Living In A Parallel Track Universe

After finishing fourth in the 1,500m U.S. Olympic Trials, Gabe Anderson went to Europe and went on a tear, running personal bests in the 800m, 1,500m and 3,000m. Photo: PhotoRun.net

For some almost-Olympians, the track season is far from over. 

Last month’s U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials seemed very much black and white — either you made the Olympic team or you’re didn’t. The top three athletes in each event (or rather, the top three with an “A” qualifying time) are polishing their muscles and getting ready for Olympic competition which begins later this week. But what about the fourth and fifth-place finishers? And everyone else who competed in the Trials for that matter?  Are they eating ice cream and watching Beverly Hillbillies reruns?  Maybe starting in on a really long novel?

Hardly. While the Trials is a turning point for some, very little in the day-to-day life  of most professional runners changes all that much. Those who made the team and those who didn’t both eventually head across the pond for the European summer racing circuit, lining up with each other and a flavorful mix of Europeans and Africans with decidedly not black and white results: runners switch places, sometimes Olympians get bested, and runners who didn’t have good races at the Trials in Eugene might even find a measure of redemption on the continent. If nothing else, this brief month-long whirlwind of competition emphasizes the capriciousness and the significant role luck plays in snagging an Olympic berth.

After finishing fourth in the 1,500 meters at the Trials (and 46/100ths of  a second shy of the 4:06 “A” standard), Team USA Minnesota’s Gabriele Anderson came back home, dusted herself off, did some laundry and repacked her bags. “After I got over the letdown of not making the Olympics,” Anderson said, “I focused on coming to Europe and just having fun racing. The Trials can be exhausting, physically and mentally, so I knew I could have a good experience if I just let myself have fun and ran without feeling pressure.”

Olympic year or not, western Europe hosts a rapid-fire summer series of meets, stacked with international A-listers. Whether they’re sharpening for the Olympics or showing up for another day at the professional runners’ office, the start lists for any one of these races is as impressive as you’ll find at any event in London. And for some, like Anderson, Olympic-quality competition can result in world-class performances — albeit without the awards ceremony.

Just thirteen days after the Trials, Anderson set a PR of 2:02.83 for 800 meters in Belgium. She finished third at a distance that is not her specialty, behind Maggie Vessey (2:01.55) and Erica Moore, both top U.S. 800 runners who similarly had the bittersweet experience of running nice times, but not when it counted.

Three days later, Anderson won a 1,500-meter race in a huge PR of 4:04.84 (well under the elusive “A” standard, but alas, too late). Had she run that time two weeks prior, Anderson would be taking her meals at the Olympic Village. Not only did she run an Olympic-quality time, she beat British Olympian Lisa Dobriskey, who finished fourth in the 1,500 in Beijing and will represent England again this year. Further back in the same race was Canadian Olympic team member Sheila Reid.

Dashing to Monaco for her third race in a week, Anderson lined up against a star-studded field and shredded her previous PR of 9:31.62, clocking a bully 8:43.52.  She was the second American in the race behind two-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury but ahead of current Olympians Julie Culley and Jenny Simpson.

“It’s nice to know that even though I didn’t make the Olympics this year, I’m still considered a world class runner,”  she said, looking ahead and moving on.

Maggie Vessey, a World Championship finalist, was interviewed immediately after a disappointing race in the finals of the 800 at the Trials. “It’s just really upsetting when what you’ve trained for for months and years doesn’t come together on the day,”  she said, in the pain of the moment, that she would take a break. Within ten days, Vessey was in Europe lacing up her spikes, racing past and present Olympians and eventually pulling out a respectable 1:59.98.

American middle distance runner Will Leer won the Morton Mile in Dublin, while fellow American Ben True won the 3000 meters at the same meet. Both will be watching the Olympics on TV. Races have been won and impressive times posted by a coterie of Olympic-quality runners who, for whatever reason — a poor night’s sleep, bad position on the track, feeling a little off — will not be able to use that title.

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About The Author:

Sarah Barker runs and writes in St. Paul, MN.

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