By T.J. Brinkerhoff
Two BYU track and field athletes have qualified for medal events at the Olympic games.
Graduate student Jason Pyrah qualified to run in the finals of the 1500m Wednesday, Sept. 27, with a time of 3:40.04. Although the time was two seconds off of his preliminary qualifying time, it was enough to propel him into the medal race.
Nine of the other qualifiers recorded times faster than Pyrah, but nearly all of the competitors’ times were slower due to the strategic setup usually taken in later rounds of distance events.
“Because of the strategy of the heat he was in, Jason didn’t even have a top-five qualifying time, but he finished third in his heat,” said BYU cross-country coach Ed Eyestone.
“Historically, Olympic finals are more strategic and therefore the pace is slower. It really becomes a different race.”
The tactic in distance races is to keep the pace slower so that the runners can conserve energy and keep their opponents in view. Then in the final lap the race turns into a sprint situation when the runners start their ‘kick,’ and whoever can tap into their conditioning with a late burst of speed will end up on the gold medal platform.
Also qualifying for the finals were two Kenyan runners and two Moroccan runners, two countries who have become known for their strong presence in distance running events.
Included in that list of runners is world record holder for the 1500m, Hicham El Guerrouj. He is considered the favorite to win the race.
According to Eyestone he believes that because El Guerrouj is in the race with one of his Moroccan teammates that this will be a fast final.
“El Guerrouj’s teammate may play the role of a ‘rabbit’ in the race setting a fast pace that would favor them. But if the race does get tactical then anything could happen,” Eyestone said.
Eyestone is sure that Pyrah would be happy with any color medal, but in order for that to happen the race will need to be a more strategic affair, he said.
“The stars would have to line up just right for Jason to win this race,” said Eyestone. “He’ll definitely give it a great shot.”
The finals will be held on Friday night, Sept. 29.
In her first trip to the Olympic games, Amy Christiansen Palmer, former shot put and hammer thrower at BYU, has qualified for the medal round in the hammer throw to be held on Friday evening.
Her throw of 62.78m put her in the finals with a good shot to win a medal.
The field that she will face will be missing world record holder, Mihaela Melinte of Romania, who was removed from the competition at the last minute due to a failed drug test. Palmer had previously failed to qualify for the finals, but this incident is allowing her to aim for a medal.
This will make the competition wide open for anyone to take.
Palmer made some huge strides in order to make it to Sydney to compete.
She had only finished 11th in the USA Outdoors in 1999 with her throw of 59.16m. But in the 2000 Olympic trials, her throw of 66.9m landed her a spot on the Olympic team.
She has the opportunity to medal in the event if she is able to produce the types of throws that she has shown she is capable of.
Her personal best of 68.92m would be a throw that would almost certainly put into medal contention.