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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Olinger_Brian-LondonDL11.jpgBrian Olinger, 2011 AVIVA London,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Olinger_Brian-nycDL10.JPGBrian Olinger, adidas GP 2010, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Versatile Distance Ace Weighs Options

 

Track & Field, like life itself, is filled with many decisions. An athlete displaying an undeveloped talent and an interest in the sport will soon be confronted with an array of choices. "Do I stay with the discus, or might I be better at the hammer?" "I'm a promising long jumper, but might I be an even better triple jumper?" "Is the 1500 my best event, or is it the 5000?" The imprint and the finality of the often-subtle choices we face and make every day may never have been better captured than by Robert Frost in "The Road Not Taken" - his simple and graceful poem about the bittersweet consequences of the choices we make.

One American track athlete who has an appreciation for the magnitude of decision-making and the impact that choices have upon "our journey" is Brian Olinger - a versatile and talented distance runner who has many Frostian roads before him.

At age 28, Olinger is a seasoned distance runner whose career performances display a Rod Dixon-like range of talent in a wide band of distance events. At the Ohio State University, and under the careful tutelage of his college coach Robert Gary, Olinger was able to transform from a very good high school distance runner into an impressive collegiate performer. After Olinger's graduation, Coach Gary - a two time Olympian in the 3000 meter steeplechase - continued to nurture Olinger's development. While Olinger is best known for his steeplechase prowess - his P.R. is 8:19.56 - a deeper look at his array of performances reveals his versatility. With a mile best that is just a tick above 4:00 [literally 4:00.1], Olinger has excellent speed for a longer, middle distance runner. At the Mt. SAC Relays earlier this spring, Olinger shaved 5 seconds off his previous 5000 best with a time of 13:26.94. The following week, Olinger joined a stacked field in the 10,000 at the Payton Jordan / Cardinal Invitational at Stanford. His seventh-place finish in 27:50.58 was another huge 17 second PR and just missed the Olympic "A" standard of 27:45. Had the opening 5000 - passed by Olinger and the lead pack in a restrained 13:55 - been just a little more ambitious, an "A" standard mark might have been in the cards for Olinger.


Olinger_Brian-Heusden07.jpgBrian Olinger,  Heusden 2007, photo by PhotoRun.net

While some might see Olinger's recent performances as nothing but positive, it did create a special quandary for this versatile athlete: What is the game plan for Eugene? Steeplechase or 10,000? In mid-April, at the Jesse Owens Classic, Brian noted: "What we don't want to do is to go the Trails and say, 'Well, let's run this and if this doesn't work, let's do this.' We want to have a concrete plan. A lot will depend if I can get the "A" standard [27:45] at Payton Jordan in the 10. So if you get that, the 10K decision becomes harder. Because I think you are a viable competitor. I think there is a spot out there in the 10. If a runner has shown 27:30 fitness, then a person like that is a threat." That may be especially true at the Trials where the 10,000 is likely to be somewhat tactical.

And as the days leading up to the USA Track & Field Trials continued to slip away, Olinger, like so many others, ultimately had to make a decision about which event - the steeplechase or the 10,000 - he would run in Eugene in his quest to capture a coveted spot on the Olympic team. "It is full steam ahead with the steeple," said Olinger in an interview earlier this week. "During the past ten days, I have had 3 of the best hurdling sessions of my career." Olinger will head off to the west coast this weekend to compete in his first 3000 meter steeplechase of year at the USATF Oxy High Performance Meet at Occidental College. "If the competition is there, I am hoping to run under the "A" standard [8:23.1]."

But even after his Eugene event selection has now been made and even after this upcoming Olympiad is over, there is yet another event - the cruelest of mistresses - that beckons his name...the marathon.

