Olympic-sized joys, sorrows and the race that made me cry

I’m still going through the 1,000+ photos I took during the US Olympic Track and Field Trials, but I thought you might like to see a few of my favorites.

There’s beauty in the competition, and I begin on that note today.

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A fluid rainbow of jerseys and shoes at the start of the women’s steeplechase semis (with a pole vaulter watching from the field)

My husband and I enjoyed the time away, and we celebrated as some of our favorites made the Olympic team. This year, though, more of our favorite athletes than usual did not make the team. So when I look back at photos of certain races, there’s heartbreak and sadness in them.

If you stopped by this space last week, you saw a photo of Reese Hoffa from last year’s US championships. Two Fridays ago, he competed again.

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The shot put competitors cheer for Reese Hoffa during introductions.

I love this photo of the shot put competitors showing their admiration and respect for such a great competitor. Hoffa came in 5th during the competition, though, and so we won’t see him in what would have been his fourth consecutive Olympics. We have a great shot put team, but the Olympics won’t feel the same without him.

Sanya Richards-Ross is one of America’s great sprinters, but earlier this year, she announced she would be retiring. She hoped to make one final Olympics but had to drop out of her 400 meter heat because of injury. You can see her right leg is heavily wrapped.

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With her eyes betraying her emotions, Richards-Ross waves goodbye to the crowd at Hayward Field.

NBC doesn’t always make time to cover some of the best parts of the trials. The camaraderie and good sportsmanship of athletes for one another is a sight we don’t see often enough in post-race coverage. But Evan Jager—US steeplechaser extraordinaire—took time before a TV interview to console fellow athlete Aric Van Halen (yes, of those famous Van Halens) who did not make the finals.

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Aric Van Halen (in white) and Evan Jager after the steeplechase semi

Other stories get tons of media coverage. In a David and Goliath story, Boris Berian had to fight a Nike lawsuit over his switch from Nike to New Balance. Nike dropped the suit just before the trials, but its filing in the first place was the final nail in the coffin of my respect for Nike. While Nike supports some of my favorite athletes, it has increasingly come off as a bully, dropping talented athletes for winning silver medals instead of gold in the Olympics. Worse, it continues to support certain superstar athletes who have been charged with doping (I won’t name them here, but there’s a reason I don’t pay much attention to the men’s 100 and 200 meter races anymore).

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Boris Berian charged through qualifying heats to take second in the final.

In the women’s steeplechase, New Balance athlete Emma Coburn (second from right) maintained her unofficial title of queen of the steeplechase. Stephanie Garcia (hip #6, far right) made a valiant effort but struggled out of the last water jump and tripped and fell over the final hurdle. She came in fifth.

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A great women’s steeplechase

My husband and I had a chance to talk with her a few days later, and she’s trying to be positive about the experience. She’s tough, and I hope she’ll be back again in four years.

Brenda Martinez is another tough competitor. A favorite in the women’s 800, she got tangled up with another runner and did not make the team in that event. She came back a few days later, though, determined to finish top three in the 1500.

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Brenda Martinez

The crowd roared as she moved her way up to make the team. She dove at the finish line to just barely hold on to third place.

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Martinez (second from left) moved up to make the team in the women’s 1500.

Martinez’s victory lap with race winner Jenny Simpson (another favorite of mine) was a highlight for me (for them, too, I’m sure).

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Training partners Boris Berian (white tee) and Brenda Martinez, thrilled to both be on Team USA

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For Jenny Simpson, going to the Olympics never gets old (this will be her third Olympics).

The trials felt roller-coastery for me because one race would finish with me feeling elated, and the next would leave me disappointed.

Aries Merritt had a kidney transplant last September and was ready to compete again here.

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Aries Merritt (lane 1) runs the hurdles as triple jump winner Christian Taylor watches from the field.

His doctors were hoping he’d skip the Olympics because of fears for his health and extra risks if exposed to the Zika virus. He missed making the team by one one-hundredth of a second. (I have to believe that hundredth of a second is God’s way of protecting him.)

Another heartbreaking race (for me anyway) was the men’s 1500 meters. For years, I’ve been a fan of Leo Manzano. My husband and I were thrilled to meet him at last year’s championships, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

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Leo Manzano, running with the heart of a lion

Our 1500 men’s team is talented, but just as I’ll miss Reese Hoffa in shot put, the 1500 won’t be the same without Leo.

The women’s 5000 meters team also brought fierce competition. In last week’s post, I told you about Katie Mackey. So many great women ran this race that I found it hard to cheer for just one or two or three of them.

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So many favorites. At times, my husband and I just yelled “Go, everyone!”

Mackey ran her heart out but came in sixth. You may think the photo below is the one I shared with you last week, but it’s a new photo. Same stricken Mackey lying on the track, though:

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Despair, exhaustion, stunned celebrations among the 5000 meter competitors

The men’s 5000 was the hardest for me to watch. I’ve been a fan of Ryan Hill since his college days. We share an alma mater and a home state. He also happens to remind me of my dad when he was young. When Hill hit the pro running scene, he became known for his “ninja kick,” an ability to pass lots of other runners toward the end of the race. As last year’s U.S. champion, he came into the race as the favorite to win.

Lopez Lomong and Bernard Lagat were my other two picks for the men’s team. Lagat was a long shot, given that he’s 41 and had to drop out of the men’s 10,000 final the Friday before due to hot conditions.

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From left to right: Ryan Hill (hip 8), Lopez Lomong (hip 13) and Bernard Lagat (hip 16) were my picks for the team.

As the men headed into the final turn of the race, Lomong was out of the picture, but I still hoped Hill’s ninja kick would propel him to third place and a spot on the team. Hill didn’t make it, finishing in sixth place.

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Hill (far right), trying to catch the leaders

Lagat, 41-year-old Lagat, won the race. He wept for joy. His son, who ran onto the track after the race, wept for joy.

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Lagat embraces his son after winning the 5000.

I wept, too. I wept at seeing Lagat’s joy. But I also wept for Hill’s loss. The tears just kept streaming down my face, and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to pull myself together.

Lagat’s victory lap brought contagious joy. And we all cheered for him as he waved the American flag.

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I hope you don’t mind this longer-than-usual ramble through the trials. Summing up the eight-day event isn’t easy. Despite the athletes I’ll miss, I am looking forward to watching our team compete in Rio in August. How about you? What (and who) are you most looking forward to watching in the Olympics?

1 thought on “Olympic-sized joys, sorrows and the race that made me cry

  1. Pingback: A green escape from the cares of the world | The Flourishing Tree

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