Olympic trials: long on drama, short on rewards
Drama, poignancy, record-breaking performances, frustrations -- you name it and the 1980 Olympic track and field trials had it. As for the team that emerged from the eight days of competition at Eugene, Ore. (plus the marathon trial a month earlier in Buffalo, N.Y.), it is loaded with the usual impressive arrray of talent, ranging from defending gold medalists to younger athletes ready to make their marks. But of course, through no fault of its own, it will never be able to answer the one questions on just about everyone's lips: "How would we have done in Moscow?"
It's safe to say that the 64 men and 28 women making up the official US team would have represented their country well in the 1980 Olympics, though possibly not to the extent of the 23 medals the American track and field contingent won at Montreal four years ago. Such speculation is really pointless, however, because it's equally safe to say that if the United States had been going to the games this year the makeup of the team would have been quite a bit different.
Some likely medal winners such as marathoner Bill Rodgers skipped the trials in view of the US boycott of the Moscow games, while sprinter Evelyn Ashford, one of the leading female hopes, was out with an injury.
An even bigger list of athletes who had been considered top medal prospects competed in the trials and did not make the team. They included sprinters Houston McTear, Steve Williams, and Montreal bronze medalist Dwayne Evans; Tony Darden, who beat the great Alberto Juantorena in last year's Pan Am Games, and fellow 400-meters specialist Herman Frazier, the bronze medalist in 1976; Franklin Jacobs and two-time bronze medalist Dwight STones in the high jump; defending gold medalist Arnie Robinson in the long jump: defending silver medal winner James Butts in the triple jump; Greg Foster in the high hurdles; and former gold and silver marathon medalist Frank Shorter, just to name a few of the most prominent. f course there are always some upsets at the trials, but the size of this list and the names involved can't help making one wonder how much intensity some of them put into their training once it became clear that the boycott was a reality -- and how much harder they might have tried if there had been an olympic pot of gold at the end of rainbow.
We'll never know for sure, of course, but it's a pretty good guess that the athletes most strongly motivated in these particular trials were those trying to gain recognition as Olympians for the first time, while at least some of the veterans found it hard to "pay the price" in the months leading up to the competition and never did reach peak form.
Despite all this, however, the team as it stands -- even though far from the best one the US could have mustered -- looks good enough to have put on a respectable showing in Moscow. Edwin Moses, the world's dominant 400-meter hurdler for years and the defending gold medalist, was probably the closest thing possible to a cinch in his event, while Renaldo Nehemiah, who has towered over the world's 110-meter hurdle field for the last couple of years, would also have been a heavy favorite. Then there are Montreal gold and bronze discus medalists Mac Wilkins and John Powell; Mary Decker, women's world record holder in the mile and 1,500 meters (indoors), and long jumper Larry Myricks, who twice broke the world indoor record last winter.
And that, as they say, is just for openers. The US men always do well in the sprints and the relays -- and undoubtedly would have scooped their share of medals once again. Athletes from other countries would have been favored in most of the longer races, but several Americans such as Don Paige, Steve Scott, and Craig Virgin would have been legitimate contenders in their specialties. And even with the big names out of the marathon, anyone who can run that grueling distance in 2:10 or so (as all these qualifiers did) has to be given a chance on any given day.
The decathlon has been won by Americans in 8 of the last 10 Olympics -- and this year's No. 1 US qualifier, Bob Coffman, was among the favorites to succeeded Bruce Jenner as "the world's greatest athlete." The high jump and pole vault are other frequent US preserves that probably would have yielded at least one medal each. Henry Marsh's 8-minute, 15.68-second clocking in the 3,000 -meter steeplechase (best in the world this year) stamped him as a contender. And Rod Ewaliko's 291-foot toss in the javalin was the second best anywhere in 1980, indicating possibilities even in this event, in which the US has traditionally not done too much.
The US women, who historically haven't done nearly as well as the men in track and field competition (only 2 silver medals and 1 bronze at Montreal, for instance, compared with the men's 6 golds, 6 silvers, and 8 bronzes) had expected significant improvement this time. One reason was Ashford, winner of the 100 and 200 at both the Pan Am Games and the 1979 World Cup, but even without her, the team would have had some prospects of success here and there. Decker was one, of course, while others included Jodi Anderson and Montreal silver medalist Kathy McMillan in the long jump and Karin Smith and 1976 bronze medalist Kate Schmidt in the javelin.
