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Flanagan ran 30:34.49 for 10K (6.2 miles) on the track in May, crushing 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor's U.S. record by nearly 16 seconds. She had taken down the 5K mark in April '07. "Records are nice," says Flanagan, "but that's just paper. I'm constantly thinking about how I can be the most prepared for a championship race." A chronic left-foot problem was alleviated by surgery in April '06, and Flanagan has ascended steadily since.
In the secondary race the rest of the 23-woman field chased the third spot. Whoever earned it would also need to meet the Olympic qualifying standard of 31:45. Two women beyond the big two—Molly Huddle and Katie McGregor—had met the Olympic standard before the trials; if no other woman attained the mark in Eugene, the faster of those two at the trials would go to Beijing. Amy Yoder Begley knew all this. She also knew that this was almost certainly her last chance to make an Olympic team.
The 30-year-old Yoder Begley had been a high school star in Indiana and an NCAA 10,000 champion at Arkansas, yet as a runner she describes herself as "the equivalent of a starving artist." She had been frequently injured in her postcollegiate career, and in January '07 moved to Beaverton, Ore., to train with Goucher and Salazar. It was a last grasp at something big, and even that move seemed for naught after January surgery to relieve plantar fasciitis in her left foot. She came to the trials off just 15 weeks of steady training, and much of that had been in a swimming pool, on a stationary bike (while watching Food Network) or on an antigravity treadmill. "I'm going to have to try a triathlon when this is over," she says. "I'm already training for it."
The field went through 5,000 meters in 16:10, 18 seconds off the pace to match the Olympic standard. Yoder Begley bravely seized the race and sped it up. She led the faster Flanagan and Goucher for five laps, and even when they left her, Yoder Begley hung on to finish third in 31:43.6, less than two seconds under the standard. She ran her second 5K in 15:33, only nine seconds over her personal best for that distance. Then she danced a silly dance with Goucher under the lights. "She ran the race of her life," Flanagan would say two days later. "That's what happens here."
SATURDAY'S WOMEN's 100 had been projected as one of the most unpredictable races of the trials, and in the final it was Lee, an '04 Olympic 200 finalist, who won in 10.85 seconds, .12 under the personal best she established in May. A 26-year-old who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and ran at LSU, Lee has the slender arms and legs of a marathoner (she carries just 111 pounds on her 5'8" frame), and she did not have a smooth journey to the trials.
Lee moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2005 to train with coach Bob Kersee. She adapted to longer intervals and more technical work in her training but struggled off the track. "I was living with a boyfriend who then became my ex-boyfriend," says Lee. "And Los Angeles was expensive. I had always been happy. I wasn't happy anymore." At the end of the track season last fall, Lee went to her mother's home in Little Rock and told her, "I'm not happy, and I'm not going back."
Instead, she moved to College Station, Texas, and began training under Vince Anderson, an assistant at Texas A&M to Pat Henry, who had been Lee's college coach. The pairing clicked.
Yet few knew that Lee had been involved in an automobile accident on June 16. She says a car turned left into the path of her Ford Explorer at an intersection in College Station, and she broadsided the vehicle. "I felt like my whole upper body was tingling," says Lee, who suffered no serious injuries. "I jumped out of the car and started walking down the road. The paramedics were telling me to lie down on the stretcher, but I was just yelling, 'No, I have to keep moving! I have to run next week!'"
Like Flanagan and Goucher, who will also compete in the 5,000 on Friday, Lee has more work to do in Eugene. She will run the 200 this weekend. Yet no athlete came to Oregon with more to do—or to prove—than Gay.
He had won world titles in the 100 and the 200 last summer in Japan and entered 2008 as the presumptive Olympic favorite in both events. That was before the stunning emergence of 21-year-old Jamaican Usain Bolt, who on May 31 in New York City smoked Gay in the 100 and set a world record of 9.72 seconds. Michael Johnson, the retired world-record holder in the 200 and the 400, said in Eugene, "If I'm Tyson, I just hope for the best for myself, and hope for the worst for Bolt." It was a harsh analysis.