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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

2020 Mid-American Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships

Dave HunterOn February 28-29, Dave served as the Color Analyst on the live ESPN3 broadcast of this championship gathering. Coverage of this 2-day conference championship can be viewed on the ESPN app.

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.


If you reflect upon the recently-completed Olympic Trials, it is difficult - but nonetheless entertaining - to select 10 special moments from the cornucopia of memorable performances - some exhilarating , some heart-breaking, some frustrating - that highlighted 10 marvelous days of track and field. It is tough to limit the list to only 10. I was forced to leave off some stunning moments [e.g. Brittany Borman's final-round javelin throw - a PR "A" standard heave that won the event and placed her on the Olympic team]. Here are my 10 picks - 5 from the women's events and 5 from the men's events:

Top 5 Women's Moments

Number 5: Chantae McMillan's "A" Standard Performance In The Heptathlon.


Chante McMillan, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Heptathlon, Photo by PhotoRun.net


Knowledgeable track and field fans wrote off McMillan's chances for an Olympic berth when, in the heptathlon's fifth event, she turned in an 18'1 ½" subpar performance in the long jump. McMillan, who lacked the all-important Olympic "A" standard of 6150 points, rallied to score 1720 points over the last two events, finish with 6188 points, to snare third, and to secure her ticket to London.

Number 4: The Electrifying Conley/Lucas Finish In The 5000

Kim Conley, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 5000 meters, Photo by PhotoRun.net


In one breathless moment during the chaotic finish to the women's 5000, Kim Conley, who had lacked the A standard, out-leaned a wobbly Julia Lucas at the line for the final Olympic spot. Conley's dramatic rush over the final lap allowed her to beat Lucas by 0.04 seconds and to achieve the essential "A" standard by 0.21 seconds. Ironically, it was Lucas' own self-initiated drive over the final 1200 meters that left her defenseless and unable to respond on the final straightaway and provided the essential up-tempo race pace over the final three laps that allowed Conley to secure her "A' standard mark. Both of those elements, which basically Lucas provided, were essential to put Conley in third with a qualifying mark and send her to the Olympic Games.

Number 3: Career-Spanning High Jumpers


Chaunte Lowe, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, High Jump, Photo by PhotoRun.net


The women's High Jump provided a unique opportunity to see four athletes who represent the evolution of a high jumper: (i) the emerging young record-breaking talent [Gabrielle Williams, who tied the 15 year-old age group world record]; (ii) the likely next great up-and-coming high jumper [Brigetta Barrett, who set two PR's on her way to clearing 2.01 and making her first Olympic team]; (iii) the dominant reigning indoor world champion in her prime [OT winner Chaunte Lowe]; and (iv) and the aging, legendary athlete who is able to summon up the talent and the effort to make a 5th Olympic team [high jumping icon Amy Acuff].

Number 2: Allyson Felix's Spectacular 200 Meter Win

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Allyson Felix, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 200 meters, Photo by PhotoRun.net


After enduring a week of distraction and hubbub that resulted from the quirky dead heat third-place tie with Jeneba Tarmoh in the 100 meters, the poised Allyson Felix came out for the Trials 200 final, dominated the race from the gun, and won in a scintillating time of 21.69 - the third fastest time ever run by an American and the fastest 200 ever run by a woman on American soil. Only Florence Griffith-Joyner, Marion Jones, and Merlene Ottey have ever run faster. In securing her first 2012 Olympic team position, Felix soundly defeated a world class field that included world championship gold medalists Carmelita Jeter and Sanya Richards-Ross.