It is undeniable that Olinger has made his mark on the track. But Olinger's upper range of versatility may not stop with 25-lappers. As this year began, using the USA's expanded qualifying standards, Olinger parlayed an earlier 10,000 qualifying time of 28:07.52 to gain entry into the USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston this past January - even though he had never run a marathon and had never raced farther than 7 miles [First American finisher in Falmouth in 2011]. What? How does that happen? How does it make sense for a 3000 meter steeplechase guy to all of sudden hop into the Olympic Marathon Trials? "I must admit that it was a vocabulary word ["marathon"] that we [Coach Gary and I] had never exchanged back and forth in ten years of working together," notes Olinger. "But the timing was such that it made sense."

Olinger's unorthodox qualifying credentials for Houston's Trials race made him a center of media attention and, to the uninformed, prompted speculation about his fitness to compete with the country's best marathoners. But Olinger prepared diligently for the Trials with a steady diet of 100+ mile weeks featuring high-quality long weekend runs of 20+ miles. "With Coach Gary on the bike, it would be 5:40 pace right out the door. After about 6 miles, we'd drop it down to 5:00 pace for about 13 miles before we cooled it down to the end." And in January pre-race interviews, Olinger made it clear that he was in Houston not merely to compete in the Trials, but to make the team: "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I had a legitimate shot to finish in the top three." He backed up his words with race day action as he was one of a small pack of runners bold enough to respond to Ryan Hall's opening gun salvo of 4:50 miles. And while his back door departure from the lead pack at around the 10 mile mark was hasty - and ultimately led to a DNF - his spirited and gutsy performance at the Trials prompted many to view Olinger's Trials experiment not as ill-conceived, but as courageous. It has even caused some to speculate that Olinger - with his proven leg speed, with the right training for an extended period, and with more experience - may be able to cultivate a most successful future for himself in the longer event. Olinger, too, has allowed himself to think about it: "It [the marathon] intrigues me. It is something I want to do again. And I want to put forth an honest effort. I like the training. It is right in my wheelhouse. I am more of a road guy than a track guy."


Olinger_Brian-USOlyT12.JPGBrian Olinger, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

With his Olympic Trials choice, Brian Olinger has faced - and made - a critical decision about his track & field journey. He gauged his training, he ran in some high quality races, and he made a difficult choice: if he is to represent the United States in the London Olympics, it will be in the steeplechase. But Brian knows that pivotal decisions about his future path in track & field remain. One of many would be: how, if at all, does the marathon fit into his future? We can be sure that Brian Olinger, a measured and thoughtful young man, will make this and other key decisions with care and only after great thought. But, even then, no one will ever know - not even Brian - if he made the right choices. But those choices, to paraphrase Robert Frost, will make all the difference.


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Justin Gatlin, Doc Patton, Walter Dix, Daegu 2011, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Americans Shut Out World / Baton Unbruised

As 49,810 track & field fans streamed into Franklin Field Saturday morning, there was a festive air of excitement that permeated the throng. As reggae music flowed, you could sense that the happy, international crowd was ready to watch some special performances on the track and in the field. When the day is over, they will not leave disappointed.

While there are many moving parts to every Penn Relays day, Saturday at Franklin Field has come to feature "USA vs. The World' - an international competition between the elite athletes from around the globe and America's very best performers. And while it is true that many countries are represented [Belgium is here...] USA's primary rival has grown to be Jamaica. While it's a healthy competition founded upon mutual respect, it is truly intense.

Several weeks ago, Larry Eder, the mastermind behind RunBlogRun who has been in the business for years, had to be quietly chortling to himself as he responded positively to my request to cover the 118th Penn Relays. I knew, of course, about the Penn Relays, but I had never witnessed this nearly week-long celebration of track and field. No worries, I thought, I've written daily journals at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials - a 10 day event. Penn should be a piece of cake. What was I thinking? A bionic blend of a youthful Jim Dunaway and Superman himself couldn't fully capture the bustling and beautiful kaleidoscope of activity that is the Penn Relay Carnival.

The sights, sounds, and aromas of Penn are incessant and ever-changing: the determined drive in the women's 4 x 200 by the Texas A&M anchor, her crimson-dyed hair flowing in the breeze; the curious aroma mix of nasty fries and pungent analgesic balm wafting through the ancient hallways of Franklin Field; the fluorescent tangerine full-body suits of the Clemson women's 4 x 100 relay team - almost a mutant version of the Blue Man Group. A botched baton exchange can be followed by an inspired stretch drive to the tape. Despondent finishers sag as exuberant victors dance with their teammates. For every observation you make, you know you missed so many more.

