The home stretch: Ducks flock to London

Win the day, or break a world record? Why not do both!

“Try to be best ’cause you’re only a man and a man’s gotta learn to take it. Try to believe though the going gets rough that you gotta hang tough to make it.”

Without an apology to Joe Esposito, I am stealing lyrics from this song, which for purposes of this story best exemplify the 10 Duck alumnus that were invited to the 2012 Olympic Trials, now headed to the 2012 London Olympics starting on July 27. Just in the way they performed as UO student athletes, everything they did in the trials was perfect. It had to be.

History repeats itself. Try and you’ll succeed, never doubt that you’re the one and you can have your dreams! You’re the best! Around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down. You’re the Best! Around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down. You’re the Best! Around!”

The famous (or infamous) song from the Karate Kid soundtrack by Joe Esposito is called “You’re the Best,” which is exactly what these 10 athletes with Duck-roots had to be, and proved that they were, at this year’s trials in Eugene.

The group of 10 was highlighted by Ashton Eaton, Matthew Centrowitz and Andrew Wheating’s stellar performances at Hayward Field, all fan favorites who shall go down in Oregon history regardless of what they do in London. Ashton Eaton set a world record in the decathlon, scoring 9,039 points, to secure his first U.S. Olympic Team bid in late June. He ran over the previous world mark, 9,026 points set in 2001 by the Czech Republic’s Roman Sebrle, by 13 points.

On a day that tortured the athletes with both rain and sun, Eaton was charged with a false start in the first event, the 110 meter hurdles, meaning a second misstep would disqualify him from the event. Instead, he sat in the blocks just a bit on the gun and ran 13.70, the fastest time of the day, even with an intentional late start.

He followed that up by throwing 140-5/42.81m in the discus, and then thrilled the crowd with a big clearance at 17-4.5/5.30m in the pole vault. What Eaton didn’t know (at first) was that he was only a couple of meters short of a personal best in the javelin with a best toss of 193-2/58.87m, meaning he would need to PR in the 1,500 meters for the world mark.

Eaton hit the bell lap just at the pace he needed in the 1,500 meters, but found a little extra in the tank with 300 meters to go, putting on a burst of speed that the crowd responded to with a roar that nearly tore the roof off the historic venue. The Bend, Ore., native hit the homestretch with time to spare and finished in a personal best 4:14.48 to secure the world mark. As a result, Eaton now owns both the decathlon and indoor pentathlon world records.

“Fight ’til the end cause your life will depend on the strength that you have inside you.  Ah you gotta be proud, starin’ out in the cloud, when the odds in the game defy you.”

Matthew Centrowitz and Andrew Wheating became Olympians in the men’s 1,500 meters, while Rachel Yurkovich joined them in the women’s javelin. For Centrowitz and Wheating, making the team was not easy. For Wheating, making the Olympic team was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Anyone who is familiar with Wheating knows that he is synonymous with hamstring injuries, the nagging injuries cutting short his 2011 senior campaign.

So for the 2012 trials, the question remained: Would his ‘strings hold up? You better believe they did.

In fact, Centrowitz and Wheating survived a scramble to the finish and placed second and third, respectively. Leonel Manzano won in  3:35.75, with Centrowitz second in 3:35.84 and Wheating third in 3:36.68. Former Duck Jordan McNamara was seventh in 3:37.79.

This will be the first Olympics for Centrowitz, the 2011 NCAA champion at 1,500 meters, and the second for Wheating. Rachel Yurkovich used a fourth-place finish in the women’s javelin to earn a trip to London.

Those three bring the total to nine Oregon alums who have qualified for London Olympics; joining Americans Ashton Eaton (decathlon), Becky Holliday (pole vault), Cyrus Hostetler (javelin) and Galen Rupp (5,000 and 10,000 meters), along with Canadian Brianne Theisen (heptathlon) and Australia’s Zoe Buckman (1,500 meters).

However, Ducks are unsatisfied with odd numbers. That had to change, and it did.

Keshia Baker was named to the Team USA’s relay pool for the 2012 Olympics on the final day. Adding Baker to the team is kind of a big deal, and as far as Oregon Track and Field goes, Keshia Baker is kind of a big deal too.

Baker, a 2010 Oregon graduate who anchored the women’s 4×400 meter relay team to a dramatic victory over Texas A&M at that year’s NCAA Championships at Hayward Field, finished sixth in the women’s 400 meters June 24 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in a season-best 51.23.

A six-time All-American, Baker was a member of the 2011 American 4×400 meter relay pool that captured gold at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. As a UO senior, in addition to the NCAA 4×400 title, she won the Pac-10 400 meters in a personal-best 50.76, and was the runner-up indoors and fourth outdoors at that distance.

“Try your best to win them all and one day time will tell. When you’re the one that’s standing there, you’ll reach the final bell! You’re the best! Around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down. You’re the Best! Around!”

The 2012 trials also set attendance records as 173,153 fans passed through the Hayward Field gates for the competition on the track, with another estimated 5,000 to 7,000 each night watching in the Fan Festival. That doesn’t include those watching around the country on the national television broadcasts of the event.

Duck fans got to see a 10 former Duck athletes make dreams come true. Aside from making the Olympic team, some of the former Ducks had statements to make. Ashton Eaton broke a decathlon record and Andrew Wheating proved he can overcome a nagging injury and still make a statement. Brianne Theisen will compete in the Olympics with the notion that it’s not where you’re from (Canada), it’s where you’re going (from the University of Oregon to the 2012 Olympics for Team USA), and gets to do so alongside her fiancee (Ashton Eaton).

There are many things uncertain when it comes to the Olympic Games, but two things remain an absolute 100% certainty. First, when the games begin on the 27th fans in London and those watching all over the globe will see green and yellow and an infamous “O” sprinkled throughout the stands to root on the former Ducks. The second is that no matter how the 10 former Ducks perform in London, the world will learn that you can’t be The Best Around without an “O.”

Ashton Eaton breaks the decathlon world record and salutes the crowd with the O.

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