Local Runners Chase Beijing
The 2008 Olympics will have a Local Flavor
August, 2008 - Issue #46
If track and field weren't so cruel, this would be a happier article.

I would be able to tell you that two or perhaps all three of the Santa Clarita Valley runners vying for a spot of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team are on their way to Beijing.

But we've already lost one of those athletes to track and field's unkindest of cuts - an ill-timed foot injury.

The news isn't all bad, of course. As I write this, at least two runners remain in the Olympic hunt - one of whom is favored to take home a handful of medals.

If you're a running aficionado, you don't need me to give you a rundown of who's going to Beijing. You already know the names and you already know the events. You have your favorites and you know why you're pulling for them.

In some cases, it's not just because they run under the flag you call your own. There's a local angle here.

But if you are like most Americans, your interest in track and field follows the four-year Olympic cycle. You probably didn't know that we've got some local representation at the Olympics of 2008. In that case, you are likely to miss out on some of the fun.

This article is for you.

Good News First
I'd tell you to remember the name Allyson Felix, but the truth is, when these Olympic games are over, you won't be able to forget it.

Felix, a 22-year-old Valencia resident who went to L.A. Baptist High School before heading to the University of Southern California, is going to be the darling of these Olympics Games.
The reigning world champion in the women's 200 meters is the gold-medal favorite.

Her credentials: Felix is a two-time World Outdoor 200-meter champion ('05, '07), the 2007 World Outdoor 4x100 and 4x400 gold medalist, a three-time USA Outdoor 200-meter champion ('04, '05, '07) and winner of a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

In 2007, Felix became just the second woman in history to win three gold medals at one World Championships, winning the 200 meters and running on the gold-medal 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.

Why is she favored?

Felix flat out dominates the world in the 200 meters. Last year, her winning time of 21.81 seconds at the World Championships netted her the biggest margin of victory (.53) in meet history.
Felix won't stop at one gold medal, either. She'll run on the 4x400 and most likely the 4x100 relay teams, both favored to win.

Felix failed in her bid to qualify in the 100 meters by placing fifth in the finals at the Olympic trials in June. She needed to crack the top three.

"I'm definitely disappointed," Felix said after the race. "I can't get too down; I've still got the 200 to go. My 100 has come a long way."

Barring a scheduling conflict, Felix would have qualified for the 400 meters, where she is, depending on the day, either the fastest or the second fastest woman in the world. But the 200/400 double is almost impossible to pull off since qualifying heats run so close together.

You may recall Michael Johnson pulling off that double back in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA. The schedule was altered during the trials to allow Johnson to compete in both events. Not so for Felix.

And so Felix will have to settle for three golds and the cover of a box of Wheaties. Anything less would be an upset.

And don't be surprised about the Wheaties box, either. Just remember when you see her smiling face during breakfast that you heard it here first.

Lauren's Long Run
Canyon High graduate Lauren Fleshman is something of a 5,000-meter phenomenon. Just 26, Fleshman already owns a pair of World Championships appearances, the 2006 USA Track & Field championship and three NCAA titles at Stanford University.

She also won a state championship in cross country as a Cowboy. This summer, she is attempting to add another title: Olympian.

Fleshman, a 2003 graduate of Stanford University, finished 2007 ranked seventh in the U.S. heading into the trials. More recently, she ranked second behind Nike teammate Shalane Flanagan. From that perspective, Fleshman just needed to hit her seeding since the top three qualify. But seeding means very little when a race covers 5,000 meters. With so much strategy colliding with so much preparation, anything can happen.

That was the case a few weeks ago at the Olympic trials in Eugene, OR.
Fleshman, who had been battling a slight ankle injury, ran fifth in the finals with a time of 15:23.18 - about 20 seconds off of her personal best.

"I tried to prepare myself for a break-away," Fleshman said after the race. "Mentally, I was OK. My body just wouldn't respond, so I started running defensively. I just didn't have it. It happens."

She could still go to Beijing, but one or two of the top four finishers would have to drop the event.

Johnson's Heartbreak
Alysia Johnson, a 2004 Canyon High graduate, should be racing for an Olympic gold medal in the women's 800 meters.

She had the credentials: an undefeated U.S. 2007 season that included Pac-10 and NCAA indoor and outdoor championships and the USA Track and Field championship.

She had the times: her personal best time of 1:59.29 set a school record at Cal-Berkeley and vaulted her to the top to of the U.S. class heading into the 2008 season.

But track and field can be cruel, and Johnson felt the sting of that cruelty last month during the quarterfinal heat at the Olympic Trials. The race should have been a formality, but Johnson faded in the final 150 meters, finishing last in 2:06.43.

There was no confirmation at the time of exactly what went wrong, but a foot injury has plagued Johnson much of 2008. It caused her to drop out of the NCAA championship in the spring.

She had cut back her training regimen to be fresh for the Olympic Trials and perhaps to avoid straining her foot too much. But the ploy didn't work.

Johnson needed help to get off the track and just like that, the Olympic dream came to a temporary end. Just like that, the recent Berkley graduate will have to wait another four years.
But while track can be cruel, it can also give back. Johnson recently signed a professional contract with Nike and will pursue her running career into the future.

You'll hear her name again at the next World Championships. You may even see her on the medal podium.

I'm hoping for a similar scene when the Olympics return in 2012. That's an opportunity Johnson has earned the right to pursue.

Note: Former Saugus High swimming standout John Criste qualified for the 2008 Olympics in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events. The Stanford University sophomore clocked a time of 1 minute, 1.84 seconds in the 100m breaststroke in the finals of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, NE to qualify in the eighth slot. The cut-off time for going to Beijing is 1:04.69. In the 200, Criste's finals time of 2:13.87 was sixth best and well under the cut of 2:20.79.
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