“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.
“As long as I’m healthy, my confidence is always at a 10,” he said. “You don’t run as fast as I have for as many years as I have by accident.”
The 110-meter hurdles are always tough to predict, but this field features athletes, including Richardson and Merritt, who have beaten and lost to each other multiple times.
“If anything was easy, there’d be a line of people wrapped around the corner. Everything is difficult at this level,” he said. “There’s a lot of great competitors.
“The constant in the event is you got 10 hurdles, 42 inches high, 10 yards apart. The only variable is you and your mind-set. So I just try to make sure my mind-set and the way I approach it can get as close to a constant as possible.”
Oliver said he has been running pain-free this year and his workout times have been better in recent weeks than those during the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. Oliver said he has no doubts in his abilities and feels if can find his rhythm in Eugene, he’ll again be matching the marks the world saw in 2010, when at one point Oliver broke 13 seconds four times in a three-month period.
“I’m very mentally strong,” he said. “I don’t ever question my coaching, my ability, my talent level, anything like that. . . . I’ve been doing it for the past four years. I just got to get back to that level this year. What better place to do it then at the finals of the trials?”
Notes: Already qualified for the Olympics in the 10,000 meter, Galen Rupp nipped Bernard Lagat in the 5,000 Thursday night, breaking Steve Prefontaine’s 40-year-old U.S. Olympic trials record with a time of 13 :22.67. It also marked his first win over Lagat in the event. Lagat finished in 13:22.82 and qualified for his fourth Olympics. . . . Running for his native Kenya, Lagat won silver at the 2000 Olympics and bronze in 2004. Running for Team USA in 2008, Lagat failed to medal at the Beijing Games. Lopez Lomong (13:2447) was the third-place finisher in the 5,000 Thursday
Julie Culley, formerly of Arlington, won the women’s 5,000 meter with a time of 15:13.77, followed by Molly Huddle (15:14.40). Julia Lucas missed the Olympic team by just four-hundredths of a second, finishing in fourth place. She was caught at the line by Kim Conley (15:19.79).. . .
“I lost an Olympic place,” said Lucas, who pushed the pace throughout. “Basically that means my season is pretty much a failure. ...It’s not five games. This is the one, and the best athletes show up on the line and deliver. And I didn’t.” Both Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh won their respective preliminary heats in the women’s 200 meter. Neither spoke to reporters afterward about their tie-finish in last weekend’s 100 final. A decision on how to break the tie isn’t expected until after Saturday’s 200 final. Felix won her heat Thursday in 20.82, the sixth-best time of the day, and Tarmoh took hers in 20.9. Tianna Madison had the day’s top 200 time, winning her heat in 22.57. Carmelita Jeter had the second-best time (22.63) and Sanya Richards-Ross had the third (22.67).. . .
Robby Andrews, the 21-year-old former University of Virginia runner, was among the top qualifiers in the 1,500 meter , finishing in 3:41.11, the sixth-best mark of the day. He’ll be joined in Friday’s semifinals by 24 other runners, including Annapolis native Matthew Centrowitz, who clocked 3:42.02. Centrowitz won the national title with Oregon last year on the same Hayward Field track. His sister, Lauren Centrowitz, qualified to race in the women’s 1,500 meters Thursday but was a scratch. . . .
Evan Jager qualified for his first Olympics, winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 8:17.40. Also advancing were Donn Cabral (8:19.81) and Kyle Alcorn (8:22.17). . . .
Pole vaulter Brad Walker is headed to his second Olympics, winning the trials with a mark of 18 feet 71
4 inches. Jeremy Walker was second, clearing 18-41
2. Also advancing was Derek Miles, who also cleared 18-41
2. . . .
Lance Brooks earned his trip to London with his final discus throw. He was leading the competition throughout but lacked the required “A” standard until his his throw of 213-9, topping the standard by six inches. Jarred Rome finished second (207-10) and Jason Young third (203-11). Both already had the A-standard.. . .