Merritt, Richards win 400 crowns, Willard breaks AR at Olympic Trials
EUGENE, Ore. -One 400-meter runner came of age and another returned to form Thursday night at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field.
LaShawn Merritt, the 2007 World Outdoor silver medalist and two-time U.S. runner-up, on Thursday reached the full potential he had demonstrated since winning the 2004 World Junior title in the men’s 400 meters. He entered these Olympic Trials in the same category as every other quarter-miler: as a challenger to defending Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner.
Running with newfound confidence and maturity this season, especially after defeating Wariner on June 1 in Berlin, Merritt ran a commanding race to win his first national outdoor title and peg him as at least a co-gold medal favorite in Beijing.
With Wariner in lane 4 and Merritt in Lane 5, the two men were roughly even through 200 meters. A few steps later, Merritt had begun to take a lead and clearly had an advantage coming off the turn. Down the final stretch, Merritt led Wariner by a stride as the Olympic champion was digging to make up ground. Competing just a few days after turning 22 on June 27, Merritt held his ground and won handily in 44.00, with Wariner second in 44.20. USA indoor champion David Neville was a surprising third in 44.61.
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.
Richards returns in 400
The women’s 400 meters was expected to provide world #1 ranked Sanya Richards the chance to return to the top of the U.S. heap after finishing a disappointing fourth in 2007. She delivered. At the gun, Richards bolted around the first turn, scorching the first 100 meters before easing significantly in the second 200. With a half lap to go, Mary Wineberg had pulled even with Richards, running on Richards’ inside, giving Wineberg the lead.
Richards turned it on for the final 200 meters and sprinted away to win by nearly 1 full second, running 49.89, with Wineberg second in 50.85. Perhaps the most astounding story of the race was defending national champion Dee Dee Trotter finishing third in 50.88. The 2004 Olympic relay gold medalist is running with a broken bone chip in her left leg, the result of an errant car door closing on her two months ago. Just a few weeks ago, Trotter was running 53 seconds in the 400. On Thursday, she became a two-time Olympian.
Willard claims American record
In its first year as an Olympic event, the women’s steeplechase enjoyed its finest night ever on American soil.
Collegiate record holder Jenny Barringer of Colorado took the early lead in the race, keeping the pace honest and right on tap toward breaking the American record of 9:28.75, held by Lisa Galaviz. Trailing closely behind Barringer were 2007 NCAA champion Anna Willard and 2007 NCAA runner-up Lindsey Anderson.
With 600m to go, Willard made her move and took the lead over the water barrier. She quickly gapped Barringer and Anderson, and at the bell the winner seemed clear. Willard went on to win in 9:27.59 to break the American record, posting the fastest time ever on U.S. soil in the process. Anderson (9:30.75) overtook Barringer (9:33.11) to round out the Olympic Team.
Reese wins strong women’s LJ
For the first time since 1996, the top three finishers in the women’s long jump all have exceeded the Olympic A standard, making it the strongest team in years. 2004 Olympic finalist Grace Upshaw held the lead through most of the competition with her personal-best jump of 6.88m/22-7 (+1.8 mps) as jumpers traded the second-through-fourth positions. On her final jump, two-time NCAA outdoor champ and 2007 World Outdoor finalist Britney Reese let fly with a mark of 6.95m/22-9.75 (+1.4 mps), a personal record, 2008 U.S. leader and #2 mark in the world, to win. Upshaw was second and the surprise long jump find of 2008, Funmi Jimoh, was third with a mark 6.72/22-0.75 (+2.1 mps).
Busy qualifying rounds
In qualifying round action, all expected athletes moved on to Sunday’s women’s pole vault final as 12 women, including American record holder Jenn Stuczynski and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila, advanced. Fourteen men advanced to Saturday’s final in the men’s high jump by clearing 2.15m/7-0.5 or 2.20m/7-2.5.
Christin Wurth-Thomas (4:13.40), Shannon Rowbury (4:16.13) and Lindsey Gallo (4:17.01) won their heats of the women’s 1,500m and will compete in Friday’s semifinal. Winning men’s 1,500 heats were Gabe Jennings (3:44.39), Lopez Lomong (3:43.38) and Alan Webb (3:41.27) as all favorites advanced. Anthony Famiglietti won heat 1 of the men’s steeplechase semifinals (8:25.17), with Benjamin Bruce taking the second heat in 8:32.57.
Leading qualifiers in the throws were Jessica Cosby in the women’s hammer (69.70m/228-08), Jared Rome in the men’s discus (63.05m/206-10) and Michelle Carter in the women’s shot put (18.33m/60-01.75).
In exhibition events, Tony Young of Club Northwest won the masters men’s 3,000m in 8:47.17, and Amber Weber won the women’s 800m wheelchair race in 2:18.26.
For complete coverage of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field, including results, athletes quotes, photos, TV schedule and start lists, visit www.usatf.org