DAY 4 BLOG
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
EUGENE, OREGON - The Curse of Bobby Smith lives.
For the third time in the last four USA Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field - the old Hayward and the glittering new
$275-million Hayward - the men's javelin throw champion is being made to jump through hoops (not an Olympic event) if he actually wants
to compete at the Games.
Let me tell you it all began at the 2008 Trials with Bobby Smith, a student at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. (which, truth in track-writing
be told, happens to be my hometown.) Bobby, also an oft-injured and miraculously-repaired running back on the Monmouth football
team, unleashed a throw of 76.06 meters/ 249 feet, 6 inches, for the best performance of his jav-throwing life.
But it wasn't good enough for the USA team selectors, mired in the requirements of the Olympic standards-makers. So also-rans Mike Hazle and a different Smith, Leigh (no relation), wound up going to Beijing. They'd been clever enough to get their qualifying marks (their cherished Q's)
in earlier, better-weathered, wind-favored meets.
And so Bobby Smith became the first man in U.S, track and field history to win at the Trials and not go to the Games.
The Curse continued in 2012 with Texas A&M's Sam Humphreys, whose 2012 Trials-winning toss again lacked that "Q." Similarly deprived was second-placer Sam Crouser. Craig Kinsley, Sean Furey and Cyrus Hostetler, the 3-4-5 placers, wound up going to London.
Things improved marginally at the 2016 Trials when winner Hostetler actually reached "Q" status at Hayward. But the 2-3 finishers, Curtis Thompson and
Riley Dolezal, again fell short, and Rio Olympic berths went to Sam Crouser (in fourth) and (would you believe this? ) 11th-placer Sean Furey.
But Curtis Thompson, the former New Jersey high school pheenom at Florence High School and then NCAA champion at Mississippi State, wasn't about to
be flummoxed out of another crack at the Trials, and so he was there yet again, Monday afternoon, June 21st, 2021, ready to give it
his best shot all over again.
He delivered a sensational series - by American standards - winging his spear, in order, 80.34/ 265-3, 74.27/ 243-8, 79.36/ 260-4, 80.08/ 262-9, 79.15/ 259-8, and on his very last attempt, the best yet, a clutch, big-time 82.78 / 271-7 chuck.
But guess what? The 82.78 still wasn't Q-worthy.
Second and third-placers Michael Shuey (79.24/ 260-0) and Riley Dolezal (77.07 / 252-10) weren't masters of their Olympic fate, either.
The Olympic Games javelin standard is a mighty performance of 85 meters, or 278-10. Trouble is that mighty few men on earth are up to that standard. The 2021 world list is topped by Germany's Johannes Vetter at 96.29 meters, which translates to 315 feet, 10 inches, which translates to one complete American football field and just 50 inches shy of two end zones.
Even without the automatic Q, there's a good chance Thompson will get to throw in Tokyo. He ranks 18th in the world for