Number 1: The Felix/Tarmoh 100 Meter Tie


Felix and Tarmoh photo finish, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 100 meters


In future years when track and field fans reflect back upon the 2012 Olympic Trials, one prevailing memory will not be of exhilarating athletic success or of a last-minute winning race surge, jump, or throw. It will be about the improbability, the bewilderment, the covert meetings, the agonizing and often inexplicable delays, the announced and then altered resolution process, and, finally, the disappointing and downright sad outcome that was borne out of the down-to-the-one-thousandth-of-a-second third place tie between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the women's 100 meter final. With Tarmoh surprisingly withdrawing from the highly-anticipated match race to settle the issue, the matter is resolved not on the track, but in a covert manner which may never be completely known or fully understood. Some will point out that Tarmoh is still eligible to serve as an alternate for the 100 and to participate, if selected, on the USA 4 x 100 relay team. But that would have been the case even if she had participated in the match race and lost. For a growing segment of the track and field community, the apparent absence of any motivation for Tarmoh to withdraw unexpectedly only fuels unfortunate speculation that some sort of nefarious and undetectable consideration was provided to Tarmoh to throw in the towel. For Allyson Felix, destined to be recognized as one of the greatest sprinters in track and field history, she will compete in the 100 meters in London and her 2012 Olympic dream of winning possibly 4 gold medals remains alive. For Tarmoh, a solid competitor who heretofore has never made an Olympic team, she is destined to be a footnote to the 2012 Trials. The track and field community will speculate about this for many years.

Top 5 Men's Moments

Number 5: George Kitchens' Long Jump Magic


George Kitchens, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Long Jump, Photo by PhotoRun.net

Unheralded, unattached George Kitchens began the long jump final without an "A" standard mark and against a strong field that included Will Claye, Christian Taylor, and Dwight Phillips - all of whom have won Olympic or world championship medals. Undaunted, Kitchens uncorked a third round jump of 8.21m [26'11¼"] to achieve the "A" standard, capture third place, punch his ticket to London, and deny reigning triple jump world champion Christian Taylor an Olympic long jump berth.

Number 4: 110m Hurdle Final


Aries Merritt, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 110m hurdles, Photo by PhotoRun.net


So much happened in less than 14 seconds: Aries Merritt won in a superb world-leading time of 12.93; Jason Richardson, second in 12.98, became the first American to post two sub-13 clockings in the same Olympic Trials; third place finisher Jeff Porter, in a move reminiscent of Christian Smith's desperate lunge in the '08 OT 800 final, dove his way onto the Olympic team; and the subpar performance of David Oliver fueled further speculation about his ability to regain his former position of dominance in this event.

Number 3: Lance Brook's Storybook Throw


Lance Brooks, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Discus, Photo by PhotoRun.net


Not unlike many US discus athletes, unheralded discus thrower Lance Brooks came to Eugene lacking the 65.00m mark that would give him the coveted "A" standard. Veteran discus fans were frankly surprised this virtual unknown even made it into the finals. Leading after every round of the finals, Brooks still lacked the "A" standard mark that several of his trailing competitors had already secured. In a finish that defied belief, Lance Brooks, down to his sixth and final throw, and exhorted onward by the frenzied Hayward Field crowd, dropped a bomb by spinning the platter 65.15m - just surpassing the "A" standard mark he needed to secure his appearance in the London Games. This fairy tale finish took on added luster when Brooks' podium remarks suggested he did not fully appreciate that, notwithstanding an OT discus win, his "A" standard sixth throw was essential to permit his Olympic participation.

Number 2: Galen Rupp's Dramatic 5000 Win


Rupp vs Lagat at the finish of the Men's 5,000 meters, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

Photo by PhotoRun.net


Galen Rupp is beloved by the Hayward Field faithful. But even his most ardent fans have occasionally entertained doubt about his closing leg speed and his gritty determination against the most elite competitors over the final 200. He erased that lingering doubt at these Trials when, as expected, he was mano a mano against his old nemesis Bernard Lagat over the final 400 of the 5000 final. This time Rupp possessed that extra gear he needed over the final 80 meters to better Lagat at the line by 0.15 seconds. Rupp's winning time of 13:22.67 took down the 40 year-old Olympic Trials 5000 record held by Rupp's idol, the legendary Steve Prefontaine. The win allowed Rupp to complete an extremely rare Olympic Trials 5000/10,000 double - last completed 60 years ago in the '52 Olympic Trials by Curt Stone.

