In 2012, stars with University of Oregon ties shined bright in front of their home crowd at yet another Olympic Trials at historic Hayward Field.
The first group of UO athletes to qualify for the Olympic Games were those who ran in the 10,000 meters. On the men’s side, Galen Rupp and Matt Tegenkamp claimed the top two spots, with times of 27:25.33 and 27:33.94, respectively. Rupp, a graduate of Central Catholic High School in Portland and former UO star, is the all-time American record holder in the event and broke the Olympic Trials record with his effort. Tegenkamp currently lives in Portland and trains with Oregon Track Club Elite. On the women’s side, OTC Elite athletes Shalane Flanagan (31:59.69) and Lisa Uhl (32:03.46) took the last two spots on the U.S. Olympic team for the 10,000 meter run.
While June 22 was an incredibly impressive day for Oregon athletes, June 23 will go down as one of the most storied days in the Olympic Trials. On that day, Ashton Eaton — a native of Bend, Ore., former UO Duck and member of OTC Elite — set the decathlon world record. His time in the 1,500 meters added 850 points to his total score (9,039) and pushed him past Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic (9,026) for the most points in a decathlon in history.
While Eaton’s performance felt like an anti-climatic ending, the Trials were just getting started. The next day, Salem, Ore., native Ryan Bailey punched his ticket to London by finishing third in the men’s 100-meter dash, with a time of 9.93 seconds.
Four more Oregon athletes qualified for the Summer Games in four different events. Jesse Williams was the first to move on to London when he placed third in the high jump final, clearing a mark of 2.28 meters (7 feet, 5 3/4 inches). Next to qualify was javelin thrower Cyrus Hostetler, a native of Newberg, Ore., and a former Duck. The two-time (then) Pac-10 champion threw 77.63 meters (254 feet, 8 inches) in Round 2 of the final.
Geena Gall of OTC Elite broke her previous PR in the 800 meters by over a second later that day, trimming her time from 2:00.44 to 1:59.24 in the women’s final to qualify for London. The fourth and final Oregon qualifier of the day was Nick Symmonds in the men’s 800 meters. Symmonds took first with a time of 1:43.92 and soon thereafter received a compliment from Paris Hilton via Twitter. Tyler Mulder of OTC Elite and current Duck Elijah Greer were also in the final but finished in fifth and sixth, respectively, and therefore failed to qualify. Greer, a native of Lake Oswego, Ore., is expected by many to vie for a spot in Rio de Janeiro in the 2016 Olympic Games.
The Trials resumed on June 28 after a tw0-day hiatus. Evan Jager of OTC Elite made a big splash, finishing first in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase in 8:17.40.
The final event of the night, the men’s 5,000 meters, was one that will be remembered for years to come. Rupp broke Oregon legend Steve Prefontaine’s Olympic Trials record of 13:22.80 by finishing in 13:22.67. OTC Elite member Julia Lucas was a heartbreaking .04 seconds away from earning a trip to London in the women’s 5,000 meters earlier in the night, placing fourth in the final with a time of 15:19.83.
Less than 24 hours later, 2010 NCAA Outdoor steeplechase champion Bridget Franek claimed second place in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:35.62. The OTC Elite member will be running in her first Olympic Games.
The final official day of the Trials brought tremendous excitement — much of which can be credited to athletes with ties to Oregon. The first to qualify was Rachel Yurkovich, a native of Newberg, Ore., and a former Duck. She qualified to throw the javelin for Team USA by hitting a distance of 56.85 meters (186 feet, 6 inches) in the fifth round of the women’s javelin throw final.
The last compelling event involving Oregon athletes was the men’s 1,500 meters final. Jordan McNamara of OTC Elite set the early pace for the race, leading for the first 400 meters before being overtaken by Will Leer. After multiple lead changes, Oregon grad Matthew Centrowitz led the pack to begin the bell lap. He would battle with two-time NCAA Outdoor 1,500m champion Leonel Manzano throughout the last 400. During their race to the finish, former Duck star and OTC Elite member Andrew Wheating stormed ahead from the middle of the herd to within about 20 meters of Manzano and Centrowitz in a move that drew a roar from a home crowd. Ultimately, the order of finish would go Manzano (3:35.75), Centrowitz (3:35.84) and Wheating (3:36.68).
To recap — multiple records broken, many tickets to London punched, great fan support, copious amounts of liquid sunshine and Oregon athletes surpassing expectations? Yep. The 2012 Olympic Trials demonstrated why Eugene truly is Track Town USA.