There was more than just spirited competition taking place at the Penn Relays on Friday. Inside and adjacent to Franklin Field, an afternoon press conference was held featuring selected elite athletes who would be competing in Saturday's marquee relays: USA v. The World. Here's what they had to say:


 

Taylor_AngeloQ-World11.JPGAngelo Taylor, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Angelo Taylor:

On Penn and its international competition: "It's a preview to the Olympics - especially the relays."
On his extended career: "I am proud of this. It's about paying attention to your body."

 

Merritt_LaShawn4x4Q-World11.JPGLaShawn Merritt, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Olympic Gold Medalist / Lashawn Merritt:

On his Olympic year training: "I only ran one indoor meet - Millrose, where I won. I have moved to Florida, have a new coach, and my training is going well."


Dix_Walter200FL-World11.JPGWalter Dix, photo by PhotoRun.net

2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist in the 100 / Walter Dix:

On his coaching switch: "John Smith is my new coach. He is teaching me to be fast. My training is definitely technical. He is working on my form and teaching me about the stages of the 100."
On the USA v. The World Relays: "They're a sneak preview of the Olympic Relays."

On baton passing: "It is more complicated than making a five foot putt or sinking a foul shot. The sprinters are running 25 miles per hour. We just need to work and focus."

 

Gatlin_JustinQ-USind12.jpgJustin Gatlin, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Justin Gatlin:

On Penn: "This is our equivalent of the NBA's All-Star Weekend. It is a chance for us to work together as teammates and not as competitors."
On his coaching switch: "Dennis Mitchell has been my coach since November. He is helping me a lot."
On his new world indoor title in the 60: "I haven't raced the 60 since I was 19. It felt great."
On baton passing: "It's about camaraderie and working together. It can be a scary situation. We just have to man up and get that stick around."

 

Richards_SanyaFH1-USind12.jpgSanya Richards-Ross, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Sanya Richards-Ross:

On her 50.18 outdoor opener: "I am happy to have run so close to 50 seconds in my first race of the season. I have never started this fast. I am running in Jamaica next week and hope to run even faster."
On Penn: "It is the official start to the outdoor season."
On legendary Clyde Hart: Coach Hart is 76 and he isn't going to change [his training approach] much. But he has helped me to change. He has helped me to bring more focus to my training."

 

Felix_Allyson-Doha11.jpgAllyson Felix, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Gold Medalist / Allyson Felix:

On a possible Olympic 200/400 double attempt: "I haven't completely ruled out the double. My focus has been on the 200. I won't decide [on the attempt to double] until shortly before the Trials."

Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalist In the 100 / Shelley Ann Fraser-Pryce:

On the competition: "I try not to focus on my the competition or on how others are performing. I stay focused on myself."
On her training: "I work to stay focused on my training. I want to stay healthy and train hard."

 

Jeter_CarmelitaQ-World11.JPGCarmelita Jeter, photo by PhotoRun.net
 

Olympic Gold Medalist / Carmelita Jeter:

On Penn: "I love the crowd participation here. When I am out on the track waiting to anchor the 4 x 100, I love being in that corner. The excitement, the crowd shouting out my name - it is wonderful."
On the international competition at Penn: "The focus is not about me being an American; it is about me being a sprinter."
On her training: 'I have been doing more 400 training this year."
On baton passing teamwork: 'It's a trust game. We have to stay focused to get that stick around."

Back amid the swirl of activity inside the stadium - everything from the Camden Diocese Girls 4 x 100 Relay to the all-important qualifying heats of the College Men's 4 x 400 - two outstanding relays in particular stood out on Friday: the College Women's 4 x 1500 Relay and the College Men's Distance Medley Relay. In the women's race, Oregon dominated. But sometimes you have to look to find the race within the race.