Number 1: Ashton Eaton's Decathlon World Record

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Ashton Eaton, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, World Record Decathlon

Photo by PhotoRun.net

You could feel the electricity in Hayward Field when Ashton Eaton began Day One of the decathlon by setting decathlon world records in the first two events. With Eaton having amassed 2164 points after the 100m and the long jump, both the athlete and the fans sensed that something very special might be unfolding. Competing on the 100th anniversary of the decathlon and of Jim Thorpe's victory in the inaugural Olympic decathlon, Eaton appeared unchallenged by his competitors and battled only with the swirling winds and periodic cloud bursts that plagued the ten events. Undaunted, Eaton soldiered on by winning 6 of the first 9 events. With 8189 points entering the final event - the 1500 - Eaton and the Hayward Field fans had been advised that a time of around 4:17 would allow him to surpass the 11-year old record of 9026 held by Roman Sebrle. With all of the living American Olympic decathlon gold medalists in attendance in the stands, Eaton ran an evenly-paced 4:14.48 to win the 1500, to post 9039 points, and to set a new world record. No one who witnessed this record-breaking display of athletic prowess will ever forget it.


Lowe_Chaunte-OlyTr12.jpgChaunte Lowe, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, High Jump
Photo by PhotoRun.ne


Lowe To Lead Strong Trio To London


The near-capacity crowd that packed Hayward Field yesterday was treated to a rare viewing opportunity in the Women's High Jump. Those in attendance were able to witness a high jump legend turn back the hands of time to make her fifth Olympic team; to marvel at the skills of a dominating jumper in the prime of her career; to observe the rapidly-improving heir apparent; and to catch a glimpse of the future while watching a 15-year high school sophomore tie a world age-group high jump record.

Chaunte Lowe erased any lingering doubts that her sparse 2011 competitive schedule due to her maternity leave would limit her comeback capability. Jumping flawlessly through the first seven heights from 1.79 through 2.01, Lowe, her electric lemon knee socks flashing, displayed the domination that marked her 2010 season when she set the American outdoor record of 2.05m and was ranked #1 in the country and 6th in the world. Stylin' in the pit with patented dance moves after soaring clearances, the two-time Olympian was enjoying herself and entertaining the crowd. Lowe, at age 28, was making it clear: she is still the American Queen Of The High Jump.


Barrett_Brigetta-OlyT12.jpgBrigetta Barrett, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, High Jump
Photo by PhotoRun.net

At the same time, up and coming Brigetta Barrett - viewed by many as the heir-apparent to Queen Chaunte - was nearly matching Lowe's errorless run through the heights. Busting a few nifty dance moves of her own after each successful clearance, Barrett showed she was ready for this day. As the bar was raised, the 21-yeard old jumper dazzled the crowd with two first-attempt PR clearances at 1.98 and 2.01. Barrett's earlier first-attempt miss at 1.95 was the only blot on her otherwise-pristine record when, with only Lowe and Barrett remaining, the bar was raised to 2.04.

Lowe capture the Olympic Trials win when neither Lowe nor Barrett could negotiate the 2.04 height - although each had one tantalizingly near-miss, with an errant trailing ankle dislodging the bar in each instance.

After the win, Lowe was grateful and candid about what it took to reclaim the performance level that positioned her for her Trials' victory. "I had to keep myself up emotionally. I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, but my kids come first. Cooking for two children while trying to adhere to my dietary regimen is hard. I just prayed, constantly prayed. My kids had some health issues. But my kids got better and I started to compete. I went to Europe and got my butt kicked left and right. I am so competitive. And getting beat drives me to get better. I ended up with my first world title indoors. My attitude was to just get to the track. And that's how it goes. You just need the grace of God."


