Julie Culley, Kim Conley Surprise In Women’s 5000

Kim Conley reacts after realizing she finished third in 15:19.79 to make her first Olympic team. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Jager wins men’s steeplechase. No big surprises in 1,500m qualifying rounds. 

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

EUGENE, Ore. — Thrilling finishes were the theme of the night in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.

In an unevenly paced race that saw constant lead changes, Julia Lucas made a bold bid for victory with four laps to go. Through 3800 meters, she ran a 71.9-second circuit, then turned on the speed to clock 69-flat, then 68.5 for the penultimate circuit. She had a two-second lead over both Molly Huddle and Julie Culley, and Culley was worried.

“I wasn’t sure she would come back,” Culley told reporters.

In the final lap, Huddle led the chase to reel in Lucas, and Culley followed. Into the homestretch, Lucas began to slow significantly. First Huddle passed her, then Culley, who then set her sights on passing Huddle.

“Luckily, I had one more gear before the finish line,” Culley said.

Culley got the win in 15:13.77 — her second national title and her first on the track — and earned her first Olympic team berth. She said that her victory was not only for herself, but for her New Jersey-New York Track Club coach, Frank Gagliano.

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“It just feels so awesome to do this for him,” said Culley, sporting a freshly painted red fingernails, her lucky color. “I couldn’t give him any more than this.”

Huddle, the American record holder in the event, also became a first-time Olympian with her second place finish in 15:14.40. Behind her the most compelling drama of the race was playing out. Lucas looked like she was going to faint and was barely moving in the final meters of the race. Unheralded Kim Conley, who did not have the “A” standard of 15:20 going into the race, was charging to the finish behind her. Literally in the last meter, Conley passed Lucas not only to get third, but to narrowly break 15:20 by 21/100ths of a second and lock in an improbable Olympic team berth.

“This is beyond a dream come true,” Conley said.  ”I can’t even wrap my head around it yet.”

Lucas finished fourth, a scant 4/100ths behind Conley, and just ahead of the NCAA 5,000m champion, Dartmouth sophomore Abbey D’Agostino, who also broke the “A” standard with a personal best 15:19.98.
JAGER WINS MEN’S STEEPLECHASE

In a significant upset, Evan Jager won the men’s steeplechase title in only his fourth attempt at the distance, running a personal record 8:17.40. He was widely seen as the second-best athlete on the track behind 2010 national steeplechase champion Dan Huling. But Huling, who led the final laps of the race, fell apart in the last 300 meters and only finished seventh before falling to the track in both exhaustion and disbelief. Jager was elated.

“Last two years were definitely a huge struggle,” Jager told Flotrack.org shaking his head. Then he smiled. “It’s definitely been worth it. I’m able to call myself an Olympian now.”

Donn Cabral, the reigning NCAA champion who ran in his Princeton University kit in the preliminary round, finished second in 8:19.81 wearing a new Nike uniform today, and 2008 NCAA steeplechase champion Kyle Alcorn finished third (8:22.17). All three men ran under the Olympic Games “A” standard of 8:23.10 and claimed their spots on the Olympic team tonight.

FAVORITES ADVANCE IN 1500M FIRST ROUND

In the first of three rounds in the 1,500 meters, only six male and six female athletes were eliminated, and amongst those none had team-making potential. On the women’s side, Morgan Uceny led all qualifiers with a modest 4:14.07 clocking in the second heat. However, the 2011 Samsung Diamond League 1500m champion got annoyed after Gabriele Anderson clipped her during the race, turning around to scold the former University of Minnesota athlete.

“It was just small trips,” Uceny told reporters, reminding them how she was tripped and fell in last summer’s IAAF World Championships. “At this point, I can’t have that happen. People are very tense in the first round. It’s just nerves coming through.”

Uceny’s training partner, Anna Pierce, also advanced taking second in the third heat. The Olympic steeplechaser was forced to swing wide out of the final turn and finish in the center of the track.

“It was no problem,” said Pierce matter of factly. “I felt like I was jogging.”

World champion Jenny Simpson and 2009 world championships bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury were also amongst the 24 women who advance to tomorrow’s semifinals.

It was a similar story on the men’s side. David Torrence and Matthew Centrowitz finished second and third, respectively, in the first heat in 3:41.99 and 3:42.02. Torrence, who also had the Olympic “A” standard in the 5,000m and considered running that event, said his race tonight was challenging.

“It was a little faster than I expected,” Torrence admitted. “We were going 60′s.”

Centrowitz did not speak to the press, and was hustled past reporters through the mixed zone by a handler.

Robby Andrews, the 2011 NCAA 800m champion, advanced by finishing fourth in the second of three heats. He had to come from behind out of the final turn to secure his spot.

“I just wanted to stay as cool as possible,” Andrews said. “Hopefully, I’ll make it to the final.”

When asked why he chose to run the 1,500 at this meet instead of the 800, he responded, “Coach Vig (Jason Vigilante) has all the answers. He told me to run the 1500m. He’s got the brains.”

Other key athletes who advanced to the semifinals were Andrew Wheating, Leo Manzano, Jordan McNamara, A.J. Acosta, and Russell Brown.

Columbia University’s Kyle Merber did not advance, placing last in the final heat. He clearly looked fatigued after a long NCAA season.

“It’s embarrassing when six people are eliminated and you’re one of them,” said Merber, who was a philosophy major.

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