Photos courtesy Victah Sailer / Photorun.net
DES MOINES, IOWA – Erin Donohue was exuberant. She’d just finished second in the women’s 1,500-meter final at the U.S. Outdoor Championships and was calling it “the greatest race of my life, since high school anyway.”
That was taking in a whole lot of territory.
The former Haddonfield Memorial (N.J.) and University of North Carolina runner, 27, has been a winner on every level, high school to collegiate to open/professional racing, over the past decade.
She’d collected an array of medals at the Penn Relays, National Scholastic, ACC and NCAA Championships, and ran second in the 1,500 at the 2008 Olympic Trials, her ticket to the Beijing Games, where she did not make the final, but still insisted this one was her best in years and years.
Twenty meters from the finish line Saturday, Donohue had the look of a winner. She was powering down the Drake Stadium homestretch, looking strong and smooth, and seemed to have left the field down the track. But Anna Pierce, the Brown graduate who’d run the steeplechase at Beijing, had other ideas.
Meter by meter, the gap closed and finally Pierce surged ahead
And that’s where the drama ended. Pierce got to the wire in 4:13.65 for the win, Donohue took the silver in 4:13.87. In the heat and humidity, these times were irrelevant; Pierce and Donohue have run eight seconds faster in more conducive conditions.
“Erin was tremendous, for a while I had real doubts about catching her,” said Pierce. “There wasn’t much track left when I started moving on her. All credit to Erin. She ran a nearly perfect race.”
“There was a lot of bumping and contact,” said Donohue. (One runner fell and one nearly tripped.) I was lucky I was already free of that. ‘Gags’ (her coach, Frank Gagliano) told me to make my move with 180 left, but I was feeling so good I went out a lot earlier. As it turned out, I was glad I did. I was out front and saw the finish line closing in on me. It was a coulda-woulda thing. I thought it was going to be my day.
“And it was, but it was Anna’s day, too.”
Nicole Leach planned to make Sunday her day. Like Donohue, she'd run many great races at the Armory.
Like Donohue, too, she barely missed the gold standard. Just 1.02 seconds separated Leach from her first-ever U.S. Narional Championships gold medal .
The West Catholic High School (Philadelphia) graduate had won two NCAA titles in the 400-meter hurdles in a brilliant career at UCLA, and ran for the USA at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, but was never as close to a U.S. title as she was at Drake University Stadium Sunday.
It was the University of Miami's Ti'erra Brown and Philadelphia's Leach locked in a tight duel over the first seven hurdles, but Brown was stronger over the final three and crossed the finish line in 54.85, to Leach's 55.83, as six others trailed.
Stride pattern problems did her in - both days.
Through seven hurdles Saturday, Leach seemed in complete control of her semifinal. But then she came unglued and let Fawn Dorr (56.39) and Seton Hall's Jernail Hayes (56.53) get by. She settled for a 56.56 third place as Miami’s Brown (55.45) led all qualifiers.
In Sunday's final, Penn State's Dorr ran third (55.99) and Hayes seventh (57.56.),
While listed as unattached, Hayes wore her Hall vest.
Even though Seton Hall has officially dropped track and field, there are rays of hope that it may not be all over, either. Since SHU will retain cross country, there's a glimmer that the school can still be represented in a limited number of meets - much as Oregon State (which also dropped track) has done.
Usually, Leach takes 15 strides between the first three hurdles, then runs 16s, alternating lead legs, over the final three. But it's not always that easy.
"When I get everything right, " she said. "I know I can be right in there with anyone.”
Ryann Krais, the UCLA sophomore out of Methacton Area (Pa.) High School, advanced from 12th place after the first four events of the women’s heptathlon Friday to seventh place in the final standings with solid performances in Saturday’s three concluding events.
Krais long-jumped 20 feet, 1 ¾ inches, threw the javelin 122-9, and wrapped it all up with a resounding 2:13.07 over-all victory in the 800 meters.
That gave her a total score of 5,693, a big improvement on the 5,426 she netted at the Pacific 10 Championships last month, and just one collegian, sixth-placer Aisha Adams of Adams State, was ahead of her.
But she wasn’t close to winner Hyleas Fountain, who totaled 6,735 points, either. “There were some good young people, with lots of potential in this competition,” said Fountain, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist.
Krais obviously belongs in that category.