Not every runner in today’s U.S. Olympic women’s marathon trials is necessarily aiming to make the team to Atlanta.
Three open spots and 171 entrants, well, you do the math.
Gayle Jacklin has.
“My No. 1 goal would be to finish,” said the 32-year-old Post Falls runner with a laugh. “I’d like to set a PR and perhaps finish in the top 20. That’s a realistic goal - or I guess I’ll know within the first 2 miles if it’s realistic.”
But the trials are more about dreams than reality, and Spokane’s Kim Jones will be trying to fulfill her dream when the runners answer the 9 a.m. EST gun for the 26-mile, 385-yard race in Columbia, S.C.
There is no live television coverage of the race. NBC plans on airing video next Saturday as part of a package with the men’s trials in Charlotte, N.C.
Jones is among the favorites to claim one of the three women’s Olympic berths after finishing fifth in the 1988 trials and failing to finish in 1992 because of chipped bone in her ankle.
A similar injury to the fastest qualifier, Olga Appell, has made the race even more wide-open.
“I’m the only one in the field who has run under 2:30,” noted Jones, unaware at the time that Appell planned to start despite her injury and that American record-holder Joan Samuelson had decided to run.
“I know I can run a 2:30 if I run my own race. I’m rested, healthy and strong. For other women to do it, they’d have to have big breakthroughs, and sometimes that’s hard to do in a big race like this. I have the confidence of experience.”
Experience is also in the corner of Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic champion, and Lisa Rainsberger, who has had the unprecedented bad luck to finish fourth in each of the last four trials.
Among the younger challengers are Anne Marie Lauck, whose 2:30:19 qualifier was the second fastest behind Appell, and Kristy Johnston.
Those are the runners Jones figures she needs to keep an eye on.
“I can’t let the track runners get out of sight, if they do go out like crazy,” she said. “I’ve got to keep the third-place runner in sight for the first 20 miles.”
Jacklin, meanwhile, approaches the start in a just-happy-to-be-here mode. She didn’t get her qualifier until last October’s St. George, Utah, Marathon, where a 2:40:09 clocking knocked 18 minutes off her personal best.
“This kind of happened overnight and it’s just starting to sink in,” she said.
“I’ve only been at this two years, and my biggest stress is related to being inexperienced. I’m a lot more naive about certain things. It was nice to go out on the course tour with other runners and find out they share the same stress.”
Cracking the top 20 would allow Jacklin to cash in on the $250,000 in prize money - $45,000 of which goes to the winner.