemesis, the 1,500m, where he had a solid
performance of 4:50.97 for 613 points. Over two days, Clay scored 8,832
points to break the previous Olympic Trials record of 8,726 set by Dan
O’Brien in 1996, the year O’Brien won Olympic gold. Clay’s score was a
personal best, the best by an American in 16 years, and the best in the
world in four years.

He wasn’t the only
high-achieving decathlete over the weekend. Former NCAA champion Trey
Hardee was second with a personal-best score of 8,534, winning the 110m
hurdles in 13.71 (1012 points). Oregon native Tom Pappas, the 2003
world champion, had a banner day. En route to finishing third with
8,511 points, Pappas posted a personal-best pole vault of 5.20m/17-0.75
(972 points) to win that event, and became the first American man to
make three Olympic teams in the decathlon.

Patterson sets mark in women’s javelin

Big
10 champion Kara Patterson of Purdue made her first Olympic Team by
winning the women’s javelin in Olympic Trials-record style. The
22-year-old posted a best mark of 58.44m/191-9 to win over defending
national champion Dana Pounds (57.83m/189-9). Rachel Yurkovich of the
University of Oregon was third with 56.41m/185-1, and American record
holder Kim Kreiner was fourth with 55.90m/183-5. Patterson and Kreiner
both have the Olympic A standard of 60.50m/198-6 and will compete in
Beijing; Pounds and Yurkovich lack the standard and will not be on the
final Olympic Team roster.

Lagat supreme

Perhaps
the most anticipated final of the night was the men’s 5,000m as double
world champion Bernard Lagat began his quest for Olympic glory in the
5,000 and 1,500m.

In roughly a decade as one of
the world’s top middle-distance runners, Lagat has shown his ability to
run well in any kind of race, whether tactical or fast. Monday night
had a bit of both as Brent Vaughn bolted to the lead, well clear of the
field, and began clicking off 65-second laps. The rest of the field
trailed well behind and finally caught Vaughn 5:00 into the race,
slowing to 68 seconds per lap with six laps to go.

With
three laps remaining, Bolota Asmerom moved to the lead with Lagat close
behind, but 200 meters later Chris Solinsky threw in a 58-second lap
that was followed by Adam Goucher dropping out. With one lap to go, it
was a five man race between Solinsky, Asmerom, Lagat, Ian Dobson and
World Outdoor fourth-place finisher Matt Tegenkamp.

Lagat
made his decisive move at the 200-meter mark as Tegenkamp tripped on
his heels. The latter then gathered himself and gave chase as Dobson
moved up. Crossing the line, it was Lagat in 13:27.47, Tegenkamp second
in 13:29.88 and Dobson third in 13:29.76.

Oregon flavor in women’s 800

As
she has done throughout the rounds in the women’s 800, three-time USA
outdoor champion Hazel Clark took the lead early in Monday night’s
final. At the bell, Alice Schmidt moved up on the two-time Olympian’s
shoulder, but Clark maintained her lead. Running 2-3 meters back were
Nicole Teter and then Kameisha Bennett, both of whom fell during
Saturday’s semifinal and were advanced to the final by a referee’s
decision.

That decision paid off. In the
homestretch, Clark held on for first, winning in 1:59.82, with Schmidt
second in 2:00.46. Bennett overtook Teter and was third in 2:01.20,
with Teter fourth in 2:01.30. However, Bennett has not met the Olympic
“A” standard of 2:00.00, which means the Eugene-trained Teter is on the
team for Beijing.

More finals take shape

There
were no surprises in the men’s and women’s 400m semifinal rounds,
setting up finals on Thursday, after two off days of competition.

In
the men’s 400, the second semifinal was a preview of the final as
Olympic and world champion Jeremy Wariner and World Outdoor runner-up
LaShawn Merritt were in the same, second heat. Wariner won the heat in
44.66 with Merritt second in 44.76 as both men strode easily down the
homestretch. Reggie Witherspoon won heat 1 in 44.99.

A
showdown between world #1 Sanya Richards and Mary Wineberg seems on tap
for the women’s 400, as both handily won their heats. Wineberg took the
first in 50.57, with Richards winning the second heat, slowing
substantially in the final meters to cross the line in 50.75. Other
contenders advancing to the final were Olympic relay gold medalists Dee
Dee Trotter and Monique Henderson, as well as Natasha Hastings.

In
the women’s steeplechase semifinal, Nicole Bush of Michigan State won
the first heat in 9:49.53, while NCAA champion Jenny Barringer of
Colorado easily won the second semi in 9:48.50 to set a Hayward Field
record. The final will be Thursday.

All the usual
suspects will compete in Friday’s high jump final as well, as Chaunte
Howard, Amy Acuff and Destinee Hooker were among the 14 women who will
vie for Olympic berths. In the long jump, heptathlon champion Hyleas
Fountain was the top qualifier into Thursday’s final with
6.66m/21-10.25.

The women’s 5,000m semifinals
set up a Friday final that will feature heat winners Shalane Flanagan
(15:35.86) and Kara Goucher (15:32.22).

For
complete coverage of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track &
Field, including results, athletes quotes, TV schedule and start lists,
visit www.usatf.org

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