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Tuesday, 02 August 2016 00:32

Bolt in Rio

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RIO DE JANEIRO (BRA): Agencies are informing that World fastest man Usain Bolt touched down in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night. The Jamaican sprinter arrived at Rio International Airport at 9.02pm local time, after a transatlantic flight from London, where he competed in the Anniversary Games last week. Bolt was greeted by a scrum of media, excited airport staff and members of the public. He briefly posed for photos but said nothing before being whisked off in a private car. "I know the sport needs me to win and come out on top,"says Usain Bolt. He joined with the rest of the Jamaican team members - including Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake - who are already at a pre-Games training camp, which is based at a nearby naval academy. (Alfonz Juck, EME News)

RunBlogRun opines: Usain Bolt is one of my favorites. He is a few years old than my son, Adam, and I get a kick out of how he comports himself. Usain has a sense of humor, as well as prodigious talent, and a work ethic. Anyone who thinks the guy has not puked along the side of the track in Jamaica, after he survives one of Coach Francis's workouts, is hallucinating. One does not run world records at 100 meters or 200 meters without a lot of hard work, talent and drive. Why does everyone love Usain? Because he has fun, and he shares his fun, his victories and his joy of life with his fans. Hell, in Glasgow, Scotland, the guy even tried Haegis (something I ate for seventeen straight days)! Keeping sport light is part of why he is so beloved. And in an Olympics where Zika virus, water pollution, muggings, Russian sports doping, IOC appeasement of said Russian sports federations, global politics has reared its ugly head, we will need some athletes with great smiles, huge talents and big hearts. 

We live in a world where the fingers on total destruction seem to be possessed, more and more by absolute madmen. For eighteen days, every four years, the world deserves those nearly three weeks of sports to be uninterupted by all the detritus I noted above. But, alas, we are human. When I feel really concerned, I think of Venuste Nyongabo, the 5000 meter champion from 1996, the first champion from his country, Burundi, which was in a civil war in 1995 and not much better in 1996. Venuste won the World Champs 1,500m in 1995, and then, won his country's first medal in 1996 in the Olympics. He had seen terrible things in his country, but his focus, his hard won victories and his smile afterwards said much to the world. 

Athletes like Usain Bolt remind us that sports should be fun. That is what I am looking forward to, August 12-21.

By Mark Winitz

If her past three track and field seasons are any indication, U.S. multi-event athlete Barbara Nwaba is poised to turn heads in an important Olympic year. The 2012 graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara, who competes for the heptathlon and decathlon focused Santa Barbara Track Club, won the heptathlon at the 2015 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships while scoring a personal record 6,500 points. That score ranked her #6 in the world last year, and #1 in the U.S. Only five U.S. athletes in history have turned in higher scores for the seven-event heptathlon competition composed of the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin, and 800m. Of course, the U.S. and world all-time list is headed by legendary Jackie Joyner-Kersee who scored the current world record of 7,291 in 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Last March, at the 2016 U.S. Indoor Combined Events Championships in Portland, Nwaba, age 27, captured the win in the indoor pentathlon (composed of five events) with 4,415 points, a personal best. That was followed by a fourth place overall and top American performance at the IAAF World Indoor Championships with 4,661 points, another personal best. Then, switching to outdoors, on May 29 she placed fifth and top American with a 6,360-point heptathlon at the prestigious international Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria which is billed as the most prestigious meet for multi-event athletes outside of the Olympic Games. Canada's Brianne Theisen Eaton--a favored contender for a medal in Rio--won the event with 6,765 points.

How has Nwaba acquired the multiple, refined skills to sit near the top of the world in multi events? Where did she come from and where is she headed at the relatively young athletic age of 27? Let's find out.

Nwaba was born and raised in Los Angeles by parents who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria. She is the oldest in a family of six brothers and sisters. In elementary school, she was heavily active in an after school sports program organized by LA's Best which involves children in a different sports activity every month. She graduated from LA's University High School in 2007 where she competed in the California State Track and Field Championships as both a Junior and Senior, in the 300m hurdles and high jump. Nwaba was recruited by the University of California, Santa Barbara where she graduated in 2012 with a Sociology degree.

It was at UC Santa Barbara where Nwaba first met Josh Priester, the coach that guides her today. Following a successful multi-event athletic career at George Fox University, Priester was hired by UC Santa Barbara in 2008 to coach the sprints, hurdles, and combined events. Nwaba was in her sophomore year at UCSB after competing in the hurdles and high jump as a freshman. 

"I distinctly remembered our first coach-athlete meeting," Priester recalled. "I found that Barbara had done some high jumping in high school. I took one look at her and thought she was probably going to be able to take up the throws because she is a big, strong girl. I asked her 'what do you think about training for the heptathlon?' Her first question was 'what's the heptathlon?' So, I explained all the events and told her that there was an 800 at the end of it. She wasn't too excited about that. Ironically, Nwaba had the fastest 800m time (2:07.13) in the world last year for the heptathlon."

Priester served as the Associate Director of Track & Field at UCSB until the summer of 2012 when he left the college. That Fall, Priester and Nwaba formed the Women's Athletic Performance Foundation, a non-profit organization specifically to support U.S. female elite multi-event athletes. In 2013, the organization evolved into Women's Athletic Performance Foundation "doing business as" Santa Barbara Track Club, to include male multi-eventers. 

"The driving force behind the whole thing is to improve the heptathlon and pentathlon in the U.S.," Priester said.

And, what is Priester's general coaching philosophy that he employs to successfully develop Nwaba and some of the other finest combined event athletes in the nation?

"There's no cookie cutter approach to training for the decathlon or heptathlon," Priester believes. "Some athletes can handle a lot more volume than others. So, the most important thing is getting to know the person and not just the athlete. In my opinion, the athletics take care of themselves when you truly have the best interests of the person in mind. The nature of the decathlon is eliminating weaknesses over time. If you can eliminate weaknesses and have an even keel you can do really well in the multis."

Priester's club now includes 12 open division athletes. Watch for at least four of them at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials: heptathletes Nwaba (who is the top women's automatic qualifier) plus Lindsay Lettow and Lindsay Schwartz, and decathlete Tom FitzSimons (who will likely compete based on minimum field sizes).

Under Priester's direction, the organization also organizes a youth section of the club that currently has over 125 youth athletes who are guided and mentored by the club's elite/open athletes, plus track and field and cross country camps and clinics for youth and high school athletes, and private and group training programs. Santa Barbara Track Club also organizes the Sam Adams Combined Events Invitational--all at Westmont College in Santa Barbara where SBTC trains. Priester currently works as an Assistant Track and Field Coach at Westmont, an NAIA member school.

