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Kara Goucher / Shalane Flanagan Showdown Highlights Day 1 of 2008 Olympic Track and Field Trials
The women’s distance events at the 2008 Olympic Trials get off to an intriguing start with the 10K final on Friday night featuring a Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher showdown. Goucher and Flanagan, arguably the best American hopes for a female Olympic distance medal in Beijing, will go head-to-head at 10k for the first time, as they lead a top-heavy field.
Changing of the Guard
The changing of the guard in this event is noticeable looking at the complete Olympic Trials results from 2004. Only Elva Dryer (2nd in ’04), Katie McGregor (4th in ’04) and Amy Begley (9th in ’04) return to compete from the top 10 finishers at the last Trials.
Indeed, new American 10K record holder Shalane Flanagan, who was simply happy to make her first Olympic team back in 2004 (in the 5K) has, quite strikingly, moved to a new level in the past 14 months and now also holds the U.S. record at 5K. Rumors of minor injuries curtailing her recent training continue to pop up, but Flanagan is declared in both the 5K and 10K and one has to assume that she will show up ready to race. Running world class times under coach John Cook, Flanagan has begun to fulfill the promise she has displayed since her high school days in Massachusetts.
She will be racing against Kara Goucher, who earned a stunning bronze at the 2007 World Championships in the 10K, running a gutty final five laps that included a memorable final 400 to earn the United States first medal at the World Championships in a track distance event since Lynn Jennings. Goucher went on to set a U.S. half-marathon record (beating Paula Radcliffe in the process) later in 2007 and has looked impressive in her early season tune-ups (Goucher ran 14:58 at Pre and even picked up a mile win at Millrose indoors). Goucher (coached by one of America’s all-time grittiest distance runners, Alberto Salazar) cannot yet boast Flanagan’s personal bests on the track, but she has proven herself to be a great racer and, unlike Flanagan, has shown the ability to peak when it matters most, at the World Champs/or Olympics.
Message board talk for weeks has speculated about this showdown: Flanagan of the fast times and impressive closing ability (ask Kim Smith, who led Flanagan during most of the record-setting 10K at Stanford, about this…. Flanagan blew by her in the final 200) versus Goucher’s grittiness and competitive drive.
The question remains when will the two really start racing each other all out during the 10,000? We'll find out on Friday but expect one of those two to win.
Battle for Third and Final Olympic Spot
Why do we say this? Because in the entire field, only four women - Flanagan, Goucher, Molly Huddle and 2005 US 10,000 champ Katie McGregor - have met the Olympic A standard of 31:45.00.
In past Olympic Trials, having the standard may not have been as significant a plot as it is this year. In 2008, USATF is committed to picking the Olympic team the night of each race, meaning there will be no opportunities for athletes who do not yet have the Olympic A who finish in the top 3 to chase the standard later in the summer. So assuming decent weather conditions (although it is supposed to be hot Friday in Eugene with a high of 85 and it still 75 degrees at race time), expect the pace to be fast enough early on to give people a chance for the Olympic A standard.
There are a number of top runners who lack the A but are probably capable of it and certainly are likely to give it a shot. Leading the way very well could be Amy Rudolph, the 2006 champion and two-time Olympian. Rudolph's qualifying time is only 12 seconds off the Olympic A. Others who certainly will want a fast pace include Amy Begley and Iowa State’s NCAA Champion Lisa Koll - the revelation of the recent women’s collegiate track season, being the new American collegiate record holder at 10k and the NCAA champ. These runners will certainly want to see a pace of 76 per 400 or better as they will want to dip under the 31:45 standard so that a top three finish would actually be rewarded with an Olympic bid.
Prediction Contest Poll
Assuming Goucher and Flanagan take the top two spots, the battle for the third spot should provide a lot of drama. Fans will have to not only watch the battle for the third spot in the race but also keep their eyes on the clock. If the 3rd placer isn't under 31:45, then whoever crosses the line first between Huddle and McGregor is going to their first Olympics.
In the inspiring atmosphere that is Hayward Field and with the legacy of Steve Prefontaine a part of any distance race at the University of Oregon, anything is possible. Considering Goucher basically ran alone to an Olympic "A" standard a month ago, a relatively slow race up front will likely still result in an Olympic "A" standard. And a slow pace doesn’t have to mean an unexciting race. Either way, the Goucher / Flanagan showdown is a great way to start off the Olympic Trials in distance-crazy Eugene.
Predictions: 1) Flanagan 2) Goucher 3) Molly Huddle
The other big news is Galen Rupp is entered in the 5k and plans on likely running round 1, but not the final (article here). USATF does not have an honest effort rule but we think they should have one.