Our Own Olympic Star
LONDON — Aliann Pompey’s doing a great job at The Armory.
“I am so proud of all that we’re doing (with the Armory College Prep program),” she tells you.
“I think 130 of our kids are going off to college this year.
“We’re making a big difference in their lives.”
Well, The Armory’s mighty proud of Aliann Pompey, too. For her achievements off the track and on it.
The 34-year-old Manhattan College graduate who competes for Guyana is now the first woman ever to run the Olympic 400 meters four times.
And one of the relative handful of women ever to compete in any event in four Games. (Team USA 2012 includes five-time Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff and four-time discus thrower Aretha Thurmond.)
A season-best 52.10 performance Friday morning sent Pompey into the Saturday night semifinals of the 400.
Pompey had won both the 200 and 400, competing for Shore AC, at the USATF National Club Championships in Omaha, Neb., where she was named the meet’s outstanding women ‘s athlete.
It was a first-class tuneup for the Olympic Games. She’s now one of 24 into the semis.
It will also be her final Olympic appearance.
“This is definitely my last,” she said. “I can’t see myself running every much further at this level.
“It takes a toll on you. I’m happy with my 52.10 and think I can go faster in the semis, but this has been a tough year. I had some Achilles tendon surgery and missed a lot of time, so this was only my fourth or fifth race all year.”
World champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana led all qualifiers in 50.40, with Russia’s Antonina Krivoshapka at 50.75 and USA’s Francena McCorory at 50.78. Some big names lurk directly behind them.
Defending Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain reached the semis in 50.80. USA’s Dee Dee Trotter moved forward in 50.87; teammate Sanya Richards-Ross, the Olympic favorite, breezed home in 51.78.
“Steeplechase Day” will be celebrated at The Armory this winter. Perhaps the USA will have two more steeplechasing celebrities by then.
There is very good news on the U.S. steeplechase front these days. For the first time since 1976, two Americans, former Wisconsin star Evan Jager and recent Princeton graduate Donn Cabral, will be in an Olympic final.
They opened many eyes with powerhouse performances in Friday’s qualifying round to advance into the 15-man championship final coming up Sunday night.
Jager, who lowered the American record-holder with his 8:06.81 performance at Monaco three weeks ago, led his preliminary heat much of the way, then breezed over the finish line in 8:16.61, just back of France’s fast-closing Mahiedine Mekhissi-Bennabad, who clocked 8:16.23, for the best time in the 39-man field.
Then Cabral followed with an 8:21,46 fourth-place finish in the third qualifying section, a race won by Ethiopia’s Roba Gari in 8:20.68.
“I ran this race like a final; I had to,” said Cabral, the NCAA champion and owner of an 8:19.14 career best.
Cabral, like Jager, “took it out” hard and stayed out front much of the way.
“This is international racing,” said Cabral. “It’s never easy. Elbows get thrown, there’s some pushing and shoving. I just wanted to stay out of trouble."
Former Princeton coach Steve Dolan — who was just named as Penn's new Director of Track & Field yesterday — has guided much of Cabral’s progress the past four years and is here in London to lend further support.
There have been good indicators from day one of Cabral’s 2012 outdoor season — when he ran a 4:00.96 mile on a cold, windy March 23 at Monmouth University.
If there’s a definite to the final, it’s that Kenyans will be up with the leaders, The East African nation has produced the last seven Olympic ‘chase champions and nine of the past 11, as well as the Olympic record-holder, Julius Kariuki, who ran 8:05.51 at Seoul in 1988. The only gaps in that procession came in 1980, when Kenya did not attend the Moscow Games and Bronislaw Malinowski of Poland won it, and 1976, when Anders Garerud of Sweden took it in world-record time.
Three Kenyans will now be men to watch in the final — Abel Kiprop Mutai, who advanced in 8:17.70; two-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi, at 8:20.97, and defending Olympic champion Brimin Kiprop Kipruto, at 8:28.62.