INDIANAPOLIS, IN. -- It was the women’s 1,500-meter final at the 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. A Saturday afternoon and the Hayward Field crowd was on its feet.
Christin Wurth-Thomas had raced out to a sizeable lead through the race’s first three laps, passing 800 meters faster than the men would a few minutes later. To those who trailed – Morgan Uceny in particular – the distance Wurth-Thomas had put between herself and the rest of the field must have seemed a mile long.
Continuing to run strong, Wurth cruised into the bell lap; her pace throughout had been incredible. Few knew if anyone would be able to catch her or if she would have enough left to finish.
Uceny, meanwhile, continued to sit and wait. In all honesty, she didn’t need to chase down the leader to reach her goal. The top three spots would be on Team USA for the 2011 World Track & Field Championships August 27-September 4 in Daegu, South Korea. And that was Uceny’s ultimate goal – too many times, she had been on the outside looking in.
But with 400 meters remaining, Uceny began a drive. It was a drive to make the World Championships team, but more importantly it was a drive to finish what she had started. When Uceny finally passed Wurth-Thomas in the race’s final 100 meters, she crossed the finish line in four minutes, 3.91 seconds and as the USA champion. She was going to Daegu.
“If she had maintained that pace and made the team I would have tipped my hat,” Uceny said of Wurth-Thomas. “If I hadn’t gotten her I still would have been ecstatic to have made the team. But you have to keep your priorities straight.”
It is easy to view that race as a metaphor for the more recent years of Uceny’s track and field career. In the past she had always been close, but couldn’t quite close the gap. There was her fourth-place finish in the 800m at USA Outdoors in 2007. Then there was her fourth-place finish in the 1,500m and sixth place in the 800m at the Olympic Trials in 2008. Her sixth place finish in the 800m at USA Outdoors in 2009. Each time, she was right on the verge of making the world or Olympic team, but she couldn’t quite close the gap.
In Eugene, Uceny was able to deliver.
“It’s awesome. It has been a long time coming,” Uceny said about heading to Daegu. “It makes me appreciate it that much more. It’s a big relief and it’s what I have been training for. Making the team was one of my goals this year and now my goal is to make the podium (at the World Championships).”
Uceny will find herself right in the mix when the first of three rounds of the women’s 1,500m begin at the World Championships. Her personal best time of 4:01.51, which she ran in Monaco in July, is currently the eighth-best time in the world this year. More significant is that twice this year – at Diamond League meets in Paris and Birmingham, UK, Ucency faced international fields featuring the very best 1,500m runners in the world … and won.
The World Championships experience will be new to the Mammoth Lakes, Calif. resident and native of Plymouth, Ind. But it has been no accident as this trip to the world stage was all part of a progression for Uceny.
“Every year in college I would show a little improvement,” the graduate of Ivy League member Cornell said. “It has been a consistent process and I have continued to build confidence. It was a building process.”
Whatever it is she has been building toward, she is now finding benefits. Helped greatly by her two victories, Uceny also finds herself on top of the standings in the 1,500m for the Diamond League, which is a points system for a series of European meets throughout the track and field season. Each winner is awarded with a cash prize and diamond trophy.
While much can happen before the final Diamond League standings are determined, Uceny says it is all essentially icing on the cake when compared to her main goals.
“If I can get a medal at Worlds anything after that will just be a bonus,” she said. “I was just happy to score any points (in the Diamond League). Last year I didn’t score any.”
In the midst of the most successful season of her track and field career, Uceny has worked consistently to place herself onto the world stage. It was all part of a process and more goals still to come. And, just like that day in Eugene, she will be faced with more gaps to close.
USA Track & Field