Both Ashton Eaton (the reigning world record holder in the decathlon and indoor heptathlon) and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton (the Canadian heptathlon record holder) spend much of each winter and spring training in Santa Barbara, hosted by Westmont College and the Santa Barbara Track Club.

The SBTC and its athletes, including Barbara Nwaba, are sponsored by ABEO biomechanical footwear.

 

 

We caught up with Nwaba two weeks before the start of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials and asked her some questions about her training, progress to date, and her outlook for the Trials and beyond. The interview is below.

Q: Barbara, how did the Santa Barbara Track Club come about with you and Josh?

During the last few months of my Senior year (at UCSB) Josh told me that he was thinking about starting his own non-profit and giving me and other athletes a situation where I could train and live without struggling too much. Luckily, my athletics at UCSB went well. Otherwise, I didn't know where I was going to go. Because, with the multi events, it's really hard to find a post-collegiate training situation. 

 

Q: Yes, you're certainly blessed in that respect--having other multi-eventers to train with. On any particular day, do you focus your training on one specific event as a group? Or, are you spread over the track in groups, working on different events?

In the Fall, we're pretty much all together. That's when we do a lot of our general conditioning work. We're not doing a lot of technical work yet. The wintertime is when we start doing a little more technical work and we usually do it all together at that point. In the spring, it gets a little harder because everyone is on different pages depending on their competition schedule.

 

It's great having a group that's pretty much all on the national stage. When we first started the club it was only me and it was really hard. I was asking 'Is this what professional track life is like? I want someone else out here with me.'

 

Q: Can you describe what a typical in-season training week looks like for you?

Yes, we have Sundays off. We come back on Monday where we have shot put. We start with a little longer warmup, going through a netball series of drills. After that we do some grass running to shake off the rust from the weekend--maybe some 200s combined with a couple of 100-meter striders. Tuesdays and Thursdays are a little harder where we do two technical events and work out up to four hours. Tuesday is long jump and sprints. Wednesday is our active recovery day so everything is non-impact. We can go on the bike, stationary bike, or ElliptiGO® (outdoor elliptical bicycle). Thursdays is hurdles, high jump, and a little bit of grass running. And, on Tuesdays and Thursdays we always go to the weight room and lift: A lot of Olympic lifting and cleans, bench press, inclines, netball, plus a lot of plyometrics. Fridays are javelin and our 800 or 1, 500 meter workouts. We also might lift on Fridays or have active recovery again.

 

Q: How important is it for you to work with other athletes during your workouts? How do the other athletes in SBTC support you during workouts?

It's definitely a huge benefit having other athletes with you. All of us have different talents and specialties. Like, my best event is high jump. The long jump is usually one of my tougher events. But Lindsay Lettow is an awesome long jumper. So, every now and then, when something my coach is telling me isn't really clicking, maybe she sees something and she might say 'Hey, Barb, maybe if you try this...' So, if you're willing to accept it, everyone can give you cues to help you get better. That's, definitely a huge benefit.

 

Even just watching other athletes, seeing how they go through the process--say, like wow, the way she turns her foot is something that I never do, That's definitely been a big help because I'm very much a visual learner.

 

Q: Coach Priester has guided you since your collegiate days. What are the key aspects of his guidance that have contributed the most to your development?

I think, a lot of it is his positive outlook. He was a multi-eventer himself, so he is very aware of the mentality that must have when you compete. Especially, if things go bad, he's, like, Hey, you're fine. Look at the bigger picture. He's the person that always believes more than I thought I was capable of. If sometimes I feel like this is it for me he'll come in and be, like: This is where I see you in the future. This is where you'll be if you just keep on the path you're going. I see you at this level. He's always upbeat. That energy, you just feed off it.

 

Q: You've experienced steady improvements over the past several years, to the point where you were ranked sixth in the world last year in the hep and first in the U.S. with a 6,500-point outing at the 2015 U.S. Outdoor Champs. Can you tell me what's contributed the most to these improvements?

It's definitely the time I've spent in the sport. Just learning the events is the biggest part for any multi-event athlete. For example, a single-event athlete, such as a long jumper, might hit the runway three or four times a week. Well, multi-eventers can only hit the runway once because we have other events to work on, The more time we spend at any particular event, the better we get at it. Most of my success to date is just patience and time and knowing that if you just keep at it things will get better.

 

Also, having the experience at big meets. I've been competing at the U.S. Championships since my junior year in college when I redshirted. Also, learning how to just step back, be yourself, relax, and do your own thing...and the points will just happen.

 

Q: In a seven-event competition such as the heptathlon how do you keep your focus on the event that you're competing in, without thinking about what happened in the previous event or what's coming up next?

No matter what the outcome in a specific event, I have to process what happened and park it. You need to reflect on what happened in any particular event when the meet is over. You can't waste energy on events that are already finished. Plus, in practice, we go through a progression for each event. For example, I know the specific warm-ups I need to do for every specific event. If I just go through those steps, I know I'll be fine. I'll know my mindset has changed to 'OK, now I'm specifically a 200-meter runner,' or 'now, I'm just a long jumper and nothing else matters.' If I constantly practice this in training I know I'll be OK. 

 

Q: Do you want to talk about your experience at the outdoor World Championships in Bejiing last year? You recorded new PRs in the javelin and shot put, but the hurdles posed a bit of a challenge. What did you learn from your experience?

Editor's Note: Nwaba had a heartbreaking hurdles race--the hep's first event of the day. She mis-stepped hurdle one, then hit hurdles two and five going down both times. She did not finish the race, lost valuable points, and ultimately finished 27th in the hep competition.

 

It you're talking about experience, that was pretty much the biggest stage I've ever been on. I was seeing all these amazing athletes all around me. So, I almost felt that I was out of my element when I went into the hurdles. I was nervous. I think I just pressed too much in that race. I'd never taken an eighth step into the first hurdle. It just came out of nowhere. But continuing on to complete the competition was essential. I knew that it was the best practice that I could get going into an Olympic year. I was very proud of myself about everything else I was able to do at Outdoor Worlds.

 

Q: Moving ahead a little, to this year's big outdoor season, you had an excellent opener outdoors at the Hypo meet in Austria among a number of the best heptathletes in the world. That fifth place performance must now give you a lot of confidence going into the U.S. Olympic Trials and, hopefully, beyond to Rio.