And while her Lady Duck teammates gave Oregon anchor Becca Friday an insurmountable lead, a battle was brewing between two all-Americans: Sheila Reid and Emily Infeld, the talented anchors for Villanova and Georgetown.

Taking the stick almost together, the two ran in tandem over the final 1500 as they cut into Oregon's lead. Reid worked hard to shake her competitor, but Infeld wouldn't let go. While Oregon wouldn't be caught this day, a strong sprint by Infeld down the final straight gave her a narrow edge over her Wildcat rival. But the most electrifying relay of the day had to be the College Men's DMR. With 14 of the country's top collegiate squads toeing the line, the crowd braced itself for a great race. On the leadoff 1320, the field began cautiously until Princeton's Joe Stillen made a strong move to open a meaningful gap with 600 remaining. And while the field closed on the final straightaway, Stillen's opening 2:59.0 gave the Tigers a slim lead at the first exchange. A powerful 46.3 quarter by Princeton's Tom Hopkins lengthened the Tiger advantage. Princeton's third runner, Michael Williams, paid dearly for his over-zealous first lap as the half-milers from Oregon, Columbia, and Indiana erased the Princeton lead going into the final leg. Sensing the field bunching, the milers slowed the pace. An opening quarter of 68 seconds allowed the 12 of the 14 teams to clump behind the Princeton anchor man - All-American Donn Cabral.

You could feel the Franklin Field buzz as the crowd knew a furious finish was in the making. Successively-quicker laps placed Cabral in the lead - and in control of the race - as the bell lap began. With 300 to go, Indiana's Andrew Bayer made a determined push for the lead, but Cabral's response held the Hoosier at bay. Coming of the final turn, six teams battled for places on the podium. And while the first six teams were separated by less than 1 second, Cabral's final circuit in 54 seconds went unmatched as Princeton captured the victory. Last year, the Tigers' win in the Men's 4 x Mile was its first relay victory at Penn in 71 years. Now, just a year later, it had captured another.

As the sun began to set and as I rode the Thorndale train back to Philadelphia's Main Line communities, I reflected on the entire day, the total over-stimulation of the non-stop performances on the track and in the field. I was fully satiated from heaping helpings of the Penn Relays. And while the train rolled on and I couldn't imagine taking another bite, I was already looking forward to my Saturday return to Franklin Field's buffet.


M4x400-2-Penn04.JPGPenn Relays, Men's 4 x 400m, (this one, 2004), photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Iconic Relay Carnival Affirms Its Greatness

It's an election year. Hey, maybe Penn Relays Race Director Dave Johnson and his legion of experienced officials should be installed to run our country. If the Thursday edition of the 118th running of the Penn Relay Carnival is any evidence, they would likely do a pretty damn good job. On a cool and overcast day, Johnson's crew faced the formidable task of coordinating 82 running events and 22 field events. And Thursday's schedule - featuring Penn's Distance Night - ran like a Swiss watch, or should we say, like a Penn Relays' watch.

 

2012 Track and Field Season - Jesse Owens Track Classic - Karen Dennis, Head Women's Track Coach, Ohio State.JPG

Bill Melton with Karen Dennis, Ohio State's Head Women's T&F coach,
photo by Margaret Hunter

In a complete reversal of the beautiful spring weather that prevailed on Day One, Day Two of the 27th annual Jesse Owens Track Classic opened with cool temperatures, a leaden sky, and a persistent rain which played havoc with the athletes. With dangerously slick runway conditions plaguing the field events and damp, wet conditions altering warm-up routines, the competitors did what Midwestern athletes do - they soldiered onward.

And while the sun never shined during the final day, the talented men and women athletes of The Ohio State University frequently did. Obviously comfortable on their home track - and not unaccustomed to the fickle spring weather in Columbus, Ohio - the Buckeyes sprinkled in several outstanding performances throughout the day. Led by All-American and 7-time Big Ten champion Christina Manning and frosh sprint phenom Tim Faust, the OSU contingent was clearly the standout team on the final day of competition.


