It took only a few seconds for years of work, hours of training runs and countless sacrifices to crumble into dust for favorites Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez in the 800-meter final Monday at the U.S Olympic track and field trials.
Although no one was sure exactly what happened, it appeared that as the women entered the final curve of the final lap at Hayward Field, Montano's leg clipped Martinez's leg from behind, causing Martinez to stumble sideways. Montano, who thought she was "in the most safe position" in Lane 3 and was preparing for a closing push after having relinquished the lead, tried to jump around Martinez and apparently grabbed Oregon's Raevyn Rogers in hopes of recovering. Instead, she fell. "I felt good about it," Montano said, "but somebody kicked me out from behind and what can I do in that situation?"
She fell forward and as she toppled she pushed Martinez outside. Neither could recover, and neither will compete in the 800 at the Rio Games. A review of the race ruled that contact had been incidental and that the results would stand.
Montano unleashed piercing, primal screams and cried as she limped to the finish line, but her knees or hands weren't what hurt the most. "My heart," said Montano, who said this has been an especially emotional year because she's an outspoken foe of doping and believes she has lost three world medals to drug cheats.
If those previous results are adjusted she probably will get those medals, but she's still bitter toward the International Assn. of Athletics Federations — track's governing body — for not having stricter anti-doping measures. "Eight years of my life as a professional runner, my entire professional career, has been a farce, basically," she said. "Now everyone's talking about the Russians not running in the Olympics but they're missing the point. The IAAF is a corrupt institution that is still running the Games."
Kate Grace of Sacramento, who had been on the inside of the track and away from the chaos, won her first Olympic berth with a time of 1 minute 59.10 seconds. Ajee' Wilson was second in 1:59.51, with Chrishuna Williams third in 1:59.59. "I saw Brenda trip and Alysia start to go and then we were past it," said Grace, an All-American at Yale. "At that point it was just run, take it and go."
Martinez, who's from Rancho Cucamonga and trains at Big Bear Lake, has another chance to make the U.S. team in the 1,500. But this mishap was a huge blow because the 800 is her best race — she won a world bronze medal in 2013 — and she felt prepared.
"I got clipped from behind," she said. "I tried to catch my fall but by then they already were in another gear, making another move, and I just couldn't regain my composure. It's a little bit frustrating because I know I'm good enough to make the team. I kind of just shut my eyes and said, 'This is not happening.'"
But it did. "It doesn't really settle in, in that moment of time," Montano said, clutching her young daughter, Linnea. "You get up and you're really far away. Your heart breaks."
Their sorrow contrasted with the joy of Charles Jock, who finished third in the men's 800 to earn his first Olympic berth. A former All-American at UC Irvine, Jock was born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia after his parents fled the civil war in Sudan. The family came to the United States when he was 3 years old and settled in San Diego. Earning his spot on the most American of holidays was special for Jock, whose time of 1:45.48 trailed winner Clayton Murphy (1:44.76) and runner-up Boris Berian (1:44.92).
Berian flipped burgers at McDonald's after dropping out of college two years ago, so he too has come a long way. But not as far, at least geographically, as Jock.
"Way back in September, October, November, I was thinking how exciting it would be to make the Olympic team on the Fourth of July, American Independence Day," Jock said, "and it really means a lot."
Sam Kendricks, an Army reservist and former NCAA champion at Mississippi, won the pole vault with a U.S. trials-record leap of 5.91 meters (19 feet, 4¾ inches). Cale Simmons (5.65, 18-61/2) and Logan Cunningham (5.60, 18-41/2) also will go to Rio. Hometown favorite Cyrus Hostetler won the javelin throw with a meet-record effort of 83.24 meters (273-1) but because the second- and third-place finishers haven't met the Olympic standard, fourth-place finisher Sam Crouser and 11th-place finisher Sean Furey will go to Rio.
Galen Rupp, who won the Olympic marathon trials earlier this year and won the 10,000 last week, qualified for Friday's 5,000-meter finals by finishing sixth in his heat at 13:49.50. "I definitely was a little tired," he said. Bernard Lagat, 41, also advanced to the 5,000 final as he tries for his fifth Olympic team, his third with the U.S. after two with Kenya.
Emma Coburn led 14 women to the finals of the 3,000-meter steeplechase, as expected, with a relatively slow time of 9:35.28. Donn Cabral led the men's field at 8:26.96, with American record holder Evan Jager advancing at 8:33.73. Keturah Orji of the University of Georgia led the women's triple jump qualifiers with a leap of 14.17 meters (46-6) on her first attempt.