“Can’t get it twice,” said Oliver, 30. “Once you’re an Olympian, you’re always one. Doesn’t matter if you go once, twice, 15 times.”
There’s also that tricky matter of actually making the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Not long ago, Oliver, a Howard University product who trains in Florida, appeared to be a shoo-in. He won 18 consecutive races in 2010 and set an American record. It didn't matter on which continent he raced; he was unbeatable.
This year, though, Oliver has yet to post a significant victory and enters Friday’s qualifying round of the 110-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials needing to grind out some good times to punch his ticket to London. The finals in the event are scheduled for Saturday night.
There was a time when these Olympic trials felt like a formality for Oliver. Since taking bronze in Beijing, he clearly had been the best hurdler in the United States. A three-time national champion, he had the best times of any American for four straight years. In 2010 and ’11, he posted the fastest marks in the world. He ran a personal best of 12.89 seconds — the third-best time in the event’s history — in 2010.
Oliver offers few explanations and certainly no excuses, but the past year hasn’t produced strong results.
“The hurdles is a rhythm race,” he said. “I haven’t been able to establish a great rhythm.”
Oliver lost his four biggest races of the current season. His best time of the year was the 13.13 seconds he posted last month in Shanghai. It was the fifth-best time any hurdler had posted this year, but he still lost by 0.16 of a second to China’s Xiang Liu, the former world record-holder.
Aries Merritt has run the fastest time of any American hurdler this year, posting a mark of 13.03 seconds in April. Merritt topped Oliver last month in Daegu, South Korea, by one-hundredth of a second and is among several Americans to best Oliver this season.
Oliver posted fourth-place finishes in back-to-back weekends earlier this month, first at the Prefontaine Classic and then the Grand Prix in New York, a race marred by three false starts. Oliver crossed the finish line there in 13.37, barely good enough for fourth place, behind fellow Americans Jason Richardson (13.18), Jeff Porter (13.26) and Orlando Ortega (13.35).
“I was not really all the way checked in,” he said. “I was just ready to get it over with and go home. Of course, the only meet of importance is this one.”
Oliver said the year always has pointed to this week in the Eugene and the other meets were “pretty pointless.” He says he feels as healthy and as confident for this week’s trials as he has for any other meet if his career.
A pelvic injury and muscle atrophy in his right leg hampered him in 2011, but he says his slower times have not been related to injury or lack of confidence.