Williams_Gabby-OlyT12.jpgGabby Williams, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, High Jump
Photo by PhotoRun.net

While the Lowe/Barrett battle was raging, two other important stories were unfolding. Gabrielle Williams, a 15 year old from Sparks, Nevada, came into the finals as the current American age group record holder at 6' 1 ½". Displaying uncommon poise for a high school sophomore, Williams worked her way through the heights. And when faced with bar at 1.89m [6'2 ½"] she cleared it on her second attempt to tie the world age group record. Her grace under fire impressed the Queen. "When I first saw Gabby the other day, I thought she was a senior," exclaimed Lowe. "And I thought, 'Well, she still has one more hurdle to go: the freshman fifteen.' You know, the fifteen pounds that you gain as a freshman in college. Then I found out that she was only 15 years old and then I thought, 'Oh, no, she's going to be great.' She's absolutely going to be great," predicted Lowe. "She still has a lot of strength left. She just has to stay composed. All of us were out there supporting her. We wanted her to do well."


Acuff_Amy-OlyTr12.jpgAmy Acuff, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, High Jump
Photo by PhotoRun.net

But the story for the ages is likely to be the performance of Amy Acuff. If Chaunte Lowe is the American Queen Of The High Jump, then Acuff is the Queen Mum. Last fall, Acuff, a four-time Olympian and a multiple-time national champion, decided to come out of retirement to see if a run at another Olympic team berth was even feasible. During her post-competition remarks, the 36 year old high jump legend commented about her comeback journey. "I started out working on general fitness. And then I thought, 'I wonder if I can still run. Am I still flexible?'" explained Acuff. "I didn't start jumping again until November. I was horrible, just awful, until some time in the middle of January. Then the temperature broke some, and the timing started coming back. I was kind of surprised when I had my first meet and I jumped so well." Coming into the Trials having previously cleared the "A" standard [1.95m], Acuff had positioned herself to be a serious competitor. In the finals, her extensive big-meet experience shined through. The veteran survived by notching two third-attempt clearances at 1.92 m and 1.95m to capture third place and to cinch a spot on her 5th Olympic team - a feat accomplished by only a select few track and field athletes.

And so this royal trio - the Queen, the Heir Apparent, and the Queen Mum - are off to London for the 30th Olympiad, to aspire to new heights as they take on the world. They will need to be at their best to prevail against the likes of Russia's Anna Chicherova. But should they succeed, they would further affirm their claim to high jump nobility.

Uceny_MorganSF-USOlyT12.jpgMorgan Uceny leads the pack, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Photo by PhotoRun.net


Deep Finals Promise Furious Finishes

The 1500 meter run - the Metric Mile - is always a marquee event at the Olympic Trials. This year should be no exception. And given that this year's event is generally regarded as having incredible depth on both the women's and men's side, the 1500 has even greater luster.

It takes more than just being a great miler to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 1500. You have to know your competition and you have to be smart in executing your race strategy to advance through the rounds. The pathway to the Olympic team is not just one race - like a Diamond league meet or a select invitational. It is a three-race war of attrition.

Julia Lucas, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 5000 meters final,
Photo by PhotoRun.net

As time goes by and the 22,602 track and field fans who packed Hayward Field on Thursday pause to reflect on a single remembrance from that day, they will have many choices.

Some will think of Galen Rupp's gritty final 400 in the 5000 - as he called upon new-found leg speed gained from a year of under-distance racing to edge, at last, the legendary Bernard Lagat and end a 12-race losing streak against his decorated rival.

Others will recall the storybook finish in the men's discus - as Lance Brooks' final throw of 65.15m [213' 9"] not only sealed his victory, but also finally gave him the Olympic "A" standard mark he needed to secure his ticket to the London Games.

But for more than a few, their memory of Thursday's events will not be of hard-earned success, amazing comebacks, or fairy tale finishes - it will be about Julia Lucas. Their lasting recollection will be about Lucas and her courageous, yet unsuccessful, attempt to make this United States Olympic team in the women's 5000 final.

