Olympic Hopefuls Compete at Track and Field Trials
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials got off to a dramatic start yesterday in Eugene, Oregon. The one event that had a final competition, meaning the top three finishers qualify for the Beijing Olympics, was the women's 10,000-meter race. Joining us now from Eugene is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being for being with us.
TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning.
SIMON: And often, it's not just who wins the race that makes it exciting, but people who qualify. So tell us the story of this race.
TOM GOLDMAN: Last night, very muggy summer evening at Eugene's famous Hayward Field. And the favorite in 10,000 meters did win the race, U.S. record holder Shalane Flanagan. But it was the runner who appeared to have third place locked up, a woman named Amy Begley. Now, she came into the trials without running a 10,000 meters in the required Olympic qualifying time of 31 minutes and 45 seconds. So, Scott, this is part of the rules. You make it to the Olympic team if you finish in the top three and hit the Olympic standard for your event, either at the trials or some other competition.
So at the end of the 6.2-mile race, which is a half-hour long, a lot of running, Begley realizes her competition is with the clock and she kicks it into high gear. Here's how the track announcer called the finish.
Unidentified Announcer: And here's our winner, Flanagan. Here's number two, but here comes Begley, she has to run 31:45. And we think she makes her a qualifier!
SIMON: I think that's the most exciting race call I've heard for a third place finish, ever.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Very exciting. She made it by 1.4 seconds under the required time, it was that close. And so she gets to run around the track waving this small American flag. It's really the trial's first Olympic moment. And here's what she had to say afterwards.
Ms. AMY BEGLEY (Athlete, U.S. Track & Field): It still quite hasn't hit me that I'm going to Beijing because I really thought I might miss it by one or two seconds, and I thought that's going to be a really lonely night for me if I do that. So I gave it all, and I had that last 400 meters hoping that was enough.
SIMON: This is a terrible cliche, but that really is what sports is all about.
GOLDMAN: Yes. And Amy Begley didn't have to have a lonely night after all.
SIMON: What else do you look forward to this weekend?
GOLDMAN: Well, tonight, you have the women's 100 meters. It's always a glamour event. It's crammed with talent. You've got Olympic silver medalist Lauren Williams, the defending silver medalist, and Allison Felix, who's aiming to win four medals in Beijing, and as mentioned in a recent Sports Illustrated, Felix is battling with another supremely talented sprinter, Sonya Richards, for the new title of Queen of Olympic Track.
And then tomorrow night, you've got the men's 100 meters. That's another deep field like the U.S. always has. The favorite is Tyson Gay. He's the 2007 world champion and an Olympic favorite. And then one of my personal favorites, you've got the finals of the men's shot-put coming up. The top three Americans, Adam Nelson, Reese Hoffa and Christian Cantwell are really considered the top three in the world. So, it's kind of like an Olympic competition with these big guys, although there's always a potential thrill of some unknown sneaking in.
SIMON: Reese Hoffa, any relation to Jimmy Hoffa, Tom?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GOLDMAN: Not certain. Not certain who is buried, in fact, at Hayward Field.
SIMON: Tom, a lot of people who are maybe fans of track and field only during the Olympic Games have a hard time taking some of this seriously with all the steroid scams.
GOLDMAN: It is a problem. It's a sad fact of track and field that that specter hangs over any meet and certainly one with so much at stake like this. Yesterday, actually, there was a visible reminder with the presence of Christie Gaines in one of the 100-meter heats. She was banned two years for her involvement in the BALCO doping scandal. She tried to qualify for the 100-meters final and didn't make it. You know, young athletes here are desperate to convince the world they're clean. They know there's so much skepticism because of the highly-publicized problems of doping.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman in Eugene, Oregon. Thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.