EUGENE, ORE. — Maria Michta loved all 50 laps of it, all 100 left-hand turns, all 20,000 meters.
All her numbers added up.
Especially these: 1:34.53.33.
They computed to a rousing victory in the first event of the eighth and last day of the USA Olympic Trials and a well-earned trip to London.
The Long Islander marked her 26th birthday a week ago. She’s obviously headed for really big things in the real world beyond the world of sport.
She’s tracking the hepatitis C virus. She’s majoring in advanced microbiology at Mount Sinai College of Medicine. She’s on her way to her Ph.D.
She was C.W. Post College's 2008 valedictorian. And even "Post-man" Vin Lananna (C.W. class of 1975), the U. of O. coach who is running this whole Trials show, knew he wasn't the only Pioneer doing big things in Eugene.
But back now, to Michta's little detour. To London.
“Awesome, awesome, awesome.”
She kept using that word a lot Sunday morning.
It was awesome that she’d overcome the foot injury that knocked her out of the World Cup of Racewalking, before she even got to Russia, in May. Awesome that she hadn’t cracked with Eugene’s own Erin Gray right on her shoulder for some 40 laps. Awesome that she never heard a thing as all those homefolks kept screaming “E-rin, E-rin, E-rin, E’rin “ every time past the East Grandstand. Many, of course, were rounded up by Erin’s dad, Bob Gray, once a top marathoner and racewalker himself, on threat of corporal punishment for civic malfeasance, had they stayed away.
It was awesome that, once Michta had fought off Gray, that’d she’d fought off Miranda Melville, too. Melvile, an upstater out of Rush, N.Y. in the Rochester area, was pretty awesome in her own right, battling from fifth nearly three quarters of a lap back, to fourth, to third, to second, and for just a few moments, to an equal first with Michta.
Yes, MM vs MM, and the crowd loved it, even with Eugene’s Erin now out of it.
Back to that crowd, of several hundred at least. It was awesome, too. These folks really got into it. They knew the lingo. They knew “lifting” from “straightening” and knew that the judges were doing a good and scrupulously fair job of paddle-waving. They weren’t simply Erin-aholics.
Most important, they knew that the race in front of them was one entertaining sporting event. They knew that all their friends and neighbors who’d slept in — this was a 7:30 a.m. start — had made a bad call.
So, with awesome gutsiness and a never-say-die attitude, Maria Michta brought it on home in 1:34:53.33, in the biggest, boldest, best race of her life.
There was praise all around.
For Eugeneans, as they’re called, for backing this race so handsomely. And for all the walkers and all the officials and every last soul who’d made it possible.
Past Olympic Trials have been 20Ks, meaning road races. However, with the success of Sunday’s 20,000 meters, following the success of Saturday’s men’s 20,000, look for future Olympic Trials walks to be on the track, too.
New York Stater/now Floridian Teresa Vaill continues to hold the American women’s 20K walk record with her 1:33.28.15 back in 2005. And she’d continued to more than hold her own in other. earlier 2012 racewalks.
But she couldn’t find a way to continue in this race after a hamstring appeared to give out some four miles into the proceedings.
There was plenty of joy left over for all others in the race.
Two “elders” proved they could walk with the kids; Ohio’s Jill Cobb set a 3,000-meter mark in the 35-39 division en route to her fourth-place 1:37:00; New Hampshire’s Joanne Dow (who won the 2008 Trials) notched four records in the 45-49 bracket as she placed fifth in 1:38:20.00 (after threatening retirement four years ago.)
No one begrudged Michta her big win.
Just the opposite.
Soon enough. Michta was on the receiving end of all those hugs and kisses that broke out all over the place.
Even Melville and Gray – staying away from London because they lack “A” credentials; only the first “B” goes to the Games when there are no “A’s ‘’ — were all huggy and kissy after their 20,000th meter.
“This is a dream to me,” emotionalized Michta. “Everyone has dreams and this has been mine for a long time. I’m an Olympian now but it’s still hard to believe it’s actually happening. Words can’t explain how I’m feeling right now.”
No words were really necessary.
Her exhausted body but starry eyes told the whole story.