Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 Olympic Trials

The long-anticipated 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials began on Friday, June 22 at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. As luck would have it, Rebecca and I scored quality tickets (above, featuring Olympic icons Joan Benoit Samuelson and Gail Devers) for several days during the week-long event.

Eugene, Oregon has been known as Track Town, USA since hosting the Trials in 1972, 1976 and 1980. After a 28-year drought, the Trials returned in 2008 and 2012. Make no mistake: the Trials are a big deal in the Eugene-Springfield area and throughout Lane County.

As such, the expected flurry of hoopla ranged from the sublime (local Duck hero Ashton Eaton setting a new world record in the decathlon) to the ridiculous (the ongoing “celebrity watch” on former U.S. decathlete Bruce Jenner from “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and Paris Hilton’s “date” with 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds).

Then, of course, there were the usual sideshows associated with such an event: the adjacent Fan Festival for those without tickets and Occupy Eugene protesters hoping to enlighten track fans about police treatment of homeless people. But apocryphal activities aside, the primary action was inside Hayward Field.

Unlike in 2008, when temperatures soared in the 90s, the weather for the 2012 Olympic Trials was more typical: rain, rain and more rain. But the good news for us was that our seats were under cover in the west grandstands, and the inclement weather would not deter competitors from setting world, American and Olympic Trials records during the event’s eight-day run at Hayward Field.

UO decathlete and Bend native Ashton Eaton (above) wowed the more than 20,000 fans and former Olympic decathletes in attendance with a new world record, scoring 9,039 points. Needing a personal best in the final event –- the 1,500 meters –- Eaton was literally willed to the finish line by a highly-energized crowd that seemed to roar ever louder. “The Hayward magic does exist,” he said afterward.

Eaton’s performance was enough to make these Trials special, but there was more. Galen Rupp, left, another former UO runner and Portland native, set an Olympic Trials record in the 10,000 meter race. A few days later, Rupp pulled off a more impressive feat by outpacing Bernard Legat in the 5,000 meter race, breaking a Olympic Trials record set 40 years earlier by Olympic and UO legend Steve Prefontaine in the process.

The Trials would not end without a hitch, however. In the 100-meter women’s sprint, training partners Alyson Felix and Jeneba Tarbow (below) finished in a dead heat for the final spot on the Olympic team, leaving USA Track and Field officials flummoxed without a tie-breaker protocol and scrambling for a solution.

The result was a preposterously ponderous policy: either runner could decline her claim to third place, they could race in a runoff, or they could flip a coin. Flip a coin? Really? In the end, Tarbow relinquished her spot, though she still will compete for the USA in the Olympics as the fourth leg in the 4 X 100-meter relay team.

Yet, despite that one misstep and the unpredictable weather, the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Trials were an unqualified hit. As one track fan from New Jersey noted in the letters-to-the-editor in the local newspaper, The Register-Guard: “Eugene has the vision, the drive, the fans and the atmosphere that track nuts wish existed everywhere. Take a bow, Eugene. You did it.”