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Eugene Weekly : News : 7.3.08




Oregon-based runners Nick Symmonds, Christian Smith and Andrew Wheating sweep the men’s 800m final
Amy Begley is overcome after qualifying for the Olympics in the women’s 10k final
the women’s 100m final has its share of surprises
Brian Johnson lands in second in the men’s long jump
Klamath Falls native Ian Dobson used the crowd’s roar to push him to third place in the men’s 5k final
Tyson Gay looks on
the current Team USA shows off the Nike swoosh in a victory lap
men’s 100m Olympic qualifier Darvis Patton gets a hug on his victory lap.

Bulls On Parade

Dispatches from inside the Olympic Trials hoopla

Words by Chuck Adams • Photos by Todd Cooper

After four gruesome days at the track, I finally understand why the Eugene 08 promoters liken the U.S. Track-and-Field Team Trials to a meat market, a Mardi Gras and a Carnivàle. This place is a circus, complete with its own Big Top (Hayward Field), sideshow (the fan festival), death-defying stunts (women’s 800m semifinal, whoa!), the ringmaster (NBC), the freaks (khaki-covered print media) and the carnies (corporate sponsors Nike, Nissan, Visa, etc.) offering up a loaded program aimed at overwhelming the imagination. Here’s a snippet from EW’s ongoing blog updates

 

Day One: Friday, June 27

4:40 pm Inside Hayward Field, the climate is hot and sultry, like Atlanta ‘96. I could go for a mint julep about now.

4:50 pm Photographer Todd Cooper has been on the track since 2 pm. He gives me the latest news: “Nobody gives a shit about shot put.”

5 pm A Chinese drum troupe is beating out a rhythm. It’s supposed to ward off bad spirits at the Trials and bring hope and prosperity to the Tibetans. Just kidding!

7:30 pm For the discus, they’re using remote-controlled monster trucks to cart the discs back to the owners after their throws. Like I said: circus!

8 pm At the end of heat three of the women’s 800m qualifying rounds, Alysia Johnson, one of the favorites to win, collapses to the track in a ball of pain. Later, they offer her a wheelchair escort back to the athlete tent. But she is refusing with equal parts pride and pulled hamstring. She wants so much to walk (with dignity) back through the gantlet that leads past fans and into the Mixed Media Zone (where cameras and hungry reporters eagerly await). This is the Agony of Defeat, to a mother-effing T.

 

Day Two: Saturday, June 28

2 pm It’s definitely more circus in the Media Tent than up in the grandstands. Sports writers in khaki shorts, athletes herded through the Mixed Media Zone like cattle and short banter such as this:

“Hey Mimsy,” says one dude. “You paying attention to what’s going on out here?”

“Not until 4 o’clock,” says Mimsy. (The 400m hurdles don’t start until 3:55 pm.)

“High five!”

They high five.

2:45 pm Tyson Gay qualifies for the 100m final, but just barely. He punches the walls of the Media Tent, and a snarky reporter asks, “Can I quote him on that?” 

4 pm I park myself in the spitfire grill that is the uncovered grandstands. I’m surrounded by what appears to be a family of boiled lobsters.

4:20 pm Huge pileup on the backstretch of the women’s 800m semifinals with four women tumbling across the track in a flurry of legs and blood. A man starts throwing a fit down near the track. Can’t tell if he’s heartbroken or it’s heatstroke.

4:35 pm Morgan Freeman’s voice fills Hayward Field. It’s an epic voice: soothing, tenured, calming. Then I realize: They’re playing a Visa commercial on the scoreboard! For that, I will so not watch The Bucket List.

4:45 pm Men’s shot put final. The announcer says, “And now for the inim-itable stylings of Adam Nelson.” The crowd goes crazy.

6:15 pm In the Media Tent, I’m standing in front of women’s 100m third place finisher Lauryn Williams. The thing to do at this point is collect soundbites. Here are a few:

“I did it again!”

“I always manage to sneak in there.”

“My mom’s at the finish line, her face was all puffy.”

 

Day Three: Sunday, June 29

2:30 pm Another simmering day at Hayward. Makes me wanna walk around without a shirt, maybe an iced Hamm’s in my back pocket. People at the festival are huddled inside the various corporate tents, fanning themselves like Zimbabwean refugees as if to say, “Save us! Save us from the heat, Windermere Real Estate!”

4:29 pm I chat with Marty Sonnenfeld, a Knoxville, Tenn., resident who has tickets for his entire family for the Trials and is a former track athlete himself. “Coming to Eugene, it’s like a pilgrimage,” he says.

4:40 pm Aretha Thurmond, the women’s discus winner, comes by for her victory lap. As it turns out, Thurmond used to be a specialty coach at Sonnenfeld’s youth track club. He catches her attention as she passes, and Thurmond poses for a picture with Sonnenfeld’s son. Moments like this seem to happen a lot at these Trials.

4:50 pm Men’s 100m final. I quickly run around Hayward’s perimeter. I want to be near the finish line. I want to see Tyson Gay either A) get creamed, or B) better his American record. It turns out I’m about to witness C) the spectators giving themselves one huge, involuntary piss test.

 

Day Four: Monday, June 30

8:06 pm A foul-smelling sports reporter in front of me doesn’t buy my theory that women’s 3000m steeplechase finisher Carrie Strickland has fans with “Go Carrie” T-shirts printed on them outside Hayward Field, since there are two Carries in the race. But Strickland runs for Bowerman AC (a Portland club), so I’m pretty sure I’m right. And pretty sure the sports reporter is an asshole.

8:28 pm OMG! Andrew Wheating and Nick Symmonds are going to Beijing. How in the world? Symmonds had this to say at the press conference: “This year I had so many setbacks. It seemed like everything was against me this year. I had my knee ripped open, I had 10 stitches. I had the flu in January. I had a cold last week. Every day I woke up I was just praying I could get through the day without something terrible happening.” Yeah, well, good job with that.

For more coverage of the Trials, please visit blogs.eugeneweekly.com/trials