Definitely if I repeat that kind of performance in Eugene I should be fine. Last year, winning USA's and then competing in the World Championships, I was in awe. Now, I feel like, yes, I belong. There's no need to be in awe, or be afraid. I just need to trust in my abilities. Now, I'm ready to go and just do my own thing.

 

Q: At this point, are you looking a little bit past the Trials? Do I dare ask, if you are competing in Rio, who your biggest competition might be? Brianne Theisen-Eaton?

Definitely. She's just a monster. As far as I can see among the top spots--who really wants it and has been working hard--it's Brianne for sure. She's been at the top for so many years now. It's always been a blast competing against her. Then there's Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa from Latvia. She placed third at Worlds last year and had a huge PR (6,622 points) in the hep this year (at the Hypo Meeting in Austria). Also, Carolin Schäfer from Germany. So, if I want to get up there on the podium in Rio those are the girls I'll need to contend with.

But right now I'm not focused so much on that moment. Right now, it's just getting through the U.S. Trials and just making sure that I execute there.

 

Q: Barbara, what are your other goals this year besides that big, ultimate goal of representing the U.S. at the Olympic Games?

Yes, the ultimate goal is to make my first Olympic team. I'd also love to go out there, pull it all together, and PR. It would be great to keep climbing up there on the U.S. (all-time) list.

 

Q: And, what are your long-term goals in the sport?

Hopefully, to go another four years and, hopefully, to make two Olympic teams. And, hopefully, to reach the podium at the Olympic Games. Also, to make a lasting impact on the sport. If I can inspire anyone to even try the multi events once, it's an accomplishment because I feel like there is just so much talent in the U.S. and it's definitely growing. You can see that compared to the qualifying standards for the 2012 Trials, and what it takes now to qualify. The women's multis have absolutely exploded, which is awesome for our sport.

Monday, 01 August 2016 23:32

Triple Jumpers Claye, Benard Make Team on Day 9

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By Mark Winitz—On Day 9 of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday, July 9 Californian Will Claye (Chula Vista, Calif./Nike) emerged as the men's triple jump winner. California's Chris Benard (Chula Vista, Calif./Chula Vista Elite) placed third. Both athletes made the U.S. men's triple jump team headed for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil. Several other athletes from the Golden State fared well in their respective events and progressed to their finals on Sunday. A crowd of 22,847 at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field cheered them on--the largest single day attendance ever at the historic facility,

Claye's winning 17.65 meter/57 foot-eleven-inch triple jump came in the fifth round. Benard turned in a 17.21m/56-05.75 best jump, also in the fifth round, for third place. Gainesville Florida's Christian Taylor (Nike)-- the reigning Olympic champion and current World Champion--placed second with a best jump of 17.39m/57-00.75.

Claye was the 2012 Olympic Games triple jump silver medalist and long jump bronze medalist. Benard's berth on the 2016 U.S. Olympic squad will mark his first trip to the Olympics. Both Claye and Benard train at the U.S. Olympic Committee's Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Last February, the USOC agreed to transfer ownership of the training center to the city of Chula Vista with an official opening under the new ownership on January 1, 2017. The center has an $8 million annual budget.

Claye, who is originally from Arizona, referred to his triple jump victory as "a blessing." Earlier this year, he had a sprain in his big toe that sidelined him for two months. He started training again last February. Last Sunday he took third place in the final of the men's long jump competition at the Trials, but didn't earn a berth on the Olympic team. Prior to the Trials he failed to earn an Olympic Games long jump qualifying mark of 26 feet, 9 inches. At the Trials he cleared the Olympic qualifying mark twice with jumps of 27-7 1/2 and 27-6 but both jumps were wind aided.

"Today was really refreshing. I've just been through so much with the long jump," Claye said after his triple jump victory. "It was distressful. I just needed to get my mind together and focus on the triple jump. I'm happy I was able to go into it with a clear mind and execute. I was just visualizing what I had to do--making sure where my feet were coming through the board, keeping my legs as stiff as possible, and being aware of my foot placement through the phases. It already happened in my head before I did it."

And what are Claye's expectations for Rio? "The expectations are always to win, no matter what the event," he said.

Third placer Chris Benard was also ecstatic about making the team on its way to Rio.

"I wanted to jump 57 feet coming in and that's what I expected I needed to make the team," Benard said after the competition. "Everything that I've done since I graduated from high school has centered around track. When you completely focus everything you have around something specific, validation comes with success. And this is the highest level of success I've ever had."

Benard attended Santiago High School in Corona, Calif. and then Arizona State University where he was the runner-up in the triple jump at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships.

"I work on every specific aspect of the triple jump in practice. And, in the end, when I'm at the meet, I try to put it all together," said Benard who occasionally trains with Will Claye at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center when their training schedules coincide. He more often trains with April Sinkler. Sinkler finished sixth in the women's triple jump final last Thursday, July 7.

In other action on the ninth day of competition at the Trials among Californians, Brittany Borman (Fullerton, Calif./Nike/NYAC) placed fourth in the women's javelin throw final. Her last throw in the competition was her best, a 56.60m/185-08 effort. Texas A&M's Maggie Malone won the event with a 60-84m/199-07 fourth round throw.

Reining U.S. heptathlon champion Barbara Nwaba (Santa Barbara, Calif. /ABEO/Santa Barbara TC) turned in a first day personal best score of 3,903 points, leading the women's heptathlon field into Sunday's second and final day of competition.

In the women's 200m semifinal, 2012 Olympic 200m gold medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles, Calif,/Nike) qualified for Sunday's final with a fourth place 22.57. Felix is competing with an injured ankle which she is rehabbing

"I feel good," Felix said after the semi "But, unfortunately, the turn (on the track) is an area that we haven't had the luxury of working on. So we'll just get through with what I have. It's not so much dealing with the (ankle) pain, it's just that we haven't been able to practice that section."

Monday, 01 August 2016 23:29

More Californians Punch Tickets to Rio on Day 10

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Dalilah Mohammed, photo by PhotoRun.net

This is the tenth article from Mark Winitz on the athletic performances of the athletes from California. This is Mark's articles on day Ten! 

 

More Californians Punch Tickets to Rio on

Last Day of U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials

 

By Mark Winitz—The final day of the 10-day U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. on July 10 ended with five additional California athletes qualifying for team spots on the U.S. Olympic team headed for the games in Rio. A Hayward Field record crowd of 22,944 were wowed and entertained by nine finals.