Anderson was the only athlete at this year's trials to win two events, capturing the long jump and the pentathlon. Her 22-foot, 11 1/2-inch leap in the former event was a US record and the second longest jump for a woman in world history. The only other athletes, male or female, to make the team in more than one event were Chandra Cheeseborough (women's 100 and 200) and Julie Brown (women's 800 and 1,500). Then there was the great veteran Madeline Manning, gold medalist in the 800 at Mexico City in 1968, capping her latest comeback with a victory in her specialty to make the team for the fourth time.
For poignancy abd human drama at these or any trials, however, it would be hard to beat the case of Al Oerter, the great discus thrower who won four consecutive Olympic gold medals (1956-60-64-68), sat out both the 1972 and 1976 games, then made an incredible comeback to get back among the top competitors in his field, only to finish fourth and just miss a spot on the team.
EVen sadder, though, are the cases of those athletes who had never before tasted Olympic glory and had trained for so many years, only to lose their chance via the boycott -- especially those (competing in the trials or not) who knew they might have won gold, such as Nehemiah, Myricks, Decker, Rodgers, Ashford, etc.
There will be plenty of international competition, to be sure, for those who did make the team. US officials have set up a pre-Olympic trip with meets July 11-12 in Stuttgart, West Germany, July 13 at London, and July 15 at Oslo. Next comes a 10-nation meet July 16-17 in Philadelphia. Then after a hiatus so as not to ruffle any international feathers during the July 19-Aug. 3 period of the Moscow games, the team takes off again for meets at Rome on Aug. 5, Berlin on Aug. 8, and Zurich on Aug. 13.
That's a lot of interesting travel and competition, but it goes without saying that it's still no substitute for the real thing. 1980 United States Olympic team Women
100 -- Alice Brown, Brenda Morehead, Chandra Cheeseborough.
200 -- Chanda Cheeseborough, Karen Hawkins, Pamela Greene.
400 -- Sherri Howard, Gwen Gardner, Denean Howard.
800 -- Madeline Manning, Julie Brown, Robin Campbell.
1500 -- Mary Decker, Julie Brown (Leann Warren finished third, but did not meet Olympic qualifying standard).
100 hurdles -- Stephanie Hightower, Benita Fitzgerald, Candy Young.
Long jump -- Jodi Anderson, Kathy McMillan, Carol Lewis.
High jump -- Louise Ritter, Paula Girven, Pam Spencer.
Shot put -- Maren Seidler (Ann Turbyne and Lorna Griffin finished second and third, but did not meet Olympic qaulifying standard).
Discus -- Lorna Griffin, Lynn Winbigler-Anderson, Lisa Vogelsang.
Javelin -- Karin Smith, Kate Schmidt, Mary Osborne.
Pentathon -- Jodi Anderson (Marilyn King and Linda Waltman finished second and third, but did not meet Olympic qualifying standard). Men
20 kilometer walk -- Marco Evoniuk, James Heiring, Daniel O'Connor.
100 -- Stanley Floyd, Harvey Glance, Melvin Lattany.
200 -- James Butler, Clifford Wiley, Fred Taylor.
400 -- Bill Green, Willie Smith, Walter McCoy.
800 -- Don Paige, James Robinson, Randy Wilson.
1500 -- Steve Scott, Steve Lacy, Mike Durkin.
5,000 -- Matt Centrowitz, Dick Buerkle, William McChesney.
10,000 -- Craig Virgin, Greg Fredericks, Alberto Salazar.
Marathon -- Tony Sandoval, benji Durden, Kyle Heffner.
3,000 steeplechase -- Henry Marsh, Doug Brown, John Gregoreck.
110 hurdles -- Renaldo Nehemiah, Dedy Cooper, Anthony Campbell.
400 hurdles -- Edwin Moses, James Walker, DAvid Lee, Bart Williams (Lee and Williams tied for third place).
Long jump -- Larry Myricks, Carl Lewis, Randy Williams.
High jump -- Benn Fields, Nate Page, James Howard.
Triple jump -- White Banks, Paul Jordan, Greg Caldwell.
Pole vault -- Tom Hintnaus, Dan Ripley, Mike Tully.
Shot put -- Peter Shmock, al Feuerbach, Colin Anderson.
Discus -- Mac Wilkins, John Powell, Ben Plucknett.
Hammer -- Andy BEssette, John McArdke, Boris Djerassi.
Javelin -- Rod Ewaliko, Bruce Kennedy, Duncan Atwood.
Decathon -- Boby Coffman, Lee Palles, Fred Doxon.