Earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic track and field team is an incredible accomplishment.
That fact was brought home Thursday night as I watched the finals of the men’s 5,000-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Wash. The race included a strong effort by former Greely High and Dartmouth College star Ben True of North Yarmouth.
True ran well, but finished sixth and failed to qualify for the 2012 London Games as the leaders pulled away during the last 200 meters.
The Trials included appearances by two other Mainers, Riley Masters of Bangor and Becky O’Brien of Cumberland. It was the first such experience on such a big stage for both athletes.
Masters, who began his career at the University of Maine before transferring last January to the University of Oklahoma, had a disappointing effort in the prelims of the 1,500 meters. That race was not shown during NBCSports Network’s prime-time TV coverage.
As he prepared for the Trials, Masters was well aware of the magnitude of the challenge he would face against some world-class competition.
Even though he had high aspirations and lofty expectations about making a run at an Olympic Team berth, the race instead served as a reminder that he’s not quite at elite status.
Two weeks ago, Masters explained his approach to the Trials.
“I’m going to give it my best shot, but really my main goal is to learn from this and take a lot away from it so in the future I have an opportunity to qualify maybe later down the road either for the Olympics or the World Championships,” Masters said.
Masters went into the Trials with a seed time of 3:37.19, one that appeared to give him an outside shot at finishing in the top three and meeting the Olympic “A” qualifying standard of 3:35.30.
However, Masters also was witness to another key dynamic of elite competition. That is, it takes not only speed but an understanding of overall race strategy and the tendencies of his competitors.
In essence, the advantage most of the top 1,500 runners in the field had over Masters was experience. They had been through more races against top performers, which enabled them to attack the race more effectively.
At age 22, Masters was among the younger entries in the 30-man field for the 1,500 at the Trials. Prelims winners Jordan McNamara is 25 and four of the next six fastest men are 27.
All this seems to mean Masters has plenty of room to improve during the next four years, including his last collegiate seasons at Oklahoma. By the time he’s 26 and the 2016 Olympic Trials roll around, he should be in a much better position to contend for a spot on the U.S. team.
Perhaps Milford native Dereck Treadwell, a former University of Maine standout who competed in the 1,500 at the 1996 Olympic Trials, could provide some wisdom for Masters. Treadwell advanced to the finals that year and finished 11th.
If Masters can remain healthy and continue to refine his running as he matures physically and mentally, Maine may well have someone to cheer for when the 2016 Summer Games are held in Rio de Janeiro.