Dalilah Muhammad (Glendale, Calif./Nike) dominated the women's 400m hurdles final in 52.88, securing her pass to her first Olympic Games. Her time is a U.S. Trials record and the fastest time in the world since the 2013 IAAF World Championships. The former All-American for the USC Trojans earned the silver medal at the 2013 World Championships but said she had personal problems in 2014 and was injured in 2015.

"I don't think it's sunk in yet," Muhammed said after her victory. "You hope for this since you were a little girl. I've been running since I was seven years old. So, this moment is finally here. I feel that I'm in great hands with my coach. Now, I'm looking forward to the Olympics."

Muhammed trains at California State University Northridge where she is coached by CSUN Assistant Track and Field Coach Lawrence Johnson, the 2013 USA Track & Field Nike Coach of the Year.

Another USC Trojan, Jaide Stepter (Santa Ana, Calif./Southern California) placed 7th in 54.95, a personal best. Stepter completed her eligibility for USC with All-American honors this year.

Barbara Nwaba (Santa Barbara, Calif., ABEO/Santa Barbara TC) concluded the second day of the heptathlon on top, clinching her Trials victory while earning a coveted spot on her first Olympic Games team. Her 6,494 points was just shy of her PR of 6,500 which she scored as the victor at last year's USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and ranked her #6 in the world last year, and #1 in the U.S. 2008 and 2012 Olympian and former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo All-American Sharon Day-Monroe (Los Angeles, Calif./ASICS) finished just out of the medals in fourth place with a score of 6,385. Lindsay Lettow (ABEO/Santa Barbara TC), the NCAA Division II heptathlon and pentathlon champion in 2011 and 2012, finished 10th with 5,960 points. 

Nwaba gave all the credit for her development into a first-time Olympian to the Santa Barbara Track Club and its coach, Josh Priester. Nwaba was coached by Priester at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she graduated in 2012 as a 4-time NCAA Division I All-American, and then joined the SBTC which Priester founded in the summer of 2012.

"Josh Priester has made this whole thing happen--his big belief in me and knowing that I could make the Olympic team one day," Nwaba said after securing her Trials victory. "When I was a college senior I was freaking out, like where was I going to go (after college)? Without him there might have been opportunities but I'm not sure how far I would have gone with them--as opposed to having a training group, funding for housing, and a job. I'm one of the coaches for the Santa Barbara Youth Track Club, so they've provided everything for me."

Last May, Nwaba placed fifth and top American with a 6,360-point heptathlon at the international Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria which is billed as the most prestigious meet for multi-event athletes outside of the Olympic Games.

Looking ahead, Nwaba said, "It's going to be amazing competition at the Games. I'll compete against some of the girls that I've competed against at the Götzis Hypo Meeting. So, I know these girls and I know what their talents are. So, for me, the focus is going to be on myself. If I can do that, and not get distracted about how other girls are doing, I'll be okay. If I can just keep the focus on myself and my abilities, and compete my hardest, I'll do just fine."

In a very competitive women's 5,000-meter final, during which rain fell, Kim Conley (West Sacramento, Calif./New Balance) captured third place in 15:10.62 to secure her ticket to her second Olympic Games. U.S. record holder Molly Huddle (R.I., Saucony) won in 15:05.01. Shelby Houlihan (Ariz., Nike/Bowerman TC) placed second in 15:06.14. Huddle holds the U.S. 5,000m record of 14:42.64. Houlihan was the 2014 NCAA Champion in the 1,500 meters at Arizona State University.

Conley ran conservatively on the outside of the front pack, avoiding trouble, for the majority of the race. She moved into third with two laps to go and closed strongly. On the second day of the Trials, Conley competed in the women's 10,000m final during which contact by another competitor slashed her right shoe partially off, after which she decided to retire from the race with about a mile to go.

"Obviously, the 10,000 was disappointing," Conley said. "I made a decision that the right call was to save myself for the 5,000. I got really excited about running the 5,000 here, and even the prospect of running the 5,000 in Rio. So, I've been totally forward focused and I'm so excited and relieved to make the team. I'm looking forward to what's ahead.

"My strategy was to stay out of trouble and I was trusting that Molly (Huddle) would keep the race really honest because she's such a strong runner. I knew there were several strong runners in the field like Shelby (Houlihan) that come from a really good 1,500 background so I didn't want it to be a 400-meter race. I was trusting that I could run a good last 1,000 meters. And, on the last lap, even knowing that Molly probably wasn't going to keep the 5,000 (Olympic team berth), I really wanted to be in the top three and be able to go on the victory lap. So, I was really tracking for that third place finish."

Following her 10,000m victory, Huddle waived her 10,000m spot on the Olympic team in favor of the 5,000m.

In the women's 200-meter final, former Clovis (California) High School standout Jenna Prandini (Puma, Eugene, Ore.) placed third in 22.53 literally falling across the finish line just in front of 2012 Olympic Games 200m gold medalist Allyson Felix (Nike) who was fourth in 22.54. Tori Bowie won in 22.25. Oregon's Deajah Stevens was second in 22.30. 

"I was going all out. I just wanted to make sure that I got on this team," said Prandini who was the 2015 NCAA Division I Champion at 100m for the Oregon Ducks, and in the long jump the previous year. She was also the U.S. 200m Champion last year. 

"The Olympics have been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl. I'm so honored to be on this team. I don't know if I can remember what happened the last few meters. I was just really focused on my lane, I knew that Allyson was coming so I just wanted to get to that finish line and do whatever it took to get on this team. I'm happy that (the sprawling finish) happened because it got me third place. I was hoping that it was enough to get me on the team. When they posted the spots on the board I was just overwhelmed with excitement. I have some little scrapes but I can't feel it. It doesn't matter right now."

For Felix, who won the women's 400m final earlier in the Trials, earning a berth on her fourth Olympic team in the 200m final was a partial letdown. Felix came into the Trials with an ankle injury that has cut significantly into her Trials' preparations.

"All year I planned for this race, and for it to end here, it's disappointing," Felix commented. "But when I look back and see everything that happened, I still think it's quite amazing that I was able to make this team (in the 400m). I feel like everything was against me."

Looking forward, Felix said: "I don't think I need races at this point. I think I need some work, some rest and recovery, and to take the time that we have left (before the Oly Games) just to get back and try to perfect the 400."

In the women's 1,500m final, Brenda Martinez (Rancho Cucacomga, Calif., New Balance) qualified for her first Olympic team by placing third in 4:06.39. 2008 and 2012 Olympian Jenny Simpson (Fla., New Balance) grabbed first in 4:04.74. Native San Franciscan Shannon Rowbury who now trains in Oregon with the Nike Oregon Project--also a 2008 and 2012 Olympian--was second in 4:05.39.