Eaton_AshtonLJ1-OlyTr12.jpgAshton Eaton, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials
Photo by PhotoRun.net


Each day at these Olympic Trials there is an intermittent stream of athletes who, after their competition, parade through the tented Media Center by way of a cordoned pathway known as the Mixed Zone. This constantly-changing area is a frenzied scene of conflicting emotions. Media types swarm around as exuberant London-bound Olympic qualifiers field a bevy of questions only feet away from the more solemn questioning of disconsolate athletes whose dreams will not be fulfilled.

Gall_GeenaFL-OlyT12.jpgGeena Gall, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 800 meters
Photo by PhotoRun.net



Another Rowland Thoroughbred Breaks Through

With 250 meters to go in the women's 800 meter Olympic Trials final Monday evening, Geena Gall found herself in 6th place behind a tangle of America's top middle distance runners, all pushing furiously to capture one of the top three spots and gain a ticket to the London Games. Gall kept her cool. "I knew what to expect going into the finals. I have raced against these girls multiple times and I know how they race. I just play to my own thing. I have a great kick which I had executed during the first two rounds. Before the last 200, when Brenda Martinez passed me, I knew it was 'go' time and I needed to shift into another gear. So I swung really wide on the curve. When I hit the last 100 meters coming off the Bowerman curve, I just put my head down and gave it all that I've got. I could hear the crowd cheering super loud. I picked off the girls one by one as I was closing on Alysia [Montano]. As I crossed the finish line, I threw my hands up in the air and I knew I was on the Olympic team and that I had made it," exclaimed Gall. "It was the best feeling in the world."


Jeter-MadisonR-OlyT12.JPGWomen's 100 meter, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials
Photo by PhotoRun.net


Answers Will Emerge When Trials Resume

As the Olympic Trials goes on break for two days of rest, it is the perfect time to consider ten key questions which will be answered as the Trials resume on Thursday.



Trotter_DeeDeeSF-OlyTr12.jpgDee Dee Trotter, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

Photo by PhotoRun.net



Olympic Team Berth Would Complete Comeback

As we sit in Hayward Field and marvel at the outstanding and seemingly-effortless performances of these spectacular track and field athletes, it is easy to be unmindful of the individual obstacles that many have had to overcome just to arrive at this gateway to Olympic participation. The athletes run, jump, and throw and we applaud their accomplishments - all while we are largely oblivious to their unobservable personal struggles.

Dee Dee Trotter is one of the most gifted and accomplished 400 meter runners on the planet. Early in her career, success came quickly and easily. In 2003, as a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, Trotter made her first World Championship team and went on to win a gold medal as a member of the United States' winning 4 x 400 relay team. The following year she captured Olympic gold, running the leadoff leg in the final on USA's victorious 4 x 400 relay foursome. More gold followed in 2007 when Trotter, coming off her 49.64 PR win in the 400 meter outdoor national championship race, ran on the country's winning 4 x 400 relay squad in the World Championships in Berlin.


Cabral_Donn-Oxy12.JPGDonn Cabral, Oxy High Performance Meet, 2012

Photo by PhotoRun.net



Is There More Magic Left In Cabral's Special Season?

Hollywood would likely reject a proposed movie script based upon the 2012 track and field accomplishments of Donn Cabral. Too fantastic, not credible. But as dream-like as Cabral's outdoor ride has been this spring, this much is true: it really did all happen that way.

Hard-core track and field fans know about Cabral. Prior to this outdoor season, the book on the Princeton distance ace pegged him as a very good - but not an overly-spectacular - talent: multi-time All-American; two-time NCAA runner-up in the steeplechase; and a leading East Coast collegiate distance runner.

But you can throw that book away. Cabral's magical spring has changed all that. In April, Cabral led his Princeton distance corps back to the Penn Relay Carnival where his scintillating anchor legs allowed the Tigers to win the distance medley relay and to successfully defend its 4 x mile crown - the first time such dual distance wins had been accomplished at Penn by a single school in 51 years ago. Add Cabral's Penn steeple win as a sophomore to those three relay titles and you realize that Cabral has four Penn Relays watches. He has never lost at the Penn Relays. Ivy League runners aren't supposed to be able to do that.

