U.S. Olympic Track Trials 2012: Why Are All the Distance Races so Slow?
Galen Rupp has broken two meet records at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track Trials. Aside from that, most times in races longer than half a mile haven’t been close to as fast as the athletes can run.
At the Olympic Trials, the thought isn’t to go all-out and try to win the race. Most of the top runners are just concerned with being in position to qualify—by placing in the top three—at the run’s end.
As a result, the pace is set conservatively, and only rarely do runners quicken their strides.
They do this when they already have the Olympic “A” standard because their times don’t matter after that—only where they finish does. There’s also something to be said for where the trials are in athletes’ training calendars—most aren’t trying to peak right now.
To outsiders, it just looks boring and slow. But to runners, it’s all part of a grander strategy for success at the Olympics themselves.
One notable exception this year was in the women’s 5,000-meter race on Thursday. Julie Culley and Molly Huddle—the first and second-place finishers—already had the “A” standard, so they were content to stride out their 12.5 laps and go home.
However, fourth-place Julia Lucas needed to get in the top three and achieve the top standard, so she made a move halfway through the race to increase the intensity. Eventually, she ran out of stamina, and Kim Conley overtook her at the finish line.
Lucas’ move explains why there were five times in that race that met the Olympic “A” standard.
The men’s race was a different story. None of the runners met the standard. Remember, this isn’t a gold-medal standard—it’s a minimum that officials want to see run in the Olympic final.
Rupp and Bernard Lagat came in around 2.5 seconds slower than the “A” standard in the men’s 5K. Rupp still ended up breaking Steve Prefontaine’s Olympic Trials record, set 40 years ago.
The pace was nearly half a minute slower than Lagat’s American record, set last year. Despite setting the meet record in the men’s 10K, Rupp’s time was 37 seconds slower than his own American record, also set last year.
Finally, in the women’s 10K, Amy Hastings’ winning time was a full 13 seconds slower than the Olympic “A” standard, and almost 50 seconds slower than the meet record.
All of this is not to say that the runners themselves are slow. This is not a reflection on these athletes’ abilities at all. It does, however, expose a steady-as-you-go strategy for most distance runners at the Olympic Trials.
Unless they really have to, it doesn’t look like the athletes want to make much of a move in these races.
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