 

Back on Day 4 of the Trials, Martinez was relegated to a 7th place finish in the 800m final after being bumped and thrown off stride rounding the last turn, cutting short a potential trip to Rio in that event. After falling to the track at the finish line in exultation after grabbing third in the 1,500m, Martinez appeared in a post-race press conference where she expressed her unfailing belief in herself and an Olympic team berth.

 

"I just kept telling myself not to give up," Martinez told reporters. "I got so many e-mails, Instagram and Facebook messages, it made me feel so much support."

 

Click here for a USATF press release announcing the full list of U.S. track and field athletes, including Californians, who will be nominated to the U.S. Olympic Committee for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team headed to Rio.

By Mark Winitz
Occasional rain showers punctuated the eighth day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Friday, July 8 at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field as Californians advanced to finals and semifinals. One notable exception to the advancers was Dawn Harper-Nelson (Marina Del Rey, CA/Nike), the gold medalist in the women's 100 meter hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and silver medalist at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Harper-Nelson turned in the ninth-fastest time in the women's semifinals, 13.01, missing a chance to advance to the finals by just one place and 1/100th of a second behind the next fastest qualifier. Later in the day, Brianna Rollins (Miami, FL/Nike) won the the 100m hurdles final in 12.34 seconds.
 
"I've been blessed with a very consistent career," a distraught Harper Nelson said after her semi-finals race. "I've seen this happen to others. But point-oh-one? [of a second - Editor] Really? A dagger in the heart. I was the among the best in the world and I'm supposed to step up and execute my race. Right now, I'm just in shock. I'm going through anger, disbelief, frustration, and confusion.
 
"During the warmup I jammed my hip," Harper-Nelson continued. "I didn't think it would affect me in the race. I've never been in a position where someone was pulling away and I wasn't able to react. I was saying, what, you can't go? I don't believe it. Of course, I'll be crying and my coach [Bobby Kersee] will console me. I don't know. I just want to see these girls run well. Just go out and represent us. I can't believe I'm saying this. Someone else to represent us!"
 
Allyson Felix (Los Angeles, CA/Nike) advanced in the first round of the women's 200-meter dash by winning the second heat in 22.93. The 2012 Olympic 200m gold medalist is competing with an injured ankle which she is rehabbing. Former Oregon Duck and Clovis High School star Jenna Prandini (Clovis, CA/Puma) also advanced by winning the second heat in 22.72, the fastest time of the day as 22 women advanced to Saturday's semi-finals.
 
Brenda Martinez (Rancho Cucamonga, CA/New Balance) bounced back from a disappointing women's 800 final by winning the second heat of the women's 1500m semi-finals in 4:11.05, the second-fastest time of the day in the two semis behind 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson who won the first heat in 4:10.09. Martinez ran much of her race towards the back of the pack on the outside and took the lead on the backstretch of the final lap, comfortably crossing the finish line.
 
"I was aware of what was going on in the front but I wasn't going to do any of the work. I just wanted to feel good on the last lap. And I didn't want to run over distance by running outside beyond lane three," Martinez said
 
She added: "I didn't want to get too close to the other athletes, especially going that pace. Luckily, no one fell."
 
On Monday Martinez was knocked out of contention in the women's 800m final by an accidental tripping incident with less than 200m to go and finished seventh.
 
In the women’s pole vault prelim, Kristen Brown (San Diego, CA./Nike) was the final qualifier for Sunday's final with a best vault of 4.35m/14-03,25. Jenn Suhr (Adidas), the current Olympic and World Champion, had the best vault of the day with a 14-09/4.50m.
 
Three Californians advanced to Sunday’s finals in the women]s 400m hurdles. Former USC Trojan Dalilah Muhammad (Glendale, CA/Nike) scored the fastest time of the day by winning the second semifinal heat in 54.14
 
"I felt good. I just wanted to get out and execute," said Muhammad, who was the 2013 U.S. champion in the 400m hurdles. "My coach [Lawrence Johnson] told me not to hold back. In the final I'll run the same pattern and, hopefully, run a little faster."
 
Kori Carter (Hawthorne, CA/Brand Jordan) placed third in the first semifinal heat with a 55.86.
 
"I was sort of running scared so my step pattern was all over the place," said Carter who was running in lane 8, her least favorite lane. "But I felt strong, so if I can just get my race pattern together I know the finals will go really well."
 
Jaide Stepter (Santa Ana, CA), a standout at the University of Southern California who is currently in her senior year, placed fourth in the first 400m semi in 55.95, qualifying for the finals.
 
"My race was completely off pattern, but I just wanted to make the final, so I did what I had to do to get it done," Stepter said.
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
By Mark Winitz   
A number of Californians advanced in their rounds on the seventh day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials amidst occasional showers at Eugene, Oregon's Hayward Field. 2012 5,000m Olympian Kim Conley (West Sacramento, Calif./New Balance) won heat #1 of the women's 5,000m prelim in 15:40.04. Conley recorded the second fastest time in two heats as Molly Huddle won heat #2 in 15:26.33. Last Saturday, on Day Two of the Trials, Conley dropped out of the 10,000m final midway through the race with a partially dislodged shoe.
 
"I really wanted this first round of the 5,000 to go really smoothly, not have any drama, and just really feel good coming through it," Conley said after the race. "I just wanted to get out and make it feel really controlled. I was really happy with it. I felt really relaxed early and just made a push with 800 to go. I started at the back so there would be nobody behind me for a while when it was really crowded. Then I worked my way up through the field and felt confident. The goal was just to place in the top six today."
 
Dawn Harper Nelson (Westchester, CA/Nike) advanced in the women's 100m hurdles by recording a 12.85 in heat 1 of the prelims. Harper Nelson won the 100m hurdles gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the silver medalist in the 2012 London Olympics.
 
"In the first round, Bobby just wanted me to go out there, loosen up, and just get a feel for this Trials," said Harper Nelson, referring to her coach, Bob Kersee. "The 100 meter hurdles are always loaded. In 2008 I narrowly got third at the Trials and the girls were really rolling."
 
Brianna Rollins and Keni Harrison—Harper Nelson's key rivals for a 100m hurdles slot on the 2016 Olympic squad—turned in the fastest qualifying times of the day in 12.56 and 12.57 respectively. Harper Nelson still maintains a home in Illinois but also lives in Westchester (Los Angeles area) because she trains at UCLA.
 
