A London-Bound Smile
EUGENE, Ore. — Sanya Richards-Ross won the Olympic Trials 400 going away here Sunday afternoon to make her third Olympic team and establish herself as the favorite to win her first individual Olympic gold medal in London.
The Jamaican-born Richards-Ross passed Francena McCorory entering the straightaway and pulled away down the straightaway, running 49.28, the fastest time in the world this year.
McCorory uncharacteristically ran a hard first 300, then faded badly but held on for the third and final spot on the U.S. team, in 50.43. Deedee Trotter flew past McCorory with 80 meters left and finished second, in 50.02.
The New Yorker Natasha Hastings, a member of the winning U.S. 4x400 team in Beijing in 2008, faded to seventh here, .05 behind Keshia Baker in sixth, thus presumably missing the six-member relay pool.
Richards-Ross placed sixth in the Olympic 400 in 2004 as a teenager, then won the bronze medal in Beijing.
The men’s 400 was won, as expected, by LaShawn Merritt, who won handily in 44.12, also a world-leading time, ahead of this year’s NCAA champion, Tony McQuay of Florida, second in 44.49. The surprise was in third, where Bryson Nellum, a fifth-year senior at USC, came from well off the pace to get the last spot on the team. He ran 44.80, his first time ever under 45 flat.
For Nellum it has been a long road back from being shot in the leg in a random shooting in Los Angeles three years ago. As recently as two weeks ago, he failed to advance to the finals at the NCAA Championships. But here, he ran the race of his life.
Just a month ago he said in an interview, “I have sometimes wondered what I might have accomplished had I not been shot. But I have moved on.”
Nellum’s history at The Armory goes back seven years to 2005, when, as a high school sophomore, he ran the anchor leg for Long Beach Poly when it set the still-standing national high school record in the 4x200.
On the first sunny day of these Trials at Hayward Field, before an enthusiastic crowd of 27,013, finals were also held in the men’s 100 and long jump and the women’s discus and pole vault.
Competition continues on Monday with the finals in both 800s and preliminary rounds in the steeplechase and 5,000. The 800s will be run minus any competitors from the New Jersey/New York Track Club, as they were eliminated in Saturday’s semifinals.
“They made some tactical mistakes,” said the NJ/NYTC coach, Frank Gagliano. “But we have some prospects coming up in the steeple and the 5k.”
Those prospects include such New York-area runners as Delilah DiCrescenzo and Ashley Higginson in the steeple, and Frances Koons, Julie Culley, Liz Maloy, Jen Rhines and Molly Huddle in the women’s 5,000.
The men’s 100 was won by the comebacking Justin Gatlin, who ran a lifetime-best 9.80 to defeat Tyson Gay by .06. The surprise third-place finisher was Ryan Bailey, a native of nearby Salem, Ore., who ran 9.93. The striking Bailey — 6-feet-5, 215 pounds — had never placed in a major championship meet except for the Oregon state high school championships on this track four years ago.
Bailey ran at The Armory his senior year at McKay High School, at the National Scholastic. In the first race of his life on a banked track, Bailey appeared to catch a spike coming out of the second turn, did a midair 360, miraculously landed on his feet, and resumed running.
Gatlin, the Olympic 100 champion in Athens in 2004, served a four-year suspension for drugs. A decade ago, Gatlin won the 60-meter dash at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational for Tennessee.
The women’s discus was won by the reigning Olympic champion, Stephanie Brown-Trafton, who threw a towering 213-10 on her final throw of the day. Asked if she could repeat as gold medalist, she said, “I am a contender. I am not the favorite. I like being a contender. I’m going to fight for it.”
The long jump was won by another Armory veteran, Marquise Goodwin, who went a lifetime-best 27-4 to nail down first place and make his first Olympic team. Afterward, Goodwin ran to the stands to get congratulations from his coaches at the University of Texas, Head Coach Bubba Thornton and Assistant Mario Sategna. Goodwin has competed at The Armory for the Longhorns.