Oregon athletes sweep men's 800; Clay breaks OT record in decathlon


Jill Geer
Director of Communications
USA Track & Field

EUGENE, Ore. - The Hayward Field East grandstand roared Monday night with an intensity that may have awakened even the late Steve Prefontaine.

The occasion?

A trio of Oregonians swept their way into the men's 800m Olympics field at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field. And then there was that Olympic Trials record by Bryan Clay in the decathlon.

Eugene sweeps 800

The men's 800 had been a highlight of each day of competition as University of Oregon and/or Oregon Track Club athletes filled the qualifying rounds. Monday's final featured three such athletes: the University of Oregon's Andrew Wheating and Oregon Track Club runners Nick Symmonds and Christian Smith.

The first 700 meters gave no indication that a Eugene sweep was in the making. As is his wont, Khadevis Robinson took the pace out hard, passing 200m in 24.1 seconds. After 1 lap, the four-time national champion led a surprisingly dense pack through in 50.33.

With 300 to go, Lopez Lomong moved up on Robinson's shoulder, but it wasn't until the final 90 meters that the race cleared itself up. Off the curve, Symmonds launched the heroic kick that gave him the Nike Prefontaine Classic title in 2007, and he went on to win in commanding style, in 1:44.10. Behind him, some surged while others faded. When the smoke cleared, Wheating -a Vermont native who only took up track in 2006 - had moved up to second in 1:45.03, with Smith third in 1:45.47 - a time that gave him the Olympic "A" standard of 1:46.00 as he dove for the line. Robinson ended fourth in 1:45.53, with Lomong sixth in 1:45.58.

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.

Clay reigns with Olympic Trials record

2005 world champion Bryan Clay entered Monday's second day of decathlon competition in the lead, and he never relinquished it. Indeed, he made some history along the way. The 2004 Olympic Trials champ was third in the 110m hurdles to open the day's competition, running 13.79 for 1007 points, and he easily won the discus with a throw of 52.74m/173-00 (928). Clay tied for fourth in the pole vault (5.00m 16-04.75, 910 points) and won the javelin (70.55m/231-05, 898 points) before grappling with his nemesis, the 1,500m, where he had a solid performance of 4:50.97 for 613 points. Over two days, Clay scored 8,832 points to break the previous Olympic Trials record of 8,726 set by Dan O'Brien in 1996, the year O'Brien won Olympic gold. Clay's score was a personal best, the best by an American in 16 years, and the best in the world in four years.

He wasn't the only high-achieving decathlete over the weekend. Former NCAA champion Trey Hardee was second with a personal-best score of 8,534, winning the 110m hurdles in 13.71 (1012 points). Oregon native Tom Pappas, the 2003 world champion, had a banner day. En route to finishing third with 8,511 points, Pappas posted a personal-best pole vault of 5.20m/17-0.75 (972 points) to win that event, and became the first American man to make three Olympic teams in the decathlon.

Patterson sets mark in women's javelin

Big 10 champion Kara Patterson of Purdue made her first Olympic Team by winning the women's javelin in Olympic Trials-record style. The 22-year-old posted a best mark of 58.44m/191-9 to win over defending national champion Dana Pounds (57.83m/189-9). Rachel Yurkovich of the University of Oregon was third with 56.41m/185-1, and American record holder Kim Kreiner was fourth with 55.90m/183-5. Patterson and Kreiner both have the Olympic A standard of 60.50m/198-6 and will compete in Beijing; Pounds and Yurkovich lack the standard and will not be on the final Olympic Team roster.

Lagat supreme

Perhaps the most anticipated final of the night was the men's 5,000m as double world champion Bernard Lagat began his quest for Olympic glory in the 5,000 and 1,500m.

In roughly a decade as one of the world's top middle-distance runners, Lagat has shown his ability to run well in any kind of race, whether tactical or fast. Monday night had a bit of both as Brent Vaughn bolted to the lead, well clear of the field, and began clicking off 65-second laps. The rest of the field trailed well behind and finally caught Vaughn 5:00 into the race, slowing to 68 seconds per lap with six laps to go.

With three laps remaining, Bolota Asmerom moved to the lead with Lagat close behind, but 200 meters later Chris Solinsky threw in a 58-second lap that was followed by Adam Goucher dropping out. With one lap to go, it was a five man race between Solinsky, Asmerom, Lagat, Ian Dobson and World Outdoor fourth-place finisher Matt Tegenkamp.

Lagat made his decisive move at the 200-meter mark as Tegenkamp tripped on his heels. The latter then gathered himself and gave chase as Dobson moved up. Crossing the line, it was Lagat in 13:27.47, Tegenkamp second in 13:29.88 and Dobson third in 13:29.76.

Oregon flavor in women's 800

As she has done throughout the rounds in the women's 800, three-time USA outdoor champion Hazel Clark took the lead early in Monday night's final. At the bell, Alice Schmidt moved up on the two-time Olympian's shoulder, but Clark maintained her lead. Running 2-3 meters back were Nicole Teter and then Kameisha Bennett, both of whom fell during Saturday's semifinal and were advanced to the final by a referee's decision.

That decision paid off. In the homestretch, Clark held on for first, winning in 1:59.82, with Schmidt second in 2:00.46. Bennett overtook Teter and was third in 2:01.20, with Teter fourth in 2:01.30. However, Bennett has not met the Olympic "A" standard of 2:00.00, which means the Eugene-trained Teter is on the team for Beijing.

More finals take shape

There were no surprises in the men's and women's 400m semifinal rounds, setting up finals on Thursday, after two off days of competition.

In the men's 400, the second semifinal was a preview of the final as Olympic and world champion Jeremy Wariner and World Outdoor runner-up LaShawn Merritt were in the same, second heat. Wariner won the heat in 44.66 with Merritt second in 44.76 as both men strode easily down the homestretch. Reggie Witherspoon won heat 1 in 44.99.

A showdown between world #1 Sanya Richards and Mary Wineberg seems on tap for the women's 400, as both handily won their heats. Wineberg took the first in 50.57, with Richards winning the second heat, slowing substantially in the final meters to cross the line in 50.75. Other contenders advancing to the final were Olympic relay gold medalists Dee Dee Trotter and Monique Henderson, as well as Natasha Hastings.

In the women's steeplechase semifinal, Nicole Bush of Michigan State won the first heat in 9:49.53, while NCAA champion Jenny Barringer of Colorado easily won the second semi in 9:48.50 to set a Hayward Field record. The final will be Thursday.

All the usual suspects will compete in Friday's high jump final as well, as Chaunte Howard, Amy Acuff and Destinee Hooker were among the 14 women who will vie for Olympic berths. In the long jump, heptathlon champion Hyleas Fountain was the top qualifier into Thursday's final with 6.66m/21-10.25.

The women's 5,000m semifinals set up a Friday final that will feature heat winners Shalane Flanagan (15:35.86) and Kara Goucher (15:32.22).

For complete coverage of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field, including results, athletes quotes, TV schedule and start lists, visit www.usatf.org