EUGENE, Ore. – Allyson Felix ran through the pain.
Sanya Richards-Ross couldn’t overcome it.
And, in the strangest twist of all, Friday night’s biggest track news came 3,000 miles away from the U.S. Olympic Trials, when a tweak in Usain Bolt’s hamstring threatened to derail the Jamaican champion and change everyone’s Olympic math.
On a night Felix successfully auto-piloted her injured right ankle through 400-meter qualifying to keep her chance at a 200-400 double alive, Richards-Ross bid a tearful adieu to the fans, after pulling up 250 meters into her lap around the track – her hamstring too tight to carry on.
“I’ve had an amazing career,” the 31-year-old Richards-Ross said. “To have my last race be here, at Hayward Field, in front of these fans, it’s incredible.”
But it was Bolt’s hamstring that had the track world buzzing. At Jamaica’s national championships in Kingston, Bolt never even made it to the track, pulling out with what he called a minor hamstring injury.
Unlike the United States, where the top three finishers in each event qualify for the Olympics with no exceptions, Bolt can still make it to Rio if he can prove he’s fit. That test will come July 22 at a meet in London.
Possibly the biggest beneficiary would be Justin Gatlin, the American who has been Bolt’s biggest challenger the past few years. He starts qualifying in the 100 on Saturday.
Mead High School and University of Washington graduate Bayley Mires ran the 13th fastest time in the women’s 800-meter run, but failed to advance to the semifinals. Sixteen runners advanced, but the top two finishers in each of the four heats automatically earn a spot in the semis. Mires would have won Heat 3 or Heat 4 with her time. She missed the final berth by 18 one-hundredths of a second. Her time of 2 minutes, 2.57 seconds was a personal best.
Former Washington State Cougars star Bernard Legat, 41, failed to finish the men’s 10,000-meter run. He came into the race with the second fastest time in the country this year.
Richards-Ross, meanwhile, will have to settle for some fond memories and a heartfelt goodbye to her fans.
In addition to her four Olympic gold medals, including the individual title at the London Games, Richards-Ross holds the stadium record in Eugene – better known as Track Town USA. It was here, five weeks ago at the Prefontaine Classic, that fans got their first true glimpse of what might be coming. Richards-Ross finished seventh that day.
In this one, her first 15 steps out of the blocks were smooth, but she quickly slowed from a sprint to a trot. By the time she hit the first curve on the backstretch, she was jogging. And then she pulled up completely.
“Let’s be honest, I hurt my hamstring real bad,” she said. “I worked with a great doctor just to get out on the track today.”
After she pulled up, Richards-Ross walked to the finish line. Fans rose from their seats and Richards-Ross blew kisses.
She earned as many of those fans through her failures as her successes – her long battle with illness and injuries, her third-place finish in Beijing that left her weeping underneath the stands, then, finally, the gold medal in London.
“Most fans have seen my heart through my running,” Richards-Ross said. “I don’t win every time I step on the track. I don’t deserve the ovation because I’m always a champion. But I think they see my heart, my determination, my desire to be a good person.”
Now, though, they’ll be watching Felix and others finish up the 400.
Felix finished second in her heat, posting a time of 51.96 seconds, then headed straight to the trainer’s room for treatment.
She hurt the ankle in the spring and has had a rough time coming back – forced to do most of her running the wrong way around the track so as not to put the injured ankle at more risk.
She has less than 18 hours to recover. Her semifinal heat is set for Saturday afternoon.
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