By David Monti
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
The bitter taste of fourth place finishes at the USA Olympic Trials Marathon last January in Houston for Dathan Ritzenhein and Amy Hastings was washed away here tonight as the two athletes rallied in heavy rain to clinch Olympic berths in the 10,000m on the first day of the USA Olympic Trials. Ritzenhein finished third to his Nike Oregon Project teammate Galen Rupp, while Hastings rallied in the final lap to win her first national track title and make her first Olympic team.
Ritzenhein, a two-time Olympian, who struggled with injuries and a severe post-surgical infection last year, came into tonight’s meet with the extra burden of having to achieve the Olympic Games “A” standard of 27:45.00 to make the team. He and Rupp hatched a plan with coach Alberto Salazar to work together for at least the first half of the race to make sure the pace stayed close to the 66.6-second laps necessary to hit that time. Ritzenhein and Rupp took turns leading through 5000 meters (13:56), then Rupp led for one more lap, taking the pressure off of Ritzenhein.
“It’s something I owe to him big time,” Ritzenhein told reporters after the race. “Just that one little lap after 5-K; that was huge for me.”
Ritzenhein continued to do most of the work for the second half of the race. He was still the leader through 8000m (22:06.95), with Rupp and the Oregon Track Club’s Matt Tegenkamp both just a step behind. Ritzenhein, who does not possess a powerful sprint, was trying to wear down his rivals.
“That’s always been strength of mine, to grind people off,” he said.
But it was Rupp who would ultimately do the real grinding. The three-time national 10,000m champion and national record holder put in a 64.6-second lap through 8800m, then proceeded to run his last three laps in 62.3, 63.2 and 63.1 seconds, putting the race away. His time of 27:25.33 was an Olympic Trials record.
“I was very happy with the way I raced tonight,” said Rupp who will also run the first round of the 5000m on Monday. “I don’t think this meet could have gone better than this.”
Tegenkamp passed Ritzenhein on the backstretch of the last lap to take second in 27:33.94, and Ritzenhein finished third in 27:36.09. The feeling he said was as much relief as elation.
“It’s been a really emotional evening for me here,” Ritzenhein said. He added: “The marathon in January was heart breaking for me. That fourth place finish made this so much better.”
In the women’s contest, only four athletes had the “A” standard of 31:45.00, and the pre-race favorite, Shalane Flanagan, had already told the media she would not contest the 10,000m in London if she achieved a top-3 finish here tonight. She said that she was fully dedicated to running the Olympic Marathon, instead, after winning the Olympic Marathon Trials last January.
Nonetheless, Flanagan came to Hayward Field to win. Running mostly with Oregon Track Club training partner Lisa Uhl, she stayed back in the pack while Cal Berkeley’s Deb Maier held as much as a seven-second lead through half-way (16:14.2) before being overtaken by Hastings, Flanagan, and NCAA champion Natosha Rogers of Texas A&M who fell hard to the track just four laps into the race.
“I fell in the race,” the plain-spoken Rogers said. “That actually sparked me to try harder in the race.”
Rogers showed surprising spunk when she, Hastings, Flanagan and Uhl all ran the penultimate lap in about 71 seconds. Hastings’s face showed real pain, but she gathered herself for a mighty sprint over the final 200m, sweeping past both Flanagan and Rogers to get the win in 31:58.36. She ran her final 400 meter circuit in 65.3 seconds, not much slower than Rupp.
“I don’t know,” Hastings said when asked where her strength came from in the final lap. “I just wanted it so bad. In the last 400 meters, your brain just shuts down.”
Rogers finished second in a personal best 31:59.21, but without the Olympic Games “A” standard she will not be going to London. Flanagan got third in 31:59.69, and Uhl finished fourth in 32:03.46, putting her on the Olympic team because she already had the “A” standard.
“It was ugly,” said the petite athlete from Fort Dodge, Iowa, who recovered from an early fall in the race due to an untied shoelace. “It was an ugly way to make the Olympic team.”
Seventh place Janet Bawcom (32:17.06) made her first Olympic team because she was the only other finisher possessing the “A” standard. Running in road racing shoes, Bawcom overcame a bout of bronchitis earlier in the week, and was pleased with how the race turned out.
“Oh man, I’m just so excited,” she said. “It’s just been really tough the last week.”
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Tyler Mulder (1:46.81) and Nick Symmonds (1:46.94) led all qualifiers in the first round of the men’s 800m.
“It felt really good,” Symmonds told a clutch of reporters. “This is classic Eugene weather and classic London weather. I don’t feel like I wasted too much energy.”
Athletes with legitimate team chances who also advanced to the semi-finals included Michael Rutt, Charles Jock, Khadevis Robinson, and Ryan Martin.
In the women’s 800m qualifying, Molly Beckwith was by far the fastest to advance, clocking 2:00.61 in the third of four heats. Beckwith said she wasn’t surprised that she had not generally been looked upon as a potential team-maker.
“There is no reason I should be over-estimated,” she said. “Last year, I placed seventh at this meet. I like keeping a low profile. My dad was always saying, quiet confidence goes the longest way, and I honestly believe that.”
Other athletes likely to contest for team spots in the final also advanced, including Alysia Montano and Maggie Vessey (both world championships finalists last year) Phoebe Wright, Geena Gall, and Alice Schmidt. Of the three high school athletes who competed today –Mary Cain, Amy Weissenbach, and Ajee’ Wilson– only Wilson advanced, finishing second in the fourth and final heat. Nonetheless, Cain, who only turned 16 last month, was just thrilled to be in the meet at all.
“It was pretty freaky,” she gleefully told reporters wearing a pink top. She added: “You know, my mom said when I was leaving that not every 16 year-old gets to do this. I guess I’m just kind of living the dream right now. Win or lose I made it.”