U.S. Olympic track and field trials: Triple jumper Amanda Smock leaps her way to London

June 25, 2012

Amanda Smock left Hayward Field Monday night wearing a smile on her face and a medal around her neck. The newest member of Team USA, the 29-year-old triple jumper carried victory flowers and had an American flag poking out of her backpack. Inside was something even more important.

Four years ago at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, Smock failed to qualify for the Beijing Games. Her father, Glen Thieschafer, accompanied Smock on that trip and when they returned home to Minnesota, he took the credential from around his neck, scratched out “2008” and scribbled “2012.”

“I was like: ‘2012? That’s so far from now,’ ” Smock said.

A lot changed in those four years. Thieschafer was gone less than 12 months later, as the cancer in his esophagus quickly spread. He was 52 years old.

Smock was 26 at the time and faced an uncertain athletic future. Thieschafer had coached his daughter in gymnastics when she was younger and encouraged Smock since she began focusing on the triple jump as a teenager. Even after his death in June 2009, he served as daily motivation.

That credential hanged in Smock’s closet, silently urging her to continue, to keep her goal in sight. Smock carried it in her backpack Monday night at the Olympic trials and says she felt her father’s presence as she jump, jump and leaped her way further than any other American.

Smock, a native of Melrose, Minn., qualified for the Olympics, jumping a total of 45 feet 9 inches. She’ll be the only women’s triple-jumper representing the United States in London this summer.

“It’s so hard to wrap my mind around right now,” she said Monday night. “I can’t even pick a word. ‘Excitement’ is not the right thing. It doesn’t grasp what I’m feeling.”

Smock finished fifth at the 2008 Olympic trials but had posted the country’s best jump this year and came to Eugene as a favorite in the event. Four of her father’s sisters drove 27 hours from Minnesota and surprised Smock in Eugene on Monday.

Every day for nearly four years, Smock saw that old credential. It features a foggy white photo of Thieschafer “that makes him look like an angel,” she said. Smock knew it’d make the journey to Eugene and, she’d hoped, to London, too.

“This is all because of him. Literally,” she said. “He’s instilled these thoughts in me that I can do it from the time I was 3 years old. It’s so cool to know that he’s behind this all.”

As Smock and her fellow triple jumpers competed in the middle of the field, the track was again a flurry of excitement Monday night, as Team USA continued to add new members.

Nick Symmonds is headed to his second Olympics, after winning the men’s 800-meter race with a time of 1 minute 43.92 seconds, ahead of Khadevis Robinson (1:44.64) and Duane Solomon Jr. (1:44.65). Robinson, 35, was at his fourth trials, and makes his second Olympic team. He also competed in Athens in 2004.

In the women’s 800, Alysia Montano is set to make her Olympic debut in London. She won the final in 1:59.08. Montano is the defending national champion and was the bronze medalist at the 2010 world championships. Geena Gall finished second (1:59.24) and Alice Schmidt third (1:59.46).

While Olympic dreams were realized at a frantic pace Monday evening, for many, they were dashed with little ceremony.

In the men’s 5,000-meter qualifying race, Alan Webb, who holds the U.S. record in the mile, failed to advance to the finals. Competing primarily in the 1,500 this year, Webb successfully petitioned his way into the 5,000. He finished with a time of 14:01.25, last among the finishers in his heat and well behind the race winner Andrew Bumbalough, who advanced with a time of 13:46.8.

“I’m not ready to give up,” Webb, 29, said following the race.

But Webb said he won’t compete in the 1,500 at these trials. A member of the 2004 Olympic team in Athens, this marks the second straight Summer Games for which Webb has failed to qualify.

Four years ago, high jumper Jamie Nieto finished second at the trials but couldn’t compete in Beijing because he fell short of the qualifying standard. That won’t be a problem this time. After posting a mark of 7-53 / 4, the 2004 Olympian is set to compete in his second Summer Games.

Jesse Williams , the reigning world champion high jumper, survived a nail-biter in a cold, wet conditions. He finished fourth but as one of only three jumpers with the required A-standard, Williams, too, is headed to London.

“What I did today is not a reflection of me,” Williams said. “I need to start jumping in the rain more often and get used to these conditions. The whole goal is to make London. Now I’m there. I want to get on top of the podium.”

Sam Humphreys, a junior at Texas A&M, punched his ticket to London by winning the men’s javelin with a first-place throw of 268-7. Samuel Crouser was second at 265-1, and Craig Kinsley was third with a mark of 262-2.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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