John Zombro, a life time Track and Field athlete and coach recently attended the Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR and wrote up some of the things he learned from the character, philosophies and performance of the athletes. E-Journal photographer Phil Straus thought this list “is excellent for serious go players, as well for potential Olympic athletes” and sent along some illustrative photos.
Intensity: When Joe Kovacs placed second in the shot put, and secured his place on the team to Rio, it was an excellent example of intensity. The shot put requires the athlete to concentrate all his/her power into less than a second. Kovacs finished fourth in 2012 and needed a breakthrough throw to make the team. The intensity of his place-garnering throw rocked the stadium as loudly as his roar, and the crowd’s applause.
Aggression: Sometimes in life, and in sport, we need to be aggressive. There is no event where this is more true than in the 100 meters, and when Justin Gatlin toed the line for the final, it was all about aggression. Athletes learn to turn this on before an event, and turn it off soon afterward, but in the heat of battle, well, it’s all about the fight. Gatlin won the 100 going away in a true show of aggression.
Confidence: Not to be confused with arrogance, confidence is that trait exemplified when an athlete refuses to have doubts, trusts his/her training, and is resolute to fully utilize talent and give a maximum effort. There were many examples of this at the trials, but none better than Emma Coburn in the women’s 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, easily the class of the field and a Rio medal contender, exuded confidence before the start and throughout the race.
Humility: Bernard Lagat dropped out of the men’s 10,000 meters on a hot evening, unable to stay with leader Galen Rupp at the 7400 meter mark. At 41 years of age, Lagat, a champion many times over at 1500/mile and 5000m, just humbly commented that he could not stay with the leaders and was determined to come back in the 5000 and make yet another Olympic team. To the surprise of some, but not to others (including this author), when the pack exploded for the finish over the 5000’s last lap, Lagat took the lead in the homestretch and impressed us all.
Poise: Brenda Martinez was in contention for a medal in the women’s 800m, when, on the final turn, her stride collided with that of Alysia Montano, and her chances of making the 800 squad were dashed. She did not blame Montano, and instead said the collision was a “blessing in disguise.” She stated “The track doesn’t care about your feelings, you’ve just got to move forward”. She did just that in the 1500m final, gathering herself to take the third and final spot on the team to Rio in a photo-finish.
Focus: Molly Huddle, winner of both the women’s 5000m and 10,000m, in similar fashion, gave us a lesson in focus. She won both races by leading from the gun and then gradually pulling away from the field. Her ability to concentrate is only matched by her talent and work ethic in training.
Patience: Chaunte Lowe, the American record holder in the women’s high jump, a veteran at 32 years of age and mother of 3, convincingly won the women’s high jump. After a rather unsuccessful 2015, she patiently put in the training, and ruled the vertical leap. “I’m not quite done yet”, she said.
Execution: Sometimes you just have to execute. Have a race plan and follow it, but also see what develops and react appropriately. Allyson Felix executed in the women’s 400m, displaying a homestretch gear that no one else could summon, and going 49.68 in the process. Still recovering from a severely sprained ankle from a training injury in April, Felix stated that she knew she had to be patient and use her sprinter’s speed in the final 100m, regardless of how her ankle felt or what the other runners were doing. Always a class act, she attributed her victory to her coach, physical therapist, chiropractor, and massage therapist. Executing her race plan effectively “executed” all competitors.
Celebration: Occasionally we see athletes who deliver phenomenal performances but are never satisfied. “If only I’d trained harder, done this or that, or the weather was blank,” has been said a few times. But there is also something to be said for living in the moment. Sam Kendricks, in winning the men’s pole vault with a jump of (5.91m) 19’-4.5”, was jubilant in his victory. He took the microphone and thanked the athletes, the coaches, the spectators, and really shared the joy in his accomplishment. Kendricks was a graceful champion and captured the spirit of the trials.
Appreciation: In this modern world, we sometimes lose track of those human qualities mentioned above. We have so many distractions in our connected, electronic, social media-driven world. However, I can say for certain that those Olympic ideals of striving to go higher, farther, faster, and to do it with honor and respect, were alive and well in Eugene and they are pulsating in our Olympians. Go USA!