2012 Track and Field Season - Jesse Owens Banquet Program.JPG
Jesse Owens Program, photo courtesy of Margaret Hunter

 

Track & field in the Midwest has a special aura, a unique feel. The west coast has its training Meccas, its resident elite athletes, and its legions of knowledgeable fans. The east coast has its engrained tradition and storied venues like Franklin Field and Madison Square Garden. But Midwest track & field features a certain salt-of-the-earth purity for the sport that is all its own. And it was evident this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

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Tianna Madison with ESPN, 2012 USA Indoor champs,
photo by PhotoRun.net


 


Gatlin-TimmonsFH1-USind12.jpgJustin Gatlin, Trell Kimmons, 2012 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net

 


Claye_WillLJ1a-USind12.jpgWill Claye, 2012 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net


Lowe_ChaunteAR-USind12.jpgChaunte Howard Lowe: High Jump AR, VISA Series winner,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Simpson_Jenny1500c-USind12.jpgJenny Simpson, 2012 USA Indoors, 1,500m,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Manzano-CentrowitzFV1-USind12.jpgLeonel Manzano, 2012 USA Indoors, 1,500m,
photo by PhotoRun.net


Carter_MichelleWide-USind12.jpgMichelle Carter, 2012 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net


Williams_JillianWide1-USind12.jpgJillian Camerena Williams, photo by PhotoRun.net


The USA Indoor Track & Field Championships offered a perfect early-season stage for many of America's top track & field athletes to show that they are on a glide path to great performances in this all-important Olympic year. While this championship meet is, of course, intended to cap off the indoor season, in this year of the Olympiad, athletes, their coaches, and those who love the sport view meets such as this as another step in a track & field progression that will crescendo at the London Olympic Games this August.

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Galen Rupp, 2011 USA Indoor, photo by PhotoRun.net


tWhen Bernard Lagat and Galen Rupp go head-to-head on the track, those who love track & field are united in one uniform thought: We want them to battle each other forever. Yet we know that can't happen.

Galen Rupp, the young distance prodigy, has followed a carefully-scripted program of progressive development over the past decade that places him, at the relatively young age of 25, at the threshold of what most believe should be the best racing years of his life. His pathway of continued improvement has been wisely constructed by Alberto Salazar, a coach who knows first hand the right steps - and the wrong steps - an aspiring distance runner can take. After an exemplary collegiate career at the track and field laboratory that is the University of Oregon, Rupp stands at the dawning of his nascent professional career.




Williams_Jesse-USind11.JPGJesse Williams, 2011 USA Indoor, photo by PhotoRun.net


At a press conference held Friday afternoon in Albuquerque, Mike McNees, Interim CEO of USA Track & Field, announced that the governing body and the City of Albuquerque had "reached an agreement in principle to extend our relationship with respect to hosting the USATF Indoor National Championship Meet in Albuquerque for another two years." This pact, when finalized, will confer upon Albuquerque - which, this weekend, is completing its original three-year term as host - the right to stage the indoor national track & field championships in 2013 and 2014. In offering insight into the ultimate selection, McNees acknowledged that Albuquerque prevailed in a competitive bidding process. McNees noted, "Albuquerque has been a great venue for the championship meet. The facilities are convenient. The track has proven to be fast. We obtain great cooperation from the city. And the city and its Convention Bureau both recognize the business value associated with hosting our championship meet."

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Amy Hastings, 2012 Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

The Despair of Fourth

Emotions Run High At Conclusion Of Epic Battle

Flanagan-Davila-GoucherR-USOlyT12.JPGFlanagan, Davila, Goucher, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

As they crossed the finish line, each of the first four finishers of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Trials wept without restraint. For the first three - Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Davila, and Kara Goucher - the tears were a product of a myriad of feelings: joy, fatigue, relief, and the exhilaration of knowing that they had made the U.S. Olympic team and will be competing in the Marathon in August in London. For the fourth finisher - Amy Hastings - the emotions were vastly different.