As the spring rolled on, Cabral successfully defended his Heps titles in the 10,000 and the steeplechase - his specialty. But his big breakthrough came shortly thereafter at the Oxy High Performance Meet in California. Running as the only collegian in a stacked steeplechase field of post-collegiate professionals eager to notch the "A" standard [8:23.1], Cabral displayed a race poise that belied his novice status. Laying off the early jostling and running his own race, Cabral hung back, moved hard over the final three laps, and then uncorked a powerful kick over the final 200 meters to upset Dan Huling and Evan Jager. Cabral's winning "A" standard time of 8:19.14 took down the 28-year old American collegiate record and still stands as this year's leading American mark. But there's more: several weeks ago, Cabral capped off an exceptional college career by capturing the NCAA Div I steeplechase crown.

It has been a frenetic 2½ months for Cabral as he has gone through a whirlwind transformation from good collegiate distance runner into a leading contender to make the United States Olympic Team in the steeplechase.

Cabral is quick to acknowledge that his successes this spring are due, in large measure, to the careful guidance and training provided by Tiger distance coach Steve Dolan. "Coach Dolan is a really great coach. He has helped me to make the moves that will help me to be there at the end; to keep things in focus and in perspective; and to be sure I get the work in for the build-up that I need," says Cabral. "He [Dolan] wants me to enjoy this chance while not having to face anything that would distract me before the Olympic Trials."
As the steeplechase rounds approach, the real question isn't whether or not Cabral has the demonstrated skills to make the Olympic team. It is whether or not he has any gas left in the tank. Cabral makes it clear that this happy turn of events was a possibility that was contemplated when he and Dolan constructed a training/racing plan 9 months ago. "Last fall, Coach Dolan set up the training plans that allowed for a possible later season than usual. The plan included a lot miles in the fall and in the winter. A lot of the sharper stuff that we normally do late winter or early spring we pushed back into April," says Cabral. "We started to chart a new path to reach a whole new level; which required a really hard block - a couple weeks of hard training - during the spring. It has been a series of incredible phases I have gone through."

Cabral believes he has side-stepped the common downfall that plagues many collegiate distance aspirants at this time of year - the inevitable staleness that accompanies an extenuated racing season. The fact is that Dolan's scheduling has had Cabral racing selectively and sparingly during the winter and early spring, which likely explains Cabral's observation that his legs "feel fresh."

And so Cabral moves into uncharted waters. If, as expected, he can move on to Thursday's final, Cabral is ready for any pacing eventuality the final might bring. "I have a lot of confidence in my fitness right now; if it [the steeple final] did go out at 8:15 pace the whole time, I would be happy to give it a ride," says Cabral. "It [the pace] would kind of spread out the field - and maybe not everyone would be on their game. So really all the pretenders won't be there if it is a really fast ride."

And so the journey for the recent Princeton graduate continues later today with the first round of the steeplechase. It is then we will learn if more magic remains to propel Cabral's storybook season.


Bridget Franek, 2011 U.S. Outdoor, Photo by PhotoRun.net

Steepler Bridget Franek Glides Over Barriers - On and Off The Track

When you first meet Bridget Franek, what strikes you is her poise. For a young athlete - Franek is 24 - she exhibits the type of calm demeanor that is not commonly found among newly-minted college graduates working to find their way in the country's "new reality." This is likely learned behavior for Franek whose pathway to the present has taught her to be a flexible, quick study. Don't be mistaken, this up-and-coming steeplechaser has not had the type of ghastly childhood that nearly overwhelmed, say, Lolo Jones - far from it. But Franek's solid Midwestern upbringing - with occasional new directions and all-in commitments - has given her the quiet confidence to understand that she is able to meet and effectively address the challenges she willingly undertakes for herself.

