One last post about the U.S. track and field Olympic Trials, which finished up on Sunday, before beginning to ponder some of the more challenging questions that these Olympics bring up. This is a fascinating time for the Olympic movement, which essentially made a seven-year bet on a developing country to host these Olympics. Whether it will have been a true success remains to be seen; the pollution I saw in Beijing two weeks ago was among the worst I've ever experienced. Cloud-seeding, factory closures, half the cars off the roads, lucky August weather...whatever it takes to clean it up will be most welcome. And needless to say, the reports from my colleagues based in Beijing about the lack of full media freedom are troubling, to say the least.
But that's a discussion for a bit later this week.
Today I wanted to share a bit about what it was like moving away from the dedicated media stands at Hayward Field, which are waywayway up at the top of the main grandstand, and going off to the back bleachers for a Sunday afternoon at the Trials. There was an ulterior motive on my part; the women's pole vault is among my favorite events, and the vaulting pit was right in front of the back bleachers, making for excellent spectating. The seats were completely packed; the folks who offered me a bit of their bench were Oregon natives ("I grew up on Hayward Field" said the 20-something guy I sat with) and dedicated track fans - not competitors themselves, just some of the many who soak up the Eugene-specific track and field fervor that grips anyone who lives within shouting distance of the U of O. It was a great afternoon. The crowd moved with every vaulter's mood; when Jenn Stuczynski came within one missed vault of no-heighting, the tension in the crowd was an intense as anything I've ever experienced at a track meet...and the elation as genuine when she cleared her opening height on her way to a new American record. The crowd was with Stacy Dragila, the legendary 37-year-old who was the first Olympic champion in the event and a true pioneer in women's sports, as she crashed out at 4.50 meters, finishing seventh in a three-way tie with Chelsea Johnson and Mary Vincent. The joy April Steiner Bennett showed when she cleared 4.60 meters, guaranteeing her a top-three finish and a trip to Beijing, was palpable; you wanted to reach out and hug her, and in this intimate arena, you almost could. Peppered in among the women vaulters were the 200-meter races, where Walter Dix and Allyson Felix stamped their passports to Beijing; the men's 1500 meters, a fantastic result for the all-naturalized-American (and all-Nike) team of Bernard Lagat, Leonel Manzano and Lopez Lomong; and the race sure to be the hottest ticket in Beijing - the men's 110-meter hurdles. David Oliver looked smooth and super-fast at these Trials; Terrence Trammell looked every bit the veteran hurdler who knows Olympic pressure like no other; and David Payne, continuing his magical mystery tour that got him all the way to Osaka last year to sub in for Dominique Arnold just in time to win the bronze medal, took bronze in Eugene as well. Great team, great result. Can a great Olympics for all of these athletes be the next chapter in this story?