In five preliminary heats of the women's 400m hurdles, Dalilah Muhammed (Glendale, CA/Nike) had the fastest time of the day, winning heat 3 in 55.33.
 
"It really felt good out there," said Muhammed, the 2013 World 400m hurdles silver medalist who owns a 53.83 personal best in the event. "I just wanted to do enough to win, so I'm really happy with it. I'm just looking forward to tomorrow's semifinals. Technically, everything went perfect. My hurdling could have been a little better in some places, but that's an easy fix."
 
Jaide Stepter (Santa Ana, CA/University of Southern Calif.) will also advance to the women's 400m hurdles semi-finals on Friday, July 8 after winning heat 5 in the prelims with a 55.64, the third fasted time of the day.
 
Brenda Martinez (Rancho Cucamonga, CA/New Balance) bounced back from Monday's women's 800m final—where she was knocked out of a potential medal by an incidental contact incident—by winning heat 2 in the first round of the women's 1500m in 4:23.48. She advances to Friday's women's 1500-meter semifinals.
 
"Now I just need to control the variables and I know that I can do something good. The 800 was just another bump in the road and now I just need to keep moving on," said Martinez, who placed fifth in the 1500 at the IAAF World Indoor Championships last March.
 
Two-time Olympian and San Francisco native Shannon Rowbury (Nike Oregon Project) who now lives in Beaverton, OR. will also advance to the 1500 semi after running 4:17.80 in heat 3 of the first round where she placed second to Jenny Simpson.
 
"It was good. I always want to qualify automatically," Rowbury commented. "I knew I just needed to run 4:24, I think, and I was going to qualify on time. I just tried to stay out of trouble so I just ran a little wider than normal. I was able to shut it down a bit in the last 20 meters. I knew I was well in the top six, so that was the goal for today."
 
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
 
Conor McCullough, photo by PhotoRun.ne
 
By Mark Winitz
Conor McCullough (Canoga Park, CA/Unatt) had a productive day in the men's hammer throw competition on Day 6 of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, OR on July 6. The longtime Californian progressed through the qualifying round and then followed with a 74.16 meter/243 foot-4 inch hurl on his first throw of the final which held up for third place. Rudy Winkler (Sand Lake, NY/Cornell Univ.) placed first in 76.76m/251-10 and 2012 Olympian Kibwe Johnson (Kamloops, AL/Nike/NYAC) was second in 75.11mn/246-05. The competition marked the first time that the hammer throw was held inside Hayward Field in the venue's 95-year history.
 
Unfortunately, none of the top three men have the 77m/252-7 Olympic qualifying standard, but the IAAF's qualification period for the Games ends on July 11 when the IAAF will reallocate all unused quota spots for the track and field events in Rio. The top three male hammer throwers at the U.S. Trials will have to wait and see how they fare when the IAAF announces its list of approved unqualified athletes in field events and road events.
 
"On the first throw of the final I felt great. It was spot on. I really wanted to get it out of the gate," said McCullough who won the hammer competition at last year's NCAA Championships at Hayward Field while competing for the University of Southern California. "Then, when I tried to throw a 77 meter-plus on my second throw, I tightened up and had to work back from there for the rest of the competition. I was definitely hoping to nail the Olympic Games qualifying standard here."
 
McCullough's personal best in the hammer is 253-3/77.20m which he registered in 2014 in Edmonton, Canada. Last year, he was ranked second in the U.S. to A.G. Kruger with a mark of 76.91m/252-4. Kruger placed fourth in the Trials competition.
 
"It's nerve wracking," McCullough admitted about his current wait to see if he's going to the Olympics. "It's pretty annoying when the [IAAF’s] standard is so high for the hammer throw. Funding from [USATF] National is based on these standards. I'm in a good spot, but it's going to be a long wait. I'm confident, but you never know what's going to come out this last weekend of the Olympic Games qualifying period. People come out of nowhere. The European Championships are coming up and big throws always come out of there."
 
McCullough competed for Chaminade College Preparatory School just north of Los Angeles where he set U.S. high school records in four high school hammer weight classifications and in the indoor weight throw. He won a silver medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Athletics.
 
Today, he trains at University of Santa Barbara under the guidance of USC's throws coach, Dan Lange, while completing his studies in Mechanical Engineering. On top of that demanding schedule, he also works part time for an engineering contractor.
 
"They're very supportive of my efforts. They're very flexible with my hours," McCullough commented about his employers. "They say ‘Just go do your thing.’ ”
 
Hopefully, McCullough will be given a chance to do his thing on a complete U.S. men's hammer squad in Rio.
 
In Wednesday's women's finals hammer competition at the Trials. Amber Campbell (Myrtle Beach, SC/Nike) , Gwen Berry (Oxford, NY/Nike/NYAC), and Deanna Price (Moscow Mills, MO/Southern Ill.) emerged as the top three in 74.03m/242-10, 73.09m/239-09, and 73.09m/239-09), respectively. All three have the women's 71.0m Olympic Games standard.
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
 
By Mark Winitz
 
Both exultation and hard-luck disappointment were experienced by top California athletes on the fourth day of competition at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. Two Golden State competitors earned gold and another earned silver in finals events, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team headed to Brazil later this summer: Cyrus Hostetler (Chula Vista, CA/Unattached) won the men’s javelin throw final. Kate Grace (Sacramento, CA/NorCal Distance Project/Oiselle) topped a hard-fought women’s 800m final where two top U.S. contenders from California were accidentally knocked out of contention. Resurgent Boris Berian (Rancho Cucamonga, CA/New Balance) placed second in the men’s 800m final. All are on their way to Rio for their very first Olympic Games.
 
Hostetler waited until the fifth round of a compelling men’s javelin competition to unleash a 273-1/83.24m throw which his competitors couldn’t match. It is his first U.S. Championship win.
 
“I knew that I could throw far if I came out here and waited just a little bit longer in the competition for a big throw. The second I hit it I knew it was going to go far. When it landed and I took the lead I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been training for eight years for this moment. I couldn’t ask for a better day. Representing USA…I wouldn’t want to represent any other country. I love USA. I’ve been to a lot of other places and I just love what we have here.”
 
Hostetler grew up in Oregon and attended Lane Community College, the University of Oregon, and then joined the Oregon Track Club. Six years ago he moved to the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista to train in warmer weather with a group of talented, like-minded athletes. 
 
“I had great benefits at the training center. Free housing, free food, free medical,” said Hostetler. But they let me go after one year. USATF repeatedly told me that I had no chance of winning a medal, so they told me to leave the center. But I said ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make the Olympic team. I’m not leaving. I’m going to continue training here.’ So, I pay monthly to stay there and train.”
 
