Tumultuous night for U.S. track and field

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Dawn Harper

By Dr. Bob Elliott

Believe it.  Dawn Harper (Los Angeles), 2003 USA junior champion in the 100m hurdles, shocked the stadium audience and her fellow competitors with her 12.54-second Gold Medal winning performance last night at the Bird’s Nest.    The time was a personal record (PR) for Harper, who was considered by many to be lucky to make the finals in the 100m hurdles.

Harper took over the lead when Lolo Jones (Baton Rouge, La.) clipped hurdle nine with her heel causing her to lose her stride.  She struggled for the remainder of the race and finished in a distant 7th place.  

After the race Jones slumped to the ground, covering her head with her hands, appearing to be in a state of disbelief.  She refused to talk to reporters until she composed herself and congratulated her teammate on the victory. 

The Gold Medalist also seemed surprised that she had won.  Harper enthusiastically ran around the track in her victory lap, donned in an American flag, waved at the crowd and displayed one of the brightest smiles of the Games.  Even the announcer commented on the joy expressed by the winners. 

In the women’s 400m, track fans were asking if 23 year-old Sanya Richards went out too fast? Richards (Austin, Tx), who streaked to the lead at the beginning of race, fell behind during the last 100m and finished in third place. 

Richards explained that she began to experience hamstring pain during the race, as the rest of the field began to eat away at her lead.  After the race, Richards offered a reluctant hand to the winner, Christine Ohuruogu (Great Britain).  Richards’ disappointment was obvious as she took the podium to receive her Bronze Medal. 

For the first time three Americans will compete in the women’s 5000m finals, to be held later this week at the Bird’s Nest.  Our three competitors did everything right. 

Jen Rhines (Mammoth Lakes, CA) cruised with a time of 15:15.12 in the first heat.  Shalane Flanagan (Pittsboro, NC), American record holder qualified based upon her time (14:59.69).  Flanagan has already won a Bronze Medal in the 10,000m, run last Friday night. Portland resident Kara Goucher, Olympic Trials Champion, placed 7th in 15:00.98 in an incredibly fast-paced race and qualified based upon her time. 

Goucher stated, “I was just saying that’s amazing—three runners in the final.  It’s going to make the final a little bit less nerve-wracking to see friends everywhere on the track.  I’m just so proud of us.  I think we are making a statement, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”

While we were preparing to travel to the Bird’s Nest for the evening’s competitions we had a chance encounter with Janet Moreau (Stone).  Moreau (Barrington, RI) was a 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games U.S. Gold medalist on the 4x100 relay team. 

Moreau, who was the first Rhode Islander to win an Olympic Games Gold Medal, worked as a PE instructor for 36 years and became an interfaith minister. She was selected by the U.S. Olympic Team to serve as the team chaplain for the Beijing Games.  She reported that she was denied access to the Olympic Village by Chinese officials.  The Chinese would not allow any foreign ministers entry to the venue—so much for religious tolerance.  Moreau remains involved with track and field and is planning on volunteering time to become a motivational speaker for the emerging track and field program in Rhode Island.
 
The stage is set for the event for which may Oregonians have been waiting.  Tonight the qualifying rounds of the men’s 800m will be contested.  U.S fans will be energized by the emergence of new faces in this year’s event.  The all-Oregon based team includes Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating, and Christian Smith.  Smith electrified the Hayward Field crowd at the U. S. Olympic Trials with his dramatic dive at the finish line to place third ahead of Khadevis Robinson, a 2004 Olympian.

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