You're familiar with the scene:
Deep in enemy territory, a rag-tag squad of misfit volunteers faces incredible odds in their mission to rescue innocent civilians. Headquarters receives last-minute intelligence that the enemy is waiting in ambush, and orders the crew to abort the futile mission.
Having already committed heart and soul to the cause, the squad leader (speaking with unanimous consent) responds:
"Sir, your transmission is breaking up..."
You know how it ends. Fighting alone and placing everything on the line, courage, ingenuity and persistence wins the day. The mission is successfully accomplished—without the help of HQ.
With a little less fire and smoke, but with no less drama, a similar scene unfolded on the track at last week's NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
University of Oregon sophomore distance runner Jordan Hasay was running her fourth race in two days.
On the first day, after having previously run a mile qualifier, she had been nipped at the line for the first-place trophy on the final leg (1600 meters) of the distance medley relay by senior Sheila Reid of Villanova.
Hasay seemed to take the narrow defeat personally, as if she had let the team down.
And the defeat irritated an old wound. It was also Reid who had overtaken Hasay to win the individual NCAA Cross Country crown in late 2010.
Early on the second day, Hasay won the mile final outright, breaking a 29-year-old school record. That win sealed the lid on the women's team title for the Lady Ducks.
And then, later on the second day in the 3000-meter final, with presumably nothing to prove and the team title already well in hand, she could have been expected to hold back a little—using the race as more of a training run.
Reid was also in this race, and Hasay had a score to settle. It turned out to be one of the hallmark finishes of the entire indoor season.
It came down to heart and soul for both runners on the final lap. Hasay had refused to make eye contact with Oregon head coach Vin Lananna, fearing he might signal her to shut it down.
It was her way of saying, "Sir, your transmission is breaking up..."
It was not a case of insubordination on Hasay's part. She was merely doing what champions do—taking control of her own destiny.
With one lap to go, Reid made a move on the outside. Hasay responded by bursting past Lucy Van Dalen of Stony Brook into the lead. From there, it was a three-way sprint to the finish, with Hasay showing a nice finishing kick as she held off the challenges of Reid and Van Dalen for the win.
I'm not certain if Lananna had any intention of pulling the plug. The fact that Hasay was even in the race suggests he was aware of the personal dynamics and understood she was in it to win.
The fact that Hasay was not entertaining any thoughts of dropping out after three grueling races showed me something about the internal makeup of little Miss Jordan.
That race had the feel of a defining moment in Jordan Hasay's career.
I have been told by several who have followed Hasay since high school that she is tough and extremely competitive.
As a freshman last year she was impressive, considering her youth. But still, she seemed a little star-struck, especially in the big meets. And rightfully so. It's a big jump from high school to the next level.
Now, this year, she'd garnered two individual national titles, a runner-up relay title and a national team title—and it's only March.
And she's only a sophomore.
Last weekend, I became a true believer.
She's the kind of person I'd be glad to have beside me in a foxhole.
Or...on a secret rescue mission.
Update: May 1, 2011 - At the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford, Hasay finished fifth in the feature race of the women's 1500m. She was the top-finishing collegian in a field loaded with pros. Her time of 4:10.28 was a personal best as she out-dueled notable pro runners Morgan Uceny and Geena Gall.
Oregon Preview Notes
In my previous article, I extolled the virtues of the great outdoors. After Saturday's bitter wind and intermittent cloudbursts, I'm asking Nike boss Phil Knight, "How about an indoor 400-meter track facility?"
Former Oregon multi-event star Ashton Eaton was scheduled for three events. He casually took one throw in the javelin and called it a day. It was a several-meter improvement on his lifetime PR. This guy is in the zone right now and looking for more (on a warmer day, of course).
The Oregon women are developing a very competitive sprint program.
There seemed to be a problem with the starter or the starter's gun. Too many restarts (even in the 800-meters) and several much-delayed call-back reports. Better get that fixed soon. Doesn't seem right at Hayward.