No words were necessary. As the flag-draped Olympians embraced Hastings in a spontaneous gesture of support and respect, Hastings tear-streaked face evidenced her tortured reality. For Amy there would be no Olympic marathon. While the top three were whisked away for TV interviews and photo ops, Hastings was left to walk alone, to sob, and to gather her thoughts.

It all began at sunrise. On a perfect morning for road racing, 182 of America's finest women distance runners launched off on what had been billed as "the First Step To London." After a dawdling opening mile of 6:11 - which left the crowded field looking like Houston's Interstate 610 during rush hour - the elite field began to sort out. By the 5th mile, a tidy pack of 9 runners - Flanagan, Davila, Deena Kastor, Adriana Nelson, Katie McGregor, Goucher, Janet Cherobon-Bawcon, Serena Berla, and Hastings - grouped at the front of the race. After gliding through the first 10K in 35:23, an impatient Davila decided it was time to inject some additional honesty into the race pace. Flanagan - who would later admit that she could tell "Desi was getting a little 'twitchy"' - knew the extended warm-up miles were over.

Davila took matters into her own hands. From that point on, the per mile pace began to drop - the 9th mile was covered in 5:22 - and the war of attrition was on. By Mile 12, the lead pack had discarded both Nelson and McGregor and only seven warriors remained. Not long thereafter, Serla would also let go. After the 15th Mile was run in 5:31, only a quartet of Olympic hopefuls remained. It was a foursome that was at once beautiful, intense, and expected: Goucher - whose upright and statuesque stride belied her abbreviated preparation; Flanagan - whose steely focus exemplified her pre-race mantra of "cold execution"; Hastings - whose rhythmic bounce suggested she had plenty of run left in her; and Davila - sporting the seemingly-effortless, but relentless leg speed she displayed on Patriots' Day. The regular season was over - this was the Final Four.

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Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, 2012 US Olympic Trials, photo by PhotoRun.net

The next miles found this group searching for chinks in the armor of the others. Hastings was the first to show the strain. At times, she would drift back. But suddenly she would claw her way back to the lead trio. Then, amazingly, she would make a bold move to open a small gap at the front - "Hey, I was feeling confident at that point." She wasn't the only one taking stock of the situation. Goucher, who later admitted that her pre-race crisis of confidence left her "a wreck" - knew she couldn't leave it until the end. "I kept pressing the pace because I had to break Amy. I knew that the pace was taking me beyond my fitness level. I was digging a little hole for myself. But I knew this is what I had to do." And so Kara soldiered on - staying at or near the front of the back to ensure there would be no pace relief.

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Kara Goucher, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

Goucher did not need to worry about pace droop. Flanagan, the Cold Executioner, would never allow that to happen. Controlling the race from the front, Flanagan pressed on, forged a gap from the lead trio and Hastings, and began her end-game drive to the finish. In the post-race frenzy at the finish line, Shalane offered this: "My primary goal here was to make the team...But, I love to win. When I made my move, I wanted to make sure it was real and that I could sustain it through to the finish. I didn't want a wobbly legged finish." Her winning time of 2:25:38 provided her with a 17 second margin over Davila who finished 11 seconds ahead of Goucher. A disconsolate Amy Hastings, who unraveled in the final miles, crossed the line in 2: 27:17 - more than a minute behind Goucher.

By the time the post-race press conference was held an hour or so later, Hastings had regained her composure. With a brave front, she methodically fielded inquires from the media about her race. "It [my race] was pretty solid through 20. I ran out of fuel. It was an emotional last mile. It's OK. I'm fine with the way I raced today."

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Amy Hastings, photo by Margaret Hunter

The pervasive disappointment of finishing fourth will undoubtedly postpone serious consideration about Hastings plans for the U.S. Track & Field Championships in Oregon in late June. But her bona fide track credentials - she was a 5000 meter finalist in the 2011 World Championships - make her an authentic candidate to make the Olympic team in one of the two distance races. If, as is ultimately expected, Hastings does compete in Eugene, the runner her coach calls "little Deena' can expect to receive heartfelt support from the knowledgeable fans at Hayward Field.

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The final four, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by Margaret Hunter

 

 

 

 

 


 

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