Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Tale of Two Runners

This weekend offered a two day fest of track and field with the Diamond League meet in London, the last major competition before the World Championships which start at the end of August in Daegu, South Korea.  Of special interest to me was a mini-drama playing out in the women's 5000 meter race.

I was watching two American runners, both with a lot hanging in the balance, one hoping against hope to make it to the World Championships.  First, there's Lauren Fleshman, a young woman I had the privilege of meeting five years ago at the wedding of one of my best friends.  Lauren was good friends with the bride, also a friend of mine.

Lauren was the quintessential hippie girl, talking about yoga, good nutrition and a beautiful smile that would light up the whole room.  You'll notice that Lauren's blog is one that I follow on my blog wall and it's a no holds barred look at what it takes to be a world class runner.

Lauren's had an amazing run of bad luck.  She got injured just before the Olympic Trials in 2008 and then staged a shocking comeback win in 2010 at US Nationals.  The injury bug left her short of conditioning at nationals this year leaving her a distant 8th and in a near impossible position to make it to Daegu.

Then there's Leavenworth High School grad Amy Hastings, a protege of the same best friend at whose wedding I met Lauren.  Hastings had a great collegiate career at Arizona State but stunned everyone in her marathon debut in Los Angeles this March running 2:27:03 making her a candidate for the U.S. Olympic Team in the marathon.  Amy then ran a brilliant 5000 meters at nationals placing second winning a spot to represent the United States at the World Championships.

Going into Saturday's London race Amy was hoping to run 15:14 and meet the "A" standard for Daegu as was Lauren who had run a horrible race the week before in Oslo.  Two other Americans also figured into the "A" standard chase, Desiree Davila and Jen Rhines.  The pecking order was Davila, Rhines, and Fleshman.  Lauren would need her all three fellow Americans to fail and she would need to run 14 seconds faster than she had the week before to make the team, a pretty tall order.

Confused, you should be!  Angela Bizzari finished 3rd at nationals and also failed to run the "A" standard.  If Hastings ran the "A" standard than Bizzari would make the team regardless of what anything Davila, Fleshman or Rhines did in London.  In the end I hoped that Hastings would get her qualifier and make the team and that Lauren would run a fast race.

Unfortunately only half of what I wanted came to fruition.  Amy was in the mix until about a mile to go.  It looked like the pressure of the race simply got to her.  Meanwhile, Lauren had stayed at the back of the pack and worked her way to the front with three laps to go. 500 meters from the finish Fleshman hit the accelerator and gapped the field ending any doubt and grabbing one of her biggest victories to date.  She ran 15:00.57 smashing through the "A" standard.  Hastings struggled home in a respectable 15:17 leaving her off the team.  Unfortunately for Lauren, both Davila and Rhines also ran under 15:14, both women had finished ahead of her at nationals. 

USATF in the end will decide which of those three will go to Daegu.  Lauren's clearly faster than Desiree but in the political craziness of USATF there's no telling who will go.  Rhines is already running the 10000 so I doubt she would want to double.  Here's hoping for a miracle and some redemption for Lauren Fleshman in the form of a trip to Daegu.

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