In the coming days, Bridget Franek will take another step in that direction as she runs in the first round of the Women's 3000 meter steeplechase. Taking one race at a time, the Penn State graduate is aiming for a qualifying performance that will put her in the steeplechase final which will be run on Friday in the twilight. While the races, of course, have to be run, the stars and planets are in proper alignment for her. "I am healthy and probably have the best fitness I have ever had," notes Franek. And she has the all-important Olympic "A" standard, having run sub-9:43 several times earlier this spring. No stranger to international competition, Franek ran the steeplechase on U.S. teams in Berlin in 2009 and in Daegu in 2011. Citing her impressive PR of 9:32.35, Track & Field News projects her as a top three finisher in the Trials steeplechase which would send her to her first Olympic games. Ah, if it was just that simple...

An enormous athletic talent, Franek has developed the ability to roll with change and undertake new challenges. As a youngster, Franek first shied away from running - both her parents are accomplished runners - as she focused her attention on soccer. But then she saw clearly that a change should be made. "From my junior year of high school, I decided that running was probably going to be where I would get the best opportunity," says Franek. "So I decided to do cross country so that I could send some of my times out to the college coaches who would be looking for athletes."
It was the right move. Slightly more that 18 months after her shift to running, Franek concluded her high school career by winning the 800, the 1600, the 3200, and anchoring Crestwood High School's winning 4 x 800 relay in the Ohio state high school track and field championships.

In college, as a member of Beth Alford Sullivan's accomplished program at Penn State, Franek made a quick and solid transition and performed well enough to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But patience and flexibility were nonetheless required as she and her coaches methodically worked to find her best event. Franek, who had never run a steeplechase or even cleared a steeple barrier before entering college, was willing to give the odd, new event a try. Once again. her open-mindedness was rewarded. Two years later she made the U.S. World Championship team and competed in the steeplechase in Berlin. Patience and consistent focus allowed Franek to steadily improve - she topped off her successful collegiate career by winning the steeplechase title at the 2010 NCAA Championships.

With college behind her, Franek once again found herself facing options and choices. She went all in. Willing to make a commitment to explore her full potential as a track and field athlete, Franek moved from her comfortable Midwest surroundings to Eugene - where the action is. Joining the Oregon Track Club, Franek soon found herself training daily with the likes of Lauren Fleshman, Sally Kipyego; and Geena Gaul. "I love to train with people who are better than I am. That is why I moved to Oregon. Being around greatness definitely helps me to improve. The girls here are at such a high level. It [the elite training] allows me to assess the level where I am currently."

The change of residence also brought a change in coaching philosophy. Franek is now guided by Mark Rowland, an '88 Olympic steeplechase medalist whose no-nonsense approach to training is calculated to promote athlete independence. No worries - the flexible Franek embraced Rowland's new perspective. "Coach Rowland is night and day different from my college coach. He is an extremely professional guy." notes Franek. "I love how he coaches because it really empowers the athletes. His goal is to get us to the starting line and to train us so that we don't need him anymore. We are trained to be completely independent and capable of reaching our potential by ourselves. We trust him with our training. He has a bigger perspective and knows that he can't be there at every one of our competitions. He knows we have to do it by ourselves."

Franek will need to bring that empowered and independent approach to Hayward Field as she seeks a top three finish in the steeplechase - a placing that would guarantee her a position on her first U.S. Olympic team. While Franek and Colorado's Emma Coburn - the defending national steeplechase champion who red-shirted this past year to focus on an Olympic bid - are viewed as the class of the field, the women's steeplechase is a relatively new and underdeveloped event where unanticipated break-through performances by discounted competitors are distinctly possible. Not surprisingly, Franek views this coming challenge with her customary measured approach.
"While I am planning on being in the final, I am taking one race at a time. I just want to be in the top three. It doesn't even matter how it happens. As long as I am in the top three, that's the ideal race for me."

Given Franek's unflappable approach to the challenges she encounters and her prior track record of success, the upcoming Olympic Trials steeplechase races, while formidable, appear to be hurdles she can clear.

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.