Maggie Vessey has been on a tear lately in Europe, making a strong comeback after missing out on a spot in the Olympic Games.
It didn’t matter that Soquel High alumna Maggie Vessey entered the 2012 Olympic team trials 800-meter run final on Monday as a top prospect for one of three Olympic team spots. She couldn’t find her signature kick and finished a heartbreaking eighth in 2 minutes, 3.44 seconds. Here, she talks about it in a post-race press conference.
Soquel’s Maggie Vessey had too much ground to make up after coming from the back of the pack in her 800 meter final at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials. After starting in Lane 7, she trailed for most of the race. She made a big push with about 300 meters to go, but her signature speed wasn’t enough to put her in contact with the lead pack. She finished 8th in 2:03.44.
Magdelena Lewy-Boulet, the Oakland runner who won last year’s Wharf to Wharf race, advanced out of the semifinals of the women’s 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Monday. The top six in each of two heats advanced. The top three in the final will make the the Olympic team.
Lewy-Boulet previously reached the Olympics in the marathon in 2008 but did not finish the race due to injury.
Soquel’s Maggie Vessey, who is attempting to reach her first Olympics, will race in the 800 final in a few minutes.
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT AT THE US OLYMPIC TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS.
By Jon Gugala
EUGENE, Ore. — Soquel High alumna Maggie Vessey had one job to do at the U.S. Olympic team trials on Friday, and it wasn’t to win.
It was to advance.
Vessey entered the trials as a top seed for an Olympic spot in the 800-meter race, but to earn a berth an athlete must advance through the preliminaries, then today’s semifinals, then place top three in the final on Monday.
In the preliminary rounds, the top three women in each of four heats automatically advance by place; four more advance by the fastest times of all heats combined.
Vessey was in the same heat as rival and top seed Gina Gall of the Oregon Track Club Elite. With a temperature of 59 degrees and steady rain, Vessey stayed close to Gall’s shoulder through 400 meters, coming through in 1 minute, 1 second to Gall’s 1:00.58.
Coming down the backstretch, Vessey responded to the challenges of the other six women in the heat and would swing wide in the last 150 meters, turning on her speed just enough to ensure a runner-up finish in 2:03.31 to Gall’s winning time of 2:02.96. Margaret Infeld of the New York Athletic Club was third in 2:03.53.
“She executed the race plan beautifully,” coach Rose Monday said. “I didn’t want her to be in third, fourth, or fifth and running wide. In all the other heats [because of the rain] people fell. It’s not her favorite running style, but she did it well.
Monday and Vessey knew Gall could challenge, and Monday gave Vessey instructions
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that “if it comes down to a kicking match, don’t worry about it.
“[Vessey] didn’t need to dig deep,” Monday said, “she just needed to qualify.”
All three women advance to today’s semifinal. Vessey enters the round in the second of two heats, with the first heat scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Vessey was unavailable for comment after the race.
Other results of note include Alysia Montano’s heat win in 2:02.63. A Cal alumna, she entered the trials as a heavy favorite and her time was the fifth-fastest of the day. Additionally, Molly Beckwith, representing Saucony, won the third heat in 2:00.61; Alice Schmidt, representing Nike, took the fourth heat in 2:03.53.
The upset of the day was 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships bronze-medalist Erica Moore who, after being caught in a stumble in the final lap of her race, finished fifth and did not advance. She was ranked second in the event in the U.S.
Check out the story that is going to be our centerpiece in Thursday’s Santa Cruz Sentinel sports section. Maggie Vessey begins her push for a spot in the Olympics in the 800 meters on Friday at the US Olympic Track and Field trials in Eugene, Ore. The Finals are Monday, and she would need to not only reach them, but finish in the top three for a trip to London.
By Jon Gugala
Everyone knew Maggie Vessey.
On a track at Monta Vista High in 1997, Vessey, in her freshman year, burst onto the California track scene by taking third in the 400 meters at the Central Coast Section championships.
“She was — not a legend — but everybody knew what a great talent she had,” says Bill Johnson, who watched her at the section meet that year while coaching sprinters at Soquel High. “She had that beautiful running style that she still has. You saw her and said, ‘Oh my god. She’s really something.’
