Reporting from The U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials …
EUGENE – At long last, the new Hayward Field had fans in the stands as competition began on June 18 for spots on the United States Olympics team.
Despite COVID-19 precautions in place, evidenced by masks and social distancing protocols, The Trials began with great excitement and beautiful weather and it wasn’t long before Hayward produced its magic.
You wouldn’t think that throwing a metal ball would lead to fame, but that’s just what happened on Day One of The Trials for native Oregonian (and reigning shot-put Olympic gold medalist) Ryan Crouser.
Each time Crouser stepped into the shot-put ring there was anticipation that something grand might happen. Typically, running events get the most energetic coverage from track announcers and provide the dynamics of silence and crescendo as they conclude.
Field events have a more pedestrian pace, with pulses of applause to exhort the competitor or acknowledge a good throw or jump, but it wasn’t so on the opening day as Crouser was putting on a show, and with his fourth throw he launched the 16-pound ball an astounding 76 feet, 8 1/4 inches, a foot beyond his previous personal best and nearly 10 inches further than the previous world record. The previous mark was held by Randy Barnes for 31 years and set in what is sometimes referred to as the “Steroid Era.” World records are rare, and Hayward erupted, acknowledging the achievement.
Hats off to Ryan Crouser, who will take his newly minted world record to Tokyo hoping to win a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
If you think pushing a 16-pound ball from an explosive centrifugal spin is easy, you should come out to an Oregon Track Club All-Comers Meet this summer where anyone can compete and receive coaching in track and field events.
I apologize if my focus tends toward field events. As a field event official I am normally locked down into my event and don’t always have a chance to see the races until I’m done. Luckily, I was able to watch Keni Harrison, the world record holder in the 100m women’s hurdles in a preliminary heat (she later won the final). Harrison is compact and strides with perfection of form, barely looking as if she is exerting effort as she moves over the hurdles. She will certainly be the favorite to win Gold in Tokyo. Wow!
Also, the great Allyson Felix made her fifth consecutive Olympics Team finishing second in the 400-meter race.
On other fronts, I’d like to share some moments at the track that have nothing to do with winning and losing.
In the men’s pole-vault qualification round, there were 24 athletes on two runways, competing for 12 spots in the final. One crew wrestled with the wind while placing the bar. It’s not a good thing when the event is delayed and we look like bunglers: We are not bunglers, but on this day the event was off rhythm. Finally, a few of the athletes, including Sam Kendricks, the best American pole vaulter, came down to offer their opinion about what was going on. Of course, they have a right to be concerned, but everything was already being done to resolve things.
As they approached the pole vault pit, an experienced official rose from her chair and emphatically directed the athletes back to their area saying, “Sam, do not to bring that down here!” The athletes quietly returned to their area to get ready to vault.
It was a great display of officiating, as it settled the athletes and stopped them from being distracted by something over which they have no control. Soon enough, things got rolling again, and the event concluded.
Upon conclusion, the charming Kendricks returned to the official who sent him back a while earlier and apologized to the official saying, “Hey, I didn’t mean to get all up in your business” as the two shared a laugh. Athletes and officials get to know each other over many years and the relationships are mutually supportive. It was sweet hearing that exchange between two people who have known each other for years, well before the fame and the glory.
“The Second the Dream Ends:” Another brief moment we see is when an athlete does not make the team. That moment can come with a short throw, or third consecutive miss in the pole vault or high jump. From one second to the next, years of performance turns into realization that you will not be moving forward, will not be on the Olympic team. Some will live to fight another day; others face a huge change in their lives. That is seldom shown on TV and it is hard to see from the stands, but officials see it often as we silently bear witness to the dreams and achievement of others.
The Trials resume after two rest days this week concluding with consecutive days of competition from June 24-27. In next week’s column there will be a complete list of who has made the team. Here are team members from the first three days:
Decathlon: Garrett Scantling, Steven Bastien, Zach Ziemek
Men’s hammer throw: Rudy Winkler, Daniel Haugh, Alex Young
Women’s high jump: Vashti Cunningham – 1.96*
Women’s triple jump: Keturah Orji, Tori Franklin, Jasmine Moore
Womens 100m hurdles: Keni Harrison, Brianna McNeal, Christina Clemons
Men’s 100m dash: Trayvon Bromell, Ronnie Baker, Fred Kerley
Women’s 400m: Quanera Hayes, Allyson Felix, Wadeline Jonathas
Men’s 400m: Michael Norman, Michael Cherry, Randolph Ross
* Cunningham won the Trials competition and has met the necessary Olympic standard. The second- and third-place finishers have not yet met the standard so cannot be in the Olympics unless they achieve it in the next month.
Email: [email protected]