NY’s Tully on Bubble in World Champs 5000

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(Used with permission)

BEIJING (27-Aug) -- USA 5000m champion Nicole Tully looked downcast as she walked off of the track at National Stadium here this morning on the sixth day of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics. Tully, 28, had just finished eighth in her qualifying heat in 15:41.03, missing one of the top-five automatic qualifying places for Sunday's final. She was now forced to wait until the conclusion of the second heat to see if she would get one of the five qualifying positions based on time. She was on the bubble, waiting for the lower case "q" to pop up next to her name on the results system.

Tully didn't think she would be in this position. In only her third 5000m race,
she appeared to be running comfortably, and was in the same pack as heat winner,
Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, through 3000 meters (9:21.60). She was only four seconds back at the 4-K mark, but couldn't handle the quick change in tempo in the final kilometer, falling well behind. She was hurting.

"It felt hard too soon, you know what I mean?" said Tully, who also works a full-time job in public relations for an electronics company. "When the string broke, I knew that was where I needed to be, but it was such a surge. I tried to tuck in, but I lost contact from three laps out. My arms were dead. My legs were dead."

After stopping to speak with an official from USA Track & Field to give her official post-race quote, Tully leaned against the railing of the mixed zone to watch the second heat on a monitor. She analyzed every lap, every move to see if her time might hold up.

"If this heat goes stupid-slow, then I can still get in on time," Tully said, looking at the monitor doubtfully. "I don't know."

Japan's Ayuko Suzuki took the lead from the gun. She led the field through the first kilometer in 3:16.67, more than 11 seconds slower than Tully's heat. There was hope.

"It just seems like a Japanese woman goes to the front and leads it every time," Tully observed wryly.

Suzuki remained in the front through 2000m (6:17.24) and was just a step behind the leader, Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana, at 3000m (9:17.23). But the pace was picking up. The leaders were now 3 seconds faster than Tully's heat, and her hope began to fade. She grew more tense by the moment.

"It's a nerve-wracking 20 minutes," Tully told Race Results Weekly. "You know, there's nothing you can do."

But there was a big break in the field. Ayana was running laps of 71 seconds or faster, but the field had strung out and Tully began to count the women behind her, estimating how big the time gap was. Ayana won the heat easily in 15:09.40, much faster than Dibaba's 15:20.82, but most of the other women were well behind. The fifth women, Eloise Wellings of Australia, came across in 15:26.67, the last of the automatic qualifiers, then came the rest: 15:28.18, 15:43.57, 15:48.52. She was in, the fourth of five time qualifiers.

"Wow," Tully said, looking mildly stunned. "It feels good now. It didn't feel so good when I finished my race, but I will say I was very nervous for this. I think I had that nervous energy. Now, I don't have that for the final. It's just run and have fun, and take a few days to recover."

Tully will be the only American woman in the final. Her teammates, Marielle Hall and Abby D'Agostino, ran in the second heat, finishing 10th and 12th, respectively. Their times of 16:06.60 and 16:16.47 were well outside of the qualifying window.

"I'm so happy that even though I wanted to die I made myself stay in it knowing that I could still get in on time," Tully said. "This was my first 5-K that hurt for a long time, and mentally I think that was the hardest part." She added: "I didn't give up."

PHOTO: USA 5000m champion Nicole Tully on her way to qualifying for the 5000m final at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Athletics

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