Put to the Test
Here's what to expect from the crucible of track and field's U.S. trials
If the Olympics are the greatest track meet in the world, then the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which begin on Friday in Sacramento and run through July 23, are surely the most excruciating. There are no wild cards, no byes and no selection committees, just three spots up for grabs in each event—four years of preparation coming down to a single moment. Here are six key questions that will be answered over the eight days of competition:
Will Gail Devers earn a shot at an unprecedented third consecutive Olympic 100-meter gold medal? It doesn't look good. Devers's sprint form has been abysmal; her season's best is 11.20 seconds, making her only the 11th-fastest U.S. woman of 2000. That's the bad news for Devers. The good news is that she has never looked better over hurdles so early in a season. She has already run 12.47 in the 100-meter hurdles, the fastest clocking in the world this year and her second-fastest in a career that includes three world titles in that event. Count on Devers to double in the 100 and the hurdles at the trials, but count on her to make the team only in the hurdles. She'll go to Sydney as the favorite in an event she should have won eight years ago in Barcelona, where she fell and finished fifth.
Is Jackie Joyner-Kersee serious about competing in the long jump?
Maybe. Her agent, former world champion hurdler Greg Foster, said last week, "I know she's had some injuries, but I also know she's a got a plane ticket to Sacramento on July 13." Know this: The women's long jump has never been softer. A jump in the low-to-mid-21-foot range could secure a ticket to Sydney. In her prime Joyner-Kersee jumped consistently in the high 23s, but her best in 1998, her last year on the circuit, was only 21'5�". She's 38 and was thrilled to get out of the game two years ago, weary and sore. It will probably take 23 feet to win a medal in September, which makes it hard to imagine why JJK would risk a smudged legacy merely to march in one more opening ceremony.
What happened to John Godina?
Five years ago, at age 23, Godina was world champion in the shot put. A year later he took silver in Atlanta. In 1998 he had 13 of the 14 longest throws in the world, as well as the best throw in the discus. He seemed to have a good chance of becoming the first shot-discus double Olympic gold medalist since 1924. Then, after winning the national shot tide in '99 and finishing second in the discus, Godina bombed at the worlds in Seville. He hasn't been the same since. C.J. Hunter, Marion Jones's husband, has dominated the shot, followed by a host of solid throwers. Four U.S. men have bettered Godina's 2000 best of 69'8�", led by Hunter, who has tossed a PR of 71'8�".
Yet don't count Godina out, says his coach, Art Venegas. "John broke down mentally last year," says Venegas, who is also UCLA's throws coach. "He was on top for so long that he lost his drive. I can see him coming back. Rest and failure, that's a pretty good motivational combination."
What's up with the best male U.S. distance runners?
Two-time Olympian Bob Kennedy, the U.S. record holder at 3,000 and 5,000 meters and the sixth-place finisher in the 1996 5,000, is recovering from a back injury suffered when his car was rear-ended in early May. He had planned to run the 10,000 in Sacramento and Sydney, but the interruption in training has left him uncertain. "I've been to the Olympics twice, so I'm not interested in going just for the experience," Kennedy said last week. "If I'm not sure I can be competitive in a 10,000,1 won't run it." Kennedy might keep his options open by doubling in the 5 and 10 at the trials. "I missed training time," he said, "but I'm still doing workouts that not many other Americans are doing."