EUGENE - After a steady diet of track and field at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene for the past 10 days, I pondered the question: Can there be too much of a good thing?
The answer is definitely "NO!"
I have been to every session here at Hayward Field and, when not actually watching the action, I have been mostly writing about it, talking about it, or reading about it. I will take home memories that will last a lifetime.
The vocal and enthusiastic crowds have been absolutely amazing. Many nights during the Trials, not only was the stadium filled to capacity but there were also thousands behind the stadium at the Eugene 08 Festival watching the action on two big video screens. My daughter spent one evening there (she was normally inside) and raved about how into it the festival crowd was.
The Local Organizing Committee and all the supporters in Eugene and around the state deserve a pat on the back for putting on an event that actually lived up to and - much of the time - exceeded expectations. The army of volunteers who guarded every entrance, passed out water, hauled away trash (oops, I mean recyclables), and did hundreds of thankless jobs was amazing. Even the weather was brilliant!
Now on to the real story . . . the athletes. First, a recap of a few of the athletes with local ties who qualified for the Olympics.
Ian Dobson was an outstanding prep runner for Klamath Falls High School who attended Stanford. Now 26, Dobson will run in the 5000 meters in his first Olympic Games appearance. He's a thoughtful young man with a quirky sense of humor. He cracked up the press conference with a line about "winning the genetic lottery."
Galen Rupp is one of the most heralded Oregon athletes ever, in part because he attended high school in Portland, college in Eugene and he is coached by Alberto Salazar, a legend in his own right. Rupp is 22 but looks and sounds younger. He finished second in the 10,000 meters and will run that event in Beijing.
Andrew Wheating is the charismatic UO sophomore from Vermont who electrified the Hayward Field crowd with his stirring finishes in the 800 meters. Monday night he went from 7th to 2nd place over the last 150 meters to secure his spot on the Olympic team. While his teammate Rupp was picked to do well at the Trials, not many gave Wheating a chance.
Nick Symmonds was a little known runner from Boise who attended Willamette and was virtually unbeatable at the Division 3 level. He made the leap from small college standout to world-class amazingly quickly. His rock-star good looks certainly haven't hurt him any and his confident attitude is more than a little reminiscent of Prefontaine.
While Stayton resident Jared Swehosky didn't make the team in the 20 kilometer race walk, he deserves a lot of praise. I have known Jared since he was nine years old and was on the Salem Track Club with two of my own kids. Jared was always one of the toughest competitors around even as a little kid. He started competing in the race walk in the Junior Olympics around age 10 and stayed with it.
Swehosky began training seriously for the Olympic Trials just a couple of months ago when his dad dropped an email about the Trials deadline on his bed for Jared to see. He read it and decided to go for it.
Amazingly, he achieved the time he needed to qualify for the Trials just three weeks ago on the last day possible. Swehosky's race at the Trials didn't quite go the way he planned, but, at age 20 in an event where years of experience are crucial, his future could be very bright.
Is there a sport that produces more unique characters than track and field? I really don't think so and, boy, did some of these colorful personalities add to the meet.
Roald Bradstock , at age 46, was the oldest competitor here and nearly made the finals in the javelin. He designed his own brightly-colored javelins with a matching uniform for each. Using the javelin runway as a fashion runway, he managed to change his uniform for each one of his three preliminary throws. Bradstock also has set throwing records for all kinds of things - fish, golf balls, eggs, even ipods!
Jordan Hasay, high school junior from California, was one of the youngest competitors here and captured the hearts of the crowd on Friday night in the 1500 semifinals. With her waist length blond hair bobbing, Hasay started passing runner after runner in the last 300 meters of the race, setting a new high school record, 4:14.50, in the process. As she posed for pictures in front of the display board with her record time, she was serenaded by the crowd's chant of "Come to Oregon." Hasay ran in Sunday's finals and acquitted herself well, though she did not make the team.
Finally, Anthony Famiglietti, who won the Steeplechase final, epitomized for me the thoughtful, articulate nature of so many of these athletes. He began talking to a group of reporters after his race about his growth as a person and athlete and his views on life, the Olympics and China. When he stopped and said, "I feel like I'm rambling," all of the reporters implored him to continue. He was that riveting.
Hopefully, NBC will find and tell other compelling stories of athletes before and during the upcoming Games. They are certainly not hard to find.