“And then she didn’t run as a sophomore,” Johnson says.
Why would someone so obviously predestined for greatness would let the fields lie fallow for a year?
“I wanted to be a cheerleader,” Vessey responds via text as she prepared for this week’s U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Ore.
Vessey, a favorite to make the Olympic team in the 800, is making a joke; there was no cheerleading diversion. The real reason lies in the fact her freshman year had clinched it: The track was all-consuming for Vessey, and she had outgrown her current program.
Vessey needed a next step.
The Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League’s rumor mill buzzed like a high-tension power line. Where would the Soquel native land?
Wooed by the strong track program — and, at the time, the only all-weather track in the county — the wagging tongues had an answer.
“She was going to be at Soquel,” Johnson remembers.
It was a big thrill — and a big challenge.
But Johnson and Vessey meshed perfectly. From her junior season, she went from touted prep to proven competitor. She completed her high school career at Soquel with consecutive CCS championships in the 400 meters as well as consecutive state final appearances.
Johnson and the Soquel coaching staff saw Vessey’s promise. They also saw that her future would be in a longer distance.
“It was her style,” he says. “She’s such an effortless runner [and] the 800 meters [roughly a half-mile] is such a beautiful race.
“She was perfectly suited to what she’s doing right now.”
Vessey, now 30, is no longer a high schooler of promise but an internationally feared 800-meter specialist.
After a roller coaster of a collegiate career at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, she spent an injury-plagued first three years as a professional athlete. Then, in 2008, there was a glimmer of promise.
Vessey returned to health in an Olympic year — the pinnacle event in the sport. Her goal, she says, was to just qualify for the U.S. Olympic team trials, the meet from which America’s representatives for the Olympics are picked.
Surprising even herself, Vessey did not merely qualify; she advanced through preliminary and semifinal rounds into the final, where she finished fifth — just two spots away from the Games.
It prompted an existential crisis.
You see, Vessey, to that point, had only dreamed so far. In 2000, after her graduation from high school, her mother took her to that year’s Olympic team trials, held in Sacramento. And that became the goal. To compete at the trials — just to get there — would in itself be the fulfillment of a dream.
The results of the 2008 trials, Vessey says, “showed me that I still had something to give to this sport.”
In 2009, Vessey exploded on the national scene. She began with a come-from-behind win at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, stomping some of the best half-milers in the world. Then she ran an incredible 1 minute, 57.84 seconds in Monaco, at that point in the season a world-leading time. She concluded her year with an IAAF World Championship appearance, ranked second in the U.S. in her event and sixth in the world.
Vessey has since retained her spot as one of the nation’s leading 800 runners. She finished runner-up in the national championships the last two years and placed sixth at the 2011 IAAF World Championships.
But 2012 is an Olympic year. And that changes everything.
“It’s not just about, ‘Oh, I just want to fulfill this dream of being at the Olympic trials,’” Vessey says. “I’m a completely different runner. I’ve made it to the finals of a world championship. [Now] it’s about fulfilling the dream of being an Olympian.”
Let’s put four years in perspective: It’s the dynamic change of a college student, the maturation of a military serviceman, the term of a U.S. presidency.
Vessey entered the 2008 trials as a tourist. She returns on Friday as an athlete prepared to claim what she has spent the last Olympic cycle alluding to. The work has been done.
“Those [workouts] are hard,” Vessey says, thinking back on the last year-and-a-half under Texas-based coach Rose Monday. “Those are workouts where I have tears coming out of my eyes at the end and sweat and snot coming out of my nose.
“It’s ugly. But thankfully when I’m on the track and I’m running, you can feel a different level of strength and so you get a different level of confidence from that.”
Monday watched Vessey race for years before assuming the role of coach in the fall of 2010. She recalls one race in particular where, leading into the last lap, Vessey looked like she had all but given up. Then: “She came on like gangbusters. I thought, ‘Holy crap’ — excuse the expression — ‘this girl can close better than any 800 meter runner in the world.’”
Besides workouts geared toward developing Vessey’s overall endurance, Monday says the biggest tweak has been in her racing style.
