Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Collegiate Stars Reid & Hasay Fighting for Olympic Spots
College stars fight for Olympic dreams
NCAA rivals have multiple national titles, but face challenges
By Sara Germano, MarketWatch
Wall Street Journal
June 19, 2012
But Olympic trials are more than just a contest to decide who makes the team. Perhaps the most competitive event outside of the Games themselves, the trials are a showcase of the best athletes in each country. They’re also a chance to make a mark as a professional, to step up to the international stage and be established as one of the best in the world, potentially securing a lucrative future of endorsement deals and appearance fees.
It’s a period that can make or break careers, and for college athletes hoping to make it in the pros, such as Jordan Hasay of the University of Oregon and Sheila Reid of Villanova University, there couldn’t be a more pressure-filled time. Adding to the pressure is the fact that college and professional running are vastly different, and navigating those differences can be a major challenge.
Student athletes in the NCAA system race nearly every week from cross-country in the fall to the outdoor track season that ends in mid-June. They compete for personal glory but also to earn team points. Like all college athletes, they balance travel and races with school and socializing, and often have the broad support and resources of their university.
Pros on the other hand run largely on their own, or with a few key training partners. Finding sponsorships, physical therapy, coaching, and organizing travel falls entirely on their shoulders, or if they’re lucky, to their agents.
Even successful professionals can find it hard to earn a living from their sport: More than 80% of top U.S. professional track athletes make less than $50,000 a year, so many take part-time jobs. That’s what makes the coming weeks so important -- the ability to earn prize money is based in part on the potential to hit fast times and qualify for prestigious championships, like the Olympics.
Making the Cut
As with other sports, success at college doesn’t guarantee the same as a professional athlete. Reaching the Olympic qualifying times is a stretch even for NCAA stars Reid and Hasay.
Between them, the women have won seven individual NCAA titles, and over the past three years developed an on-track rivalry. But for all their success, and as they stand on the cusp of becoming world-class competitors, both have struggled this spring and their Olympic hopes are in the balance.
Hasay competed in the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials as a high schooler, advancing to the final in the 1,500 meters and setting a national high-school record in the process. Ever since, track insiders have been gleefully measuring her progress.
But this year, there’s been more pressure than ever, a fact that may have contributed to her lackluster showing at an April race, and Hasay’s claim that she wasn’t focused entirely on times but also on helping her college compete for the national team title. Oregon finished a close second to Louisiana State University in this year’s NCAA championships.
In April, Hasay did try specifically for the Games, running a paced 5,000 meter race in California, but she failed to make the qualifying-time standard. All her hopes now rest on next week’s U.S. Olympic Trials at her home track in Eugene, where the top three athletes in each event make the team for the Olympics.
But whatever happens next week, the Oregon junior remains bullish about her Olympic dreams.
“People put it like I’m only in it to make the Olympic team this year. I’ll be happy to make it in 2016, and that’s what I’m aiming for,” Hasay told MarketWatch.
Sheila Reid’s coach at Villanova, former Olympian Gina Procaccio, said the pressure of running for time isn’t something college competitors are used to.
“[Reid] never worried about times, just racing and trying to win,” said Procaccio.
Five-time NCAA champion Reid, who finished her studies at Villanova this spring and last week signed with agent Ray Flynn, will be in Calgary next week for the Canadian Olympic Trials.
Despite a slight injury — she tore her plantar fascia in the fall — Reid said she fell under the pressure of too many goals this season, of earning another NCAA championship, hitting top times in the 1,500 and the 5,000 and winning a Penn Relays title, only the last of which was achieved.
“I know I’m fit right now to run those fast times, it’s just about getting to a point where they come naturally,” she said. “I need to get more experience racing like that.”
To be sure, Hasay and Reid won’t be the only NCAA standouts competing for tickets to London this week. Among them, Chris Derrick, a recent Stanford University alum, is considered a favorite in the 10,000 meters, and Columbia University’s Kyle Merber set the American collegiate record in the 1,500 last month. Both are adept at running for time, but unlike Hasay and Reid, never won any NCAA titles.
Lewis Johnson, a track and field commentator for NBC, says the trials experience can benefit hopefuls even if they don’t win a berth to London.
While veteran athletes may simply use the trials as a stopover on their path to an Olympic medal, young runners “need to feel that pressure, even the disappointment, as it will fuel their careers for the next four years,” he said.
Reid, who hopes to sign a shoe contract soon, isn’t planning to rest after next week’s trials no matter what happens.
“I climbed my way to the top of the NCAA system,” she said. “I know I can do that on the world stage, too.”