Although many people dream of going to the Olympics, it is only a reality for a few, who may appear to be distant, rare specimens. But several Cougars are competing in the Olympic trials this summer, hoping to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic track team. Ryan Waite and Miles Batty are two of these athletes.
Taking on a different training schedule than previous years, both Waite from Oregon in the 800 meters and Batty from Sandy in the 1,500 meters are physically and mentally preparing themselves for one of the biggest races of their career.
“For probably every runner, whether you’re at the top level or the middle level, you hope you’re going to be able to be ready in those Olympic years to at least compete in the Olympic trials,” Waite said. “I have been lucky enough to rise up to a more elite level, to be able to be in contention to compete at the Olympic trials.”
There are many logistics that go into hosting the fastest, most talented individuals in the country in one meet. The first factor, and one of the most important, is how to get invited.
There are two ways to be invited to compete in the Olympic track and field trials: through the A standard or the B standard. The A standard is an automatic qualification by hitting a specific time, height or distance set by USA Track and Field. The B Standard is a provisional qualification, meaning there are a set number of athletes capped for each event and if the spots are not filled by automatic qualifications, the next fastest times are invited to compete.
In the case of both the 800 meters and the 1,500 meters, the cap is 30 people. After the trials, the top three individuals are invited to the Olympic team.
There will be around 1,000 men and women athletes competing at the Hayward Field in Oregon for an audience of 20,000 people. To host that many elite athletes, the amount of support and volunteer work is essential.
“We are planning for 2,000 volunteers to be working throughout the whole event,” said Nathan Woods from TrackTown USA. “There will be another few hundred workers that will be officials, vendors and staff.”
Qualifying is only the first part of attending the Olympic trials; competing is quite another proposition.
“It’s one thing to qualify and another to contend,” Batty said.
Although Batty passed the qualification mark by three seconds last year when he ran a mile in 3 minutes, 36.00 seconds, it was before the qualification window beginning May 1, 2011. However, his 1,500 meter split in the mile this year was fast enough to automatically qualify him for the Olympic trials.
Waite, on the other hand, is still in the process of trying to qualify through the A standard. After an eight-month recovery from knee surgery, he began his training last June to prepare for this year.
Waite hasn’t hit the qualifying mark of 1 minute, 46.50 seconds, but he said he is happy where he is, considering all that he has endured. Waite owes much of his running success to his supportive family, especially his wife.
“I had knee surgery and missed the whole season and I didn’t know if I was going to run again,” Waite said. “She [his wife] was really supportive, just encouraging me and telling me, ‘you’ve just got to go for it because if you don’t you will regret it the rest of your life.’”
Despite his injuries, Waite trained diligently and patiently throughout the season to achieve his two goals: place at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and attend the Olympic trials.
“That [these goals] just really helped me in every workout when I was hurting and every run that I didn’t want to go on,” Waite said. “That was in the back of my mind, knowing that I had less than a year until the Olympic trials, and I need to get back into shape.”
June is the month to work toward. The NCAA Outdoor Championships, the biggest collegiate meet of the year, is only two weeks before the eight-day Olympic trials in Oregon beginning June 22.
“Right now I am trying to remember and stay focused that June is what matters,” Batty said. “It is really easy to get almost too fit too soon, to where you’re running really fast times in April and May and you’re really burnt and tired by June. It almost sounds counterintuitive but I’m letting myself get out of shape a little so I can give myself something to work for.”
He may not be a leading name going into the trials but Batty considers himself in the top five to seven guys competing in the 1,500 meters. Although the pressure may seem daunting to many, Batty strives to live in the present and focus on things in his control.
“Pressure comes from expectations, people thinking you have to do something,” Batty said. “I don’t have to do anything; I am just trying to do what I want to do.”
Batty considers his placement going into the trials ideal as a name in the crowd yet not the leading contender.
“You want to get to the point where if you fail you aren’t letting anyone down but yourself,” he said. “That is the ideal situation; you want to do it because you personally want to accomplish it. You really don’t owe any accomplishments to anyone except for yourself.”
Much of the support and mental drive for Waite and Batty come from fellow teammates and their coach, Ed Eyestone. Waite considers his teammates his best friends.
“We call ourselves 880,” Waite said of the 800 runners [the 800 used to be the 880 when the distance was measured in yards instead of meters]. “We think we are like a boy band or something. They are definitely my best friends, I have a lot of fun with those guys … I really couldn’t imagine being able to be where I am running without them.”
Batty also finds strength in his team and family.
“I think sometimes those people believe in me more than I really believe in myself,” Batty said. “Back in high school I remember my dad saying ‘you can do this,’ [speaking of] winning a state championship, and I really didn’t think I could, and I did. It really helped knowing that someone else believes in you.”
However, it is not only outside support that makes an Olympian, it is also the confidence and personal drive.
“Really what it comes down to, people can say what they think you can do, but really it comes to what you feel you can do,” Batty said.
Both give the impression they consider themselves underdogs being collegiates in the Olympic trials, however, that doesn’t stop them from contending for an Olympic spot.
“I love being in races where I am not expected to beat someone,” Batty said, “but I really want to because it really allows you to show what you can do.”
Going to Oregon, Waite’s home turf, both runners show confidence in their ability to contend for the Olympic team.
“I think if you make the Olympic trials then you can’t put anything past anybody, ” Waite said. “You have a shot at it so you might as well go for it.”