From Atlanta, USA to Stockholm, Sweden to Atlanta, USA Qualifying in the 5000 for My Third Olympics
June 21, 1996 Friday, Atlanta, Georgia - Olympic Trials July 7, 1996 Sunday, Stockholm, Sweden July 19, 1996 Friday, Atlanta, Georgia - Opening Ceremony, Olympics
I was doing strides at the practice track in Stockholm, in preparation for the 5000 m race on Monday. I had finished fourth in the Olympic Trials 5000 m, but the individual who finished ahead of me in third, as well as me, did not have Olympic qualifying standard of 13:29.00. The other individual tried to get run the time in Hengelo, Netherlands on Saturday night, and ran 13:29.50! He had run a crazy fast last lap to get that close.
On Monday night July 7, ten days before the deadline of making the standard, I was going to try and run the qualifying time. There really was no other chance to recover and be ready to try again. I had run 13:58 in the Olympic Trials in the finals, but that was two races in three days, 85 degrees and humid. Stockholm was going to be in the low 60s, and of course, rabbits to lead us and run fast.
I am running my strides, and Shaun Creighton of Australia walks over and asks if I am going for the time tomorrow. Yes, I reply.
I can remember him clearly saying, looking me in the eye: “I’m your man. Stick with me, and I will take you there. I ran a 5K in Paris two weeks ago, and went out hard with the leaders, and died. I will be going out at the right pace on Monday.” I thought, OK, but to be truthful, a lot of people say things before they race.
The gun went off, and there were 27 people in the race… so many that I had to start in the second row. I was actually lucky just to be in the field, as 13:58 does not get you into races when the winning time will be under 12:55. The pace of course was fast, probably 4:05-08 at the mile or so, and the group of 27 quickly became a straight line.
About lap three, I found myself right behind Shaun. There was the lead pack of 4-6 runners, another pack of 5-6, and then a gap with Shaun I remembered what he had said the previous day, and thought, “OK mate, I will trust you to run the right pace.”
Nine laps to go…
We went through the mile in 4:14, and I thought, this was OK. Shaun wearing a thin gold chain around his neck, and I focused on the back of his neck and the chain. I can still visualize to this day, that chain. We ran the next mile in 4:18, and stayed about the same distance behind the second pack. 8:00 at 3K was the split, and 8:32 at 3200 m. In Atlanta at the Trials, I had gone through at 8:58 and on June 8 in South Bend, Indiana, had run 8:37 for 3200 m and stopped. I can remember not thinking that this was too fast – just thinking that it felt good, stick with Shaun, and be smooth. This was the pace that I needed to run, and it felt OK.
Four and a half laps to go…
With about three laps to go, things started to heat up. I could see that we were now closing on the second pack, with Jon Brown and Todd Williams in it. Both were in great shape, from previous racing, and they knew it. As we caught the tail end of a pack of four, I thought, “Great, nice job Shaun, now just relax and let this pack take us home.” I relaxed for a moment, but Shaun kept the pace and started to go around Jon and Todd. “No!” I thought, “Shaun, don’t force the pace of this group. This is a good pace.” But to no avail, Shaun went to the front of the pack and kept his pace.
The entire group had to speed up to stay with him, and I had to respond. This was the defining moment of the race for me. I went with the pack, because I knew I had to. One could easily have declined, but to run solo, in no man’s land, would be destructive. Knowing you have to increase the pace to stay with the pack was imperative. Regardless of the expected pain.
Two and a half laps to go… 1000 m.
Up the home stretch, Shaun was in the lead. I had figured out before the race what the time needed to be with two laps to go, but now, was afraid to look. I knew it was under my predetermined pace. I kept my eyes focused ahead, on Todd in front of me, as the clock shot by sitting on the ground on the inside of the track.
With one lap to go, Shaun again hit the accelerator and picked up the pace. I glanced down at the clock this time, taking a quick peek to see it click “12:20, 12:21.” I needed to run 68 seconds for the last lap. Shaun, Todd and Jon pulled away, but at this point, I knew I needed to hold form.
My next mark was 200 m to go. I knew if I hit this point of the race before Bob Kennedy finished, I could get the time. Bob was trying to break 13:00, and be the first non-African to do so. If I could see him in the last straight, I still had a chance. I went by the clock, and it read 12:53-12:54 – I looked up, and Bob had not finished yet (he ran 12:58). But then, my brain thought, OK I just ran 33 seconds for 200 meters. But what if it was 34 seconds? Add another 34 seconds to 12:54, and that will make it close to 13:29! I immediately pushed hard, and roared around the turn. The last 80 meters, I extended myself. I was spent, and the finish line approached. Tunnel vision and a feeling of urgency to get to the line.
I leaned at the tape, and crossed the line. I walked away, and had a difficult time of sitting down to take my spikes off. My feet were burning. My head was swimming.
Kim McDonald, my agent, walked by at a quick pace. I think he had 2-3 of the top four runners, and the winner had run 12:54 or so. He wanted to find those runners and congratulate them. He looked at me, and said, “You got it – I have 13:24.” That was all he said. He went to find other athletes he managed. That was enough.
I moved to a bench against the wall, very dizzy. I tried to put my sweat pants on, but was unsuccessful. 13:24 – I was going to Atlanta to race in my third Olympic Games.
I finally managed to stand up, and walk over to the starting line. The next race was not starting yet. I touched the white line with my toe, and thought, thank you. I also thought, someday I will come back to Stockholm, and touch this line again, and remember what occurred this day.
Final Time 3:24.23 4:14-4:18 (8:32) 4:22 (12:51) 30 / 63 last lap age 36
After the Race I saw Kim when I had regained my thought process, and asked him if I could use his cell phone. The rate would be crazy, but I had to call Cindy. He handed me the cell, and told me what numbers to dial. “Cindy – I did it. 13:24. Call Mike. Bob ran 12:58. Yes, I am going to Atlanta.” “I am so proud of you,” I heard from her, and then pressed the End key. I handed the phone to Bob. Think I remember the bill from Kim being in the $25 range.
I got on the bus to go back to the hotel. I walked all the way to the back of the bus, and sat in the second to last seat on the right side of the bus, against the window. It was about 20 minutes after my race had been completed. I looked out the window, trying to hide my face. It was so hard to hold back the tears. I can’t remember if I cried or not, but I think I did.
I got off the bus, and left my bag in my room and went for a warm down. It says in my log book for my warm down, 12 minutes and 28 seconds. I remember having to stop, and go to one knee like I did in 1986 after running sub-3:50 for the mile for the first time. I was crying, my chest was heaving. It was such an awesome feeling to have been carried by God. I was thinking that He carried me the last mile, but today, I know it was the entire race. I stood back up, and finished my warm down. I don’t think I slept one minute that night.
The bus left at 6:15 am for the airport for a 7:55 am flight. The flight was delayed until 11:00 am, and arrived back in London at 2:30 pm. Went for a 40:00 run with Bob in the afternoon.