Shani Marks is an Olympian.
The Apple Valley High School and University of Minnesota alum jumped 47-2 1/4 to beat rival Shakeema Welsch the runner-up at 46-10. Reigning NCAA champion Erica McLain was third with 45-9 3/4.
“I couldn’t feel any better now,” the three time USA Outdoor champion said. “It’s been a long, four year process."
Marks, who finished 4th at the 2004 Olympic Trials, will be half of a two-woman squad in Beijing, since only she and McLain posses Olympic A qualifying marks in the event. Welsch’s runner-up mark today bettered the A standard, but was wind-assisted.
Former Melrose High School and North Dakota State University star Amanda Thieschafer, who trains with Marks, finished 5th in the competition with a PR-tying 45-5. Thieschafer’s best jump matched that of 4th place finisher Yvette Lewis at 45-5, but Lewis was placed 4th due to her superior secondary mark.
Shaky Start, Big Mark ... Marks got her triumphant day off to a shaky start, fouling her opening jump. She rallied with a 45-1 ¾ second jump that put her into third position.
“Probably my heart beating out of my chest might have been my biggest issue,” Marks said about the wobbly opening. “I was really, really nervous for my first couple, so it took me a while to just kind of relax and go after it. I knew I would pull it together; it was just a matter of when.
On her final jump of the preliminaries, Marks did pull it together and landed her Trials-winning, PR-setting, Olympic-team-making jump.
Welsch landed her longest jump in the fifth round, but it was still more than four inches shy of Marks. McClain couldn't improve upon her mark from the prelims.
“The heat took it’s toll, so it was a little bit exhausting,” Marks admitted. “But I got what I needed to get done, that was the goal, so I’m happy with that. It’s very overwhelming, I’m not sure it’s sunk all the way in. It’s been my goal for five years, since 2003 really, so to actually accomplish that, I’m just so thankful and excited."
Marks seemed more motivated by her American Record near-miss than disappointed.
“It’s not over!” she said. “I was thinking I’d save that for, maybe, this little event in August. I think I have more in me, so we’ll keep going after it."
Thieschafer Strong in the Heat … Tying her PR in the Eugene’s heat – competition temperatures were in the mid-80s but likely felt hotter on the field – and in the pressure-cooker of the Trials left Thieschafer largely pleased.
“Every jump I took, I was expecting it to be further than it was,” she said. “I couldn’t get that extra gear on. I just couldn’t turn it on to the next level. I feel good because I threw it all out there. I tied my personal best, so I can’t complain."
Thieschafer’s opening jump of 44-11 advanced her to the final eight jumpers in 6th place. She landed the 45-5 that gained 5th place with her final attempt.
On the runway for Thieschafer’s third jump, Marks offered her training partner and good friend some terse advice.
“She said, ‘Quit playing,’ Thieschafer revealed.
Seeing her teammate gain the Olympics was powerful for Thieschafer.
“It makes me want to cry, it really does,” she said. “You know, we always joke to each other that we’re the same person. Through the fall, when it’s really, really hard, we’ll joke that we’re sore today."
"Part of me feels that I’m there right with her, I couldn’t be any more happy for her. It’s the best feeling in the world."
Full results from the competition are HERE.
Photo by Victor Sailer http://www.photorun.net/.