Nike picked up Hostetler several weeks ago with a sponsorship arrangement. 
 
In the women’s 800m final, a mishap occurred that obliterated the Olympic Games dream for two Californians who were pre-race favorites and helped jettison another California contender to Trials gold. A tightly-woven group rounded the Bowerman Curve—the final turn of the two-lap race—and approached the finish line. Brenda Martinez (Rancho Cucamonga, CA/Big Bear TC)—who was kicking home in the pack and and passing competitors—was clipped from behind, stumbled and inadvertently pushed Alysia Montano (Berkeley, CA/NYAC) who had led much of the race. Montano fell to the track. Meanwhile, Kate Grace, who was running in the inside lane a few meters behind the collision, avoided trouble and sprinted home to a 1:59.10 victory. Martinez ended up 7th in 2:06.63 while Montano, crying and falling several more times, bravely finished last in 3:06.77.
 
Immediately following the race, USATF officials reviewed a videotape and ruled “incidental contact” two hours later when the results were made official.
 
Notwithstanding the incident, how did Kate Grace emerge as the Olympic Trials champion?
 
“The Olympic dream was always a small fire inside but it never was a reality until recently. But as I ran races, I continued to gain confidence,” said Grace who attended Marlborough High School in Los Angeles and was a four-time NCAA Division I All-American for Yale in track and field and cross country.
 
A year ago Grace drove to Sacramento from Oregon where she had been training with the Oiselle elite training group and began training with the NorCal Distance Project after calling coach Drew Wartenburg and requesting an invitation to join the team.
 
“I was pretty forward about asking to join the team,” Grace said. “I’m not usually that forward. And it’s been an incredible year. Drew is an incredible coach. We’ve had a ball this year. NorCal Distance Project is a great group and their name will only continue to grow. I thrive under a structured project and Drew’s program is very structured. Kim Conley and Lauren Wallace are incredible training partners. Now I look forward to races because I know I’ve put in my work in practice.”
 
“It’s been a long road in a way,” Grace explained about her progression to an Olympian. “I’ve never won a U.S. title. But I had confidence in my ability despite the fact that I haven’t been here before. And I’ve been training so well with Drew and the NorCal Distance Project that I knew that it could come together today. I knew if I could run my race I could make the team. It took me a while to develop but people believed in me and I’m so incredibly grateful to them.”
 
In the men’s 800m final, Berian controlled the race from the beginning and seemed surprised when 2016 NCAA Division I 1,500m champion Clayton Murphy passed him with yards to go.  Murphy proceeded to a 1:44.76 victory. Berian followed closely for the runner-up slot in 1:44.92.
 
When asked how he’s going to prepare for his trip to Rio Berian briefly said, “I’m going to stay calm and stay focused. I believe in my coach.”
 
Berian—whose story about rapid emergence from relative obscurity to one of the world’s top 800m runners is well documented—is guided by Big Bear Track Club coach Carlos Handler, the husband of Brenda Martinez.
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
By Mark Winitz
 
Three Californians qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team on the third day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. before 22,424 fans, the third largest attendance in Hayward Field history. Emotions ran high on a warm, sunny, but sometimes windy day as event finals dominated the slate of the 10-day Trials.
 
For 3-time Olympian and 3-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles, Calif./Nike) the journey to Rio hasn't been as smooth as she and her coach, Bobby Kersee, would like. Two months ago Felix injured her right ankle doing a medicine ball exercise in the gym and has been re-habbing it since then. Nevertheless, Felix came through with a strong kick coming off the last turn in the women's 400-meter final, topping the strong women's field in 49.68 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. Phyllis Francis (Queens, NY/Nike) placed second in 49.94 and Natasha Hastings (Brooklyn, NY/Under Armour/NYAC) was third in 50.17.
 
"Thankfully, [coach] Bobby Kersee stepped in with a game plan right after I was injured and I started working on it," Felix said. "My family, Bobby, and Jackie [Joyner-Kersee] didn't let me go home alone. They've had me icing every 20 minutes and they were constantly with me. Physical therapy once a day. It was just a team of people that didn't let me go through this alone. And Bobby definitely just believed in me, more than I believed in myself."
 
"It's getting stronger right now but it's really tender," Felix commented about her injured ankle after the race. "This race was different because I came in not really feeling like myself. Lots of times I've come in and I've seen the preparation. I've had preparation this year but it's been different with the injury. I definitely haven't been 100 percent, but now I feel like I have more time, and can get healthier and put it together."
 
Next Felix will compete in the 200m competition at the Trials, an event in which she is a 6-time U.S. outdoor champion. The first rounds of the women's 200m begin on Friday, July 8 with the final on July 10.
 
"Now, I'm just going to get some rest, go at it again, and give it my all," Felix said as she resets her focus on the 200m at the Trials. "My goal was just to make the team. It [the 400m] was definitely the most adversity, and what I've had to overcome the most. As far as the 200, I'm just going to go out there and try to get it done."
 
In a windy men's long jump final Jeffrey Henderson (Chula Vista, CA/adidas) secured his ticket to Rio by topping a strong men's field in one of the greatest long jump shows in track and field history. The event featured seven 27-foot or better efforts (although five were assisted by an illegal wind). Henderson claimed the victory with a windy 8.59m/28-2.25 on his third jump, a personal best. His previous best of 8.54m/28-0 was recorded at the 2015 Pan American Games where he was the gold medalist.
 
Henderson was an NCAA Division II long jump titlist at Stillman College in Alabama and moved to the San Diego area after graduation in 2013 where he resides and trains today at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista under coach Al Joyner.
 
"The wind was hectic. The competition was really good and I'm just glad that I came out on top," Henderson said after the competition. "My expectations for Rio are to just keep doing what I've been doing. Easting and training right. Not stepping too late on the runway. Nothing really changes."
 
Henderson dedicated his win to his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's.
 
"She's had it since I got out of high school," Henderson said. "I don't know whether she'll be aware of what I've done, but I'll be glad to go home and let her know how much I love her."
 
In the men's 400m final, Gil Roberts (Los Angeles/Nike) made the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field squad by placing second to 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt (Portsmouth, VA). Roberts clocked a 44.73 behind Merritt's world-leading 43.97 effort. Roberts was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the men's 4×400 meter relay at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships. Now, he is a soon-to-be Olympian.
 
