Michelle Rohl’s legs tightened up as she turned the final corner of the women’s 800-meter run Thursday at Roos Field, and she was admittedly dizzy when she pushed through the finish line.
The 52-year-old ex-Olympian felt the effects of a lengthy hiatus. Flare-ups of Rohl’s Achilles tendons had long kept her from running at length, but she returned to full gear at the U.S. Track and Field Masters Championships in Cheney.
Rohl sat in the shade of a trainer’s station following her win, holding a cold towel and an ice pack over her sore muscles.
Her time of 2 minutes, 32.78 seconds was nowhere near her personal best, but it was enough to earn a national title in her age group.
“I’d been out of running for a while,” said Rohl, a member of U.S. Olympic team in 1992, 1996 and 2000. “But I ran into my old college coach in December, and he gave me a workouts to get back into it. They had a variety of paces, but no long distances.”
Distance had never been a problem for the Pennsylvanian, who is slated to run the 1,500 Sunday.
Twenty-six years ago, Rohl was among the first women to represent the United States in race walking at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. She still holds U.S. records in the 20-, 15- and 10-kilometer race walks, and earned a silver medal at the 1995 Pan American Games.
“Twenty-six years ago I was 26 years old. It really doesn’t seem that long ago,” she said.
Of the 900 advanced-age athletes in 15 age groups competing in the championships at Eastern Washington through Sunday, two are former Olympians – Rohl and men’s high jumper Jim Barrineau, 62, who was 1976 U.S. Olympic team in Montreal.
Around 400 athletes competing this weekend have qualified for the World Masters Championships in Spain in September.
While many have won medals over the past few months, Rohl has been coaching at NCAA Division II Mansfield University, where her husband, Mike, is the Pennsylvania school’s head men’s track and cross country coach.
Rohl is an assistant on the women’s team, trying to develop some race-walking interest while coaching athletes in a variety of distances. In college, Rohl won NAIA national titles in the 800 (2:09) and 1,500 meters (4:20).
Her 14th-place race-walking finish at the 1992 Olympics remains the highest finish for an American woman, she said.
“Race-walking hasn’t grown in popularity since I ran (in the Olympics,” Rohl said. “But there’s some hope for the future. There are some talented kids coming up.”
On Friday at Roos Field, three world records fell.
Charlies Allie, 70, set the record in his age group’s men’s 400, clocking a 59.18; Damien Leake ran 12.32 in the men’s 100 in the 65-69 division; and Boise native William Platts threw 103 feet, 2 inches in the men’s 90-94 javelin.
A day after scratching because of health concerns, Orville Rogers, the famed 100-year-old sprinter, set a U.S. centenarian record in the 400, finishing in 5:07.26.