THEY ASSUMED he
would win. His opponents in the 1,500 meters. The sellout crowd of nearly
21,000 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., watching Sunday's final day of
competition at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Track nuts everywhere.
Bernard Lagat is one of the best middle-distance runners in history, having won
two Olympic medals for his native Kenya and, after becoming a U.S. citizen,
golds in the 1,500 and the 5,000 last summer at the world championships in
Japan. � The prerace applause was loud for Lagat, who had won the 5,000 six
days earlier and now chased a trying double. It was the respect accorded a
giant. "I knew that everybody was looking up to me," Lagat would say
after winning a rollicking, physical final. Admiration, of course, does not buy
an athlete a ticket to the Olympics.
The final four
days of trials made that all too clear. U.S. record holder Breaux Greer threw
the javelin miserably with a surgically repaired right shoulder and didn't make
the team. Five-time world or Olympic champion Allen Johnson failed to finish a
round of the 110meter hurdles. Pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski qualified for
Beijing and even broke her U.S. record with a jump of 16'1 3/4", but she
needed an agonizing three attempts to clear her opening height of 15'1", or
she would have watched the Olympics from her home in Western New York.
"That jump," she said afterward, "was more of a relief than the
The star who took
the most dramatic tumble was Tyson Gay, the reigning 100 and 200 world champ,
who had set a U.S. record and won the 100 on the first weekend of the trials.
Running the turn in his 200 quarterfinal on Saturday, Gay toppled wildly to the
track with a left hamstring injury, ending his bid for a 100-200 Olympic double
and raising concern that he might miss the Games entirely.
however, an MRI had determined that Gay had suffered only a mild muscle strain,
and he was sitting in his Eugene hotel room, eating pizza with his mother,
Daisy Lowe, and his stepfather, Tim Lowe, while absorbing a beatdown in
PlayStation 3 boxing from his 10-year-old brother, Seth. "By the time he
went to sleep Saturday night," said Gay's mother later, "he had gone
from being scared and disappointed to relieved that he was going to be able to
run the 100 [in Beijing]. And that's big."
opportunity is precious, and some in Eugene seized it. Allyson Felix and Sanya
Richards each had hoped to run a 200-400 double at the Olympics but failed to
secure a change in the Games schedule that would have enabled the attempt. So
instead each ruled her best event—Richards the 400 and Felix the 200. "I'm
relieved," Felix said after her final on Sunday, already looking to China.
"But it's not done yet."
adventure is just beginning for Walter Dix, 22, who made the team in the 100
and the 200. Last year as a junior at Florida State, Dix won NCAA 100 and 200
titles and ran a blistering 19.69 in the 200, the eighth-fastest time ever. He
passed on seven-figure offers to turn pro and instead returned to Tallahassee,
graduating this spring with a degree in social science.
Yet Dix also
missed six weeks of training, in April and May, with a left hamstring pull and
rounded into shape only at June's NCAAs, where he finished a disappointing
fourth in the 100 before winning the 200. "That's when I knew I was
back," he says. Before and during the trials he turned down offers to sign
with any of the major shoe and apparel companies, betting that his performance
last week would drive his price up. "I'm happy with my decisions," Dix
said after winning the 200 final on Sunday in 19.86 seconds. At the end of the
meet Dix still had not signed an endorsement deal.
Lagat is at the
opposite end of the spectrum, a 33-year-old who moved to Washington State from
Kenya in 1996. He won bronze in the 1,500 at the Sydney Olympics and moved up
to silver in Athens. In 2004 Lagat gained U.S. citizenship before the Games but
kept the news secret and competed for Kenya because the change of status would
have rendered him ineligible to compete for either country.
"It was a
difficult time," Lagat said last week. "All that was on my mind was
winning that gold medal. The [citizenship] process moved more quickly than I
thought it would. It was this thing that I knew only by myself. I chose to
continue to pursue my dream."
That dream was
made more difficult last spring and summer when Lagat fought painful stomach
problems that were still affecting him even as he used his withering kick to
complete his 1,5005,000 double at worlds. "I was so sick, and I couldn't
even take Imodium for diarrhea," says Lagat.