"I'm ecstatic about making my first Olympic team," Roberts said. "I put everything into this season and I've been healthy, I knew coming into this that I was going to be on the team. I went for it. I never run for second or for third. I always run to win so that's what I did."
 
Roberts said he'll work on tweaking his form prior to the Games.
 
"I'll fix some things when I get back to training and talk to my coach, John Smith, about the things I need to fix. And, hopefully, I'll execute in Rio. I need to work on standing more upright, executing my arms a little better, and opening up my stride. John is a coach like no other. He has an adaptive system and he and I are understanding each other more and more so I'm buying in to everything he's saying."
 
Roberts attended Texas Tech University, and moved to LA in 2012 before embarking on his first post-collegiate season in 2013.
 
Two Californians emerged as winners in the special Masters 1,500m exhibition races: Neville Davey, age, 41, (Palo Alto, CA/West Valley TC) topped the Masters men's competition in 3:57.67 and Kris Paaso, 45, (Menlo Park, CA/Strava TC) easily topped the women's Masters in a wire-to-wire 4:36.34 victory.
 
"It was a windy day and a bad day to be tall," a tall Paaso said. "I thought that if I wanted a decent time and a decent race I should go early and I've felt strong enough in my training to try it."
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
By Mark Winitz — In 2012, Whitney Ashley was ready to hang up her competition shoes in the sport of track and field and move on to pursue a Masters degree in Sports Administration. Now, four years later, aided by fortuitous events and hard work, Ashley is a U.S. national champion in the women's discus throw headed to Rio as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team.
 
"This is exciting and overwhelming and I'm kind of speechless at the same time. It's all come together four years later for me and it's really exciting," Ashley said after topping a field of 12 women on Day 2 of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials before 21, 866 onlookers at historic Hayward Field on a warm day in Eugene, Ore.
 
Ashley (Moreno Valley, CA/Nike) secured her victory by recording a best throw of 204 feet, 3 inches (62.25 meters) in the women's discus throw final, over 6 feet longer than runner-up Shelbi Vaughan's (College Station, Tex./Texas A&M) 197-9/60.28m.
 
Ashley graduated from San Diego State University in 2012 owning school records in the discus, hammer and indoor shot. She won the 2012 NCAA discus title. Despite her successes, Ashley left college but soon abandoned aspirations of pursuing a post-collegiate athletics career. That same summer, she competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials, and finished a disappointing 22nd in qualifying. She thought she was done as an athlete.
 
Her plans changed after meeting Coach Art Vanegas that same year--one of the world's finest throws coaches. Vanegas saw Ashley's untapped potential and offered to coach her at the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Ashley went home and thought about it for several months before accepting Vanegas' proposal.
 
Now, Ashley takes pride in the fact that she has made every U.S. national team that she's set her eyes on. In 2013, she made the squad for the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Moscow but didn't progress beyond the qualifying rounds. In 2015, competing at World Outdoors in Beijing, she placed 9th in the final. Last year she also set her personal best in the discus, a 212-7/64.80m toss in Claremont, Calif., the 9th longest throw in the world in 2015.
 
"I never thought I could be Olympic Trials champion some day," Ashley admitted about her Olympic Trials win. "But last year was the first year that I thought I was capable of getting it, and then I got passed in the sixth round (at the 2015 U.S. Championships) and I thought you know, it's just not meant for me. But it's okay. I'll just continue to have goals and be in the top three. And, that was my goal today--not to think about winning. Just to make this team."
 
She continued: "I haven't been beat by an American this year, and I loved coming into this meet with that knowledge and that confidence that I can continue to beat top Americans. I think today is definitely a turning point. I just need to keep training and keep getting better so I can make a name for myself and be dominant in this event."
 
What has Ashley experienced over the past year that has turned her into an Olympic Trials champion? She attributes it to gaining confidence in Coach Vanegas' training system and the U.S. system for helping develop athletes and selecting them for international teams. Plus, more time in the weight room has given her an added boost.
 
"I'm really one of the weakest athletes in my training group (at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista) and I really had to take hold of a weight lifting program because weights are a real contributing factor to throwing the discus really far," Ashley said. "So, getting stronger, continuing to build my confidence, and training at a high, intense level has definitely helped. I'm usually a person who likes to practice and sort of feel things out. But I've had to learn how to compete in practice so when I get to meets it feels the same."
 
And, what are Ashley's expectations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio?
"To make the final. I think that's very realistic for me," she said. "Potentially to get top five. I think a medal would have to be a huge PR for me. The Europeans are very dominant in this event. But everyone can have a bad day. And, as long as I keep building I can surprise people."
 
Additional Highlights Among Californians on Day 2 of the Trials:
• In the women's long jump final, Brittney Reese (Chula Vista, Calif./Nike) produced the longest leap in the world since 2004 with a stunning 7.31m/23-11.75 in the fourth round. Reese, the 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist, also broke the Olympic Trials meet record. The previous meet record of 7.22m/23-8-0.25 was set by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988.
 
• In the women's 10,000m final, 2012 Olympian Kim Conley (West Sacramento, CA/New Balance) was an unfortunate DNF. Native Californian Jordan Hasay, now living in Oregon and competing for the Nike Oregon Project under coach Alberto Salazar, finished 9th in 32:43.
 
Conley was stepped on from behind midway through the race after running among the leaders early, and her shoe came partially off.
 
"I had no choice but to to stop and put it back on before trying to make a controlled push back to the lead pack," Conley said. "Around the 5-mile point I realized the gap was too far too close and decided the best course of action was to stop racing and save myself for the 5,000m. My body feels fine and I'm looking ahead to it."
 
Conley will compete in the women's 5,000m preliminary at the Trials on Friday, July 7.
 
• 2012 Olympic 200m gold medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles/Nike) advanced to the finals of the women's 400m with a 50.31 effort in the semis, the third fastest qualifier. (Yes, she's also entered in the 200m where the first round begins on Friday, July 8.)
 
• 800m standouts Boris Berian and Brenda Martinez of Rancho Cucamonga, CA both advanced from the semis to their respective men's and women's 800 finals. Martinez placed first in her semi in 1:59.64 while Berian did the same in his with a 1:45.72 effort.
 
• In the preliminary rounds of the women's 100m, 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Champion Jenna Prandini (Clovis, CA/Puma) had the fastest qualifying time going into the July 3 semifinals, turning in a 10.81. And, in the preliminary rounds of the men's long jump, Jeffrey Henderson (Chula Vista, CA/Adidas) notched the longest jump with a 8.22m/26-11.75.
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
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