“She has never been a natural front-runner,” Monday says, describing Vessey’s style of haunting the back of the pack and then kicking hard in the final 100 meters.
Sometimes it works, Monday says, but it won’t work all the time.
“The goal last year was to have her race and be in the mix so that she still will have her speed at the end of the race, but she’s not going to be coming from so far back,” Monday says.
Four years of maturation culminate in four days and three rounds between Friday and Monday, when Vessey vies for a top-three finish to ensure her Olympic berth. From her fitness to her tactics, she is sharp and peaked.
The 2008 Vessey wasn’t ready to be an Olympian. The 2012 Vessey is.
“Before, when I was training, it was just trying to put myself in the position that I’m in. Every race before was of bigger importance because I was trying to make that breakthrough,” Vessey says. “I have different goals now.”
Maggie Vessey finished fourth and as the No. 2 American in the 800-meter run at the adidas Grand Prix in New York City on Saturday.
The Soquel High alumna and Olympic hopeful finished in 2 minutes, 0.48 seconds, not quite matching her season best of 2:00.19 set in May. Breakout Ethiopian runner Fantu Magiso won the race in 1:57.48, shattering the meet record. The former meet record was 1:59.07, set by Hazel Clark in 2007. Magiso also set the Ethiopian national record with the time.
Meanwhile, the Dream Mile wasn’t quite a nightmare for Aptos High junior Nikki Hiltz, but it definitely didn’t go to plan. She placed last of the 14 girls invited to the event to challenge the national youth record, running 5:00.72.
“The first two laps of race I was in it, I was in third place. Then just hit a wall,” Hiltz said. “I’m happy with my season and I’m also racing next weekend, so I’m just going to try to turn it around and see what happens.”
Harvard-Westlake senior Cami Chapus defended her Dream Mile title by running 4:39.64, the No. 2 time in the nation this year and No. 8 all-time. Angel Piccirillo of Homer-Center, Pa., who holds the top time in the nation this season, finished second in 4:39.94.
Nikki Hiltz dominated the California state track meet last week; today she may do the same against an international field in the Dream Mile at the adidas Grand Prix in New York City.
The Aptos High junior last week won just the fifth state track title in Santa Cruz County history when she cruised through the 1,600 meters in 4 minutes, 41.93 seconds — the third fastest time in the nation this season. That gives her the fastest personal-best of any of the 14 girls on the start list for today’s 11:30 a.m. race. The second-fastest is the 4:42.71 held by Harvard-Westlake senior Cami Chapus, who placed fifth at state.
Hiltz won’t be the only county runner competing at the Grand Prix. Olympic hopeful Maggie Vessey of Soquel is scheduled to run the 800 at 12:23 p.m. Vessey holds the fourth-fastest time this season [2:00.19] and second-best PR time [1:57.84] in the eight-woman field behind Ethiopia’s Fantu Magiso [1:57.56].
The 38th annual Prefontaine Classic will be held June 2-3 in Eugene, Ore. Soquel’s own Maggie Vessey, an Olympic hopeful, is among the entrants to race in the women’s 800 meters on Friday, June 2. Here’s part of an IAAF.org press release on the event:
The women’s 800 metres brings together an elite field led by two world-class Americans who are the fastest since the turn of the century in Alysia Montano and Maggie Vessey.
Both Montano and Vessey were finalists at last year’s World Championships in Daegu. Montano was just out of the medals in fourth and Vessey a stride back in sixth. Montano, a three-time U.S. champion who earned bronze at the 2010 World Indoor Championships, has a best of 1:57.34, making her the fifth-fastest in U.S. history. Vessey, with a best of 1:57.84, is not far behind as the eighth-fastest American.
Several others with Olympic dreams are entered, including one attempting to repeat past success. Last year’s 3rd-ranked American Alice Schmidt is a veteran of the 2008 Olympics as well as three World Championships. Among those in the field are American Erica Moore, bronze medalist at this year’s World Indoor Championships, and Ethiopian Fantu Magiso Manedo, a 19-year-old who finished fourth at this year’s World Indoor Championships. Two other key entrants are Molly Beckwith, winner of the Penn Relays mile last week, and past NCAA champions Phoebe Wright and Geena Gall.