Posted by: Joe English | June 28, 2008

Olympic Trials: Gay shatters AR; powerful womens 100 and mens SP teams take shape

[See also this later post on Tyson Gay's victory on Sunday.]

EUGENE, Ore. – Only three final events were on the schedule Saturday at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field. But there was enough excitement for an entire weekend as Tyson Gay broke the American record in the men’s 100m, a men’s shot put ‘dream team’ formed for Beijing, the strongest women’s 100m lineup in years went 1-2-3, and Hyleas Fountain became the best American heptathlete since the 1980s.

Whew.

The top three finishers in each event at these Olympic Trials, who have met Olympic performance standards, will earn the ultimate prize of a spot on the Team USA roster for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Redemption for Gay
Before the first final could be contested, the men’s 100m quarterfinals brought an American record, Olympic Trials record, Hayward Field record, American junior record, American high school record and a tie of the world junior record.

Tyson Gay nearly became the biggest headline of the Olympic Trials, for all the wrong reasons, in the fourth heat of the first round. He ran an impressive first 70 meters, then significantly slowed … so much so that more than half the field passed him. A quick surge with 7-10 meters to go brought Gay back up to fourth, in 10.14, behind winner Rodney Martin’s 10.10 (+0.8). He advanced to the quarters.

Boy, did he advance.

In the quarterfinal round, while in the blocks, Gay asked for the field to be called up. Standing up, he tore off his left hip number and cast it to the side. When the gun went off, so did Gay, driving through the entire race and finishing in 9.77 (+1.6mps) to break Maurice Greene’s American record of 9.79 set in Athens in 1999, as well as Greene’s Olympic Trials record of 9.91 from 2004. Crossing the finish after Gay was high schooler Jeff Demps of Okahumpka, Florida, who crushed two records and tied a third with his time of 10.01. It broke Walter Dix’s American junior record of 10.06 from 2005 as well as J-Mee Samuels’ national high school record of 10.08, also from 2005. He tied the world junior record of 10.01, held since 2003 by Darrel Brown of Trinidad & Tobago.

In the second heat, Travis Padgett of Clemson broke Ato Boldon’s collegiate record, running 9.89 to shave .01 off Boldon’s mark from 1996.

Bring on heat 3, where Darvis Patton also broke the previous Olympic Trials record with a huge personal best of 9.89. All told, seven men ran 9.99 or faster, all wind-legal.

Who knows what Sunday’s semifinals and final will bring.

Wonder Women in the 100
A very swift semifinal round in the women’s 100 laid the groundwork for a very anticipated final, the last event on Saturday. In the semis, Torri Edwards posted a huge personal best in the second heat with 10.78. With a legal wind of +1.8, it easily eclipsed her previous best of 10.90 and made her the eighth-fastest woman in history. The one casualty of the semis was World Outdoor bronze medalist Carmelita Jeter, who was fifth in the second semi and did not advance.

The finishing order of the final was anyone’s guess, and the race played true to that. Edwards again was fast out of the blocks, with quarterfinal sensation Marshevet Hooker moving out slowly. The field then began to shift places, as 2004 Olympic 200m finalist Muna Lee surged ahead to win in 10.85 (+1.0), with Edwards second in 10.90 and Olympic silver medalist Lauryn Williams third in 10.90. Hooker finished fourth in 10.93, with Allyson Felix fifth in 10.96 as all five dipped under 11.

See-saw competition in men’s shot
The United States has the best men’s shot putters in the world. Of that there is no question. What was in doubt entering the meet was which three men would make the Olympic Team, and in what order.

Two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson, 2007 world champion Reese Hoffa, two-time world indoor champion Christian Cantwell and 2007 USA indoor runner-up Dan Taylor shuffled between 1st and 4th positions through the first four rounds. The fifth round was the most decisive as Cantwell took the lead (21.24m/69-8.25), only to have Hoffa snatch it from him (21.94m/71-11.75). Nelson also moved from fourth to third in the round, passing Taylor for the third spot with a mark of 20.89m/68-6.5), which remained his best of the day. Hoffa improved in the sixth round to post a winning mark of 22.10m/72-6.5, and Cantwell also had a big final effort with 21.71m/71-2.75). Taylor ended fourth with 20.80m/68-3, just 3.5 inches away from Beijing.

Fountain emerges in heptathlon
After a personal-best day one, Fountain on Saturday continued the finest heptathlon competition of her career, becoming the #3 American woman of all time with her 2008 world-leading point total of 6,667. She started her day with yet another personal best in the long jump. Her mark of 6.88m/22-7 (1.6mps wind, 1132 points) was her fourth personal best out of five events contested to that point, and was the third-best mark long jump by an American this year. She was just as sharp in the javelin, throwing a personal-best 48.15m/158-0 (824 points). She finished out the competition with a time of 2:27.69 (722 points) in the 800. Over two days, she won five of seven events and posted five event personal bests as well as her overall personal-best score. Joining Fountain on the Olympic Team are Jacquelyn Johnson , who placed second with 6,347 points, and Diana Pickler, third with 6,257.

400m finals set
In the men’s 400m hurdles, world champion Kerron Clement led all qualifiers by winning the first semifinal in 48.20, while 2005 world champ Bershawn Jackson won the second semi in 48.63. The final, which will lack two-time Olympic fourth-place finisher James Carter, is set for Sunday afternoon.

Defending Olympic Trials champion Sheena Johnson Tosta easily moved on in the women’s hurdles, winning the first semi in 54.95. Defending national champion Tiffany Ross-Williams won the second heat in 54.75.

Drama in the 800s
Though known for their enthusiastic support of all athletes in all events, Hayward Field crowds are especially partisan to hometown middle-distance runners. Nowhere was that more on display than in the men’s 800m semifinals. In the first heat, the University of Oregon’s Andrew Wheating moved from off-pace, in fifth, to second place in the final few meters (1:46.23) and advance to Monday’s final. Defending national champion Khadevis Robinson led from wire-to-wire to win in 1:46.14. In the second semifinal, Oregon Track Club’s Nick Symmonds bravely moved up on the inside for the final 200m of the race and won in 1:45.61.

The women’s 800m semifinals got off to a very dramatic start. During the first heat, a fall left four women on the track just past turn three, on the first lap. Kameisha Bennett and Becky Horn were the first to go down, with Latavia Thomas next to hit the track and American indoor record holder Nicole Teter then taking a tumble. Teter eventually worked her way up to fifth. Although only the top four finishers were slated to make the final, the Head Referee ruled Teter, Horn, Bennett and Thomas could advance. Alice Schmidt won the race in 2:03.27, while Morgan Uceny won the second semi in 2:02.10. The final will be Monday.

Defending USA outdoor champion Dana Pounds was the top qualifier in the women’s javelin throw with a mark of 57.25m/187-10, moving to Monday’s final.

Paralympic winners
Two Paralympic events were featured in Saturday’s competition. Mathew Kallappa won the men’s 1,500m wheelchair race in 3:43.98, and Alex Richter won the men’s Paralympic ambulatory 100m in 10.95 (+2.9).

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