Culley Captures U.S. Women's 5000m Trials Crown
Huddle, Conley also London bound; blanket finish for third Olympic Team spot
Posted Friday, 29 June, 2012
EUGENE, Ore. - (June 28, 2012) - Julie Culley spent most of the 5000 meter finals out of the limelight on Thursday night, choosing to let others establish the pace upfront and conserving energy for the final surge.
Her strategy could not have worked any better.
Off the final turn and down the stretch with 100 meters remaining, Culley finally accelerated past Molly Huddle into the lead and onto the Olympic Team headed to London next month.
"I think that was kinda a scary moment," Culley recalled of the last 100." I kept looking at Molly wondering what should we do, should we go."
She did go, hitting the finish in 15:13.77, with Huddle right behind in 15:14.40.
"I tried to use my kick which is my strong point and I am fortunate enough to make the team," said Huddle, the U.S. record holder in the event in 14:44.76 who ran for Notre Dame and now trains in Providence, RI, under coach Ray Treacy.
Behind them was an intense drama for the third and final coveted spot on the Olympic Team which brought the appreciative Hayward Field crowd roaring to its feet.
From the start, it was Kim Conley (left, PhotoRun) who jutted to the head of the pack, pacing the 16-person race with a relaxed 3:07.4 first kilometer.
Alisha Williams then took the frontrunner duties but Conley regained her lead as the tightly-packed field made it through the first mile in 4:41 and the 2K in 6:13.4.
Midway through the race, Culley slowly moved up to third, passing Williams and tucking in behind Conley and Huddle.
With three kilometers traveled in 9:22.9, Deborah Maier stepped up to share the front with Huddle.
With the slower pace, all 16 competitors were in contention with a mile to go.
Just a lap later, Oregon Track Club Elite member Julia Lucas lit up the distance-savvy Hayward Field crowd by surging past Huddle and gapping the pack. On the backstretch, Lucas continued to put track between herself and the field, some 10 meters and growing over Huddle and Culley. Some 400 meters later, the margin was more than 20 meters.
It appeared Lucas was on her way to victory and a plane ticket to London but Huddle and Culley had other ideas. With 300 meters left, Huddle and Culley were quickly gaining on Lucas, passing her into the corner with 200 meters remaining and now gapping Lucas.
Two separate races broke out - one for the victory between Huddle and Culley and one for that last spot in the Olympic Team.
Culley, with a fast-closing 65.65-second last 400 meters, finally moved ahead of Huddle off the corner into the last 100 meters and put some space on Huddle. Meanwhile, Lucas was spent, her legs wobbling with 50 meters to go and the third and final place on the Olympic Team in jeopardy.
Behind her were Conley and Abbey D'Agostino, kicking hard and reeling her in.
First Culley was home, then Huddle just 63 hundreds of a second later. And just before the finish, it was Lucas, Conley and D'Agostino nearly as one.
At the wire, Conley, like a sprinter, threw herself across the line ahead of Lucas, then D'Agostino. While Conley burst into smiles, Lucas fell to her knees in disbelief. The margin between the third and final London reservation and fifth place was 19 hundreds of a second - Conley in 15:19.79, Lucas in 15:19.83 and D'Agostino in 15:19.98.
Conley closed with a 68.78 final lap.
"This is beyond a dream come true," Conley said. "Four years ago, I was watching the Olympic Trials on TV thinking 'Wow, it would be cool to run here,' and four years later I'm an Olympian. I still can't believe it."
The 30-year-old Culley gave high praise for her coach Frank Gagliano, who coached Olympians such as Steve Holman and Rich Kenah at Georgetown University for decades before leaving the collegiate scene to fill a void of post-collegiate programs.
"It feels awesome to do this for him," said Culley, who lined up Thursday with the fourth-fastest qualifying time. "He has been a coach for 50 years."
Culley's road to these Trials has not been smooth or easy. She competed for Rutgers University, where she was often injured but still set school records in the 3000 and 5000 meters and made All-American in cross country.
However, after graduation, she turned her focus to coaching, landing a job at Loyola College in Baltimore, before deciding to focus on running professionally in the spring of 2007.
At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials here, Culley finished seventh in the 5000 meters in 15:34.43, then was the first U.S. finisher at the 2009 World Cross Country Championships, finishing 21st with a time of 28:08. She would go on to represent Team USA at the 2009 World Championships, placing seventh in the first heat of the 5000 meter in 15:32.33 but did not advance.
After training under Olympian runner and current American University coach Matt Centrowitz in the Washington, DC, area, Culley returned to her native New Jersey in 2010 to train with Gagliano.
"In 2008 it was just my goal to get there," Culley explained, noting the ups-and-downs of the past four years. "When I got here it was my goal to just to get into the finals. The hardest challenge before the race is your head and not talking yourself out of it."
Conley also credited sports psychology techniques she uses for getting her through the race.
"The biggest technique I used was 'thought stopping,' which is blocking out negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones, and it definitely worked today," she said.
U.S. Olympic Trials - Track & Field
2012 London Olympic Games qualifier
Eugene, OR, Thursday, June 28, 2012
1) Julie Culley (NJ), 15:13.77
2) Molly Huddle (RI), 15:14.40
3) Kim Conley (CA), 15:19.79
4) Julia Lucas (OR), 15:19.83
5) Abbey D'Agostino (NH), 15:19.98
6) Lisa Uhl (OR), 15:24.17
7) Elizabeth Maloy (DC), 15:24.85
8) Emily Infeld (DC), 15:28.60
9) Alisha Williams (CO), 15:32.98
10) Tara Erdmann (CA), 15: 33.96
Deeper results and more Olympic Trials information at: www.usatf.org/events/2012/OlympicTrials-TF