Friday, June 27, 2008

Opening Night 10,000 Big for Minnesotans

For Minnesota track and field fans, the 10-day-long U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials will open with a bang today in the meet's very first session. When the gun fires for the women's 10,000 meter final tonight, a pair of Minnesota athletes will be prime contenders, for victory in the race and one of the golden top-three finishing places that earn selection to the U.S. Olympic team.

IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Kara Goucher, a Duluth native, and Team USA Minnesota's Katie McGregor will step to the starting line tonight with clear Olympic objectives. Despite successful careers that include NCAA titles and international experience, both seek their first U.S. Olympic team selection.

Goucher, who trains in Oregon with former marathon great Alberto Salazar, looks to return to the international stage that saw her earn a surprise medal at Worlds in Osaka last summer. After a collegiate and professional career riddled by injury, the University of Colorado alum seems to have found her stride with Salazar. Goucher, seeded #2 for the Trials, notched an Olympic A qualifying mark last month in Portland, running 31:26.48, and last week scored a 4:05 1500m win in her final tune-up race.

McGregor, the 2005 USA 10,000m champion and the 13th place finisher in Osaka, seeks the Olympic spot she narrowly missed in 2004. McGregor finished 4th in 2004 and, for lack of a qualifying time, was later unable to claim an available Olympic berth after Trials 10,000m champ Deena Kastor declined her spot in favor of the marathon. This Olympiad, McGregor, seeded #4, has her Olympic qualifier -- a 31:37.82 she ran last year -- firmly in hand.

The competition Goucher and McGregor will face is strong. American record-breaker Shalane Flanagan is the top seed with the 30:34.49 she ran to break Kastor's American Record in April in Palo Alto, California. Notre Dame graduate Molly Huddle, the third-fastest U.S. 10,000m runner this season with her 31:27.12 from the same race is the #3 seed in the race as well.

Other runners who figure to be in the Olympic 10,000m hunt until the race's bitter end include: 2006 USA 10,000m champ Amy Rudolph, collegiate record-setter Lisa Koll of Iowa State, Goucher's training-mate Amy Begley, 2003 Twin Cities Marathon champ Blake Russell, and 2006 USA Championship 10,000m runner-up Sara Slattery.

Although not yet in that league, 2007 Edina High School alum Alex Gits, coming off her impressive freshman season at Stanford, looks to gain some valuable Trials experience for what she hopes will be her own long, well-decorated career at the top of the sport. Gits finished third in the 10,000 at the NCAA Outdoor Championship in Des Moines two weeks ago. She's seeded #22 in the Trials field.

Action in the women's 10,000m commences tonight at 11:20 CDT.

Following the Action ... Down the Backstretch will feature daily coverage of the Trials. We plan to post a complete wrap-up of each day's Minnesota action for reading first thing the following morning and offer bonus posts here and there during the meet. We'll have quotes, photos, details, and "local color" from the event so big they only hold it once every four years!

If you want results even quicker than we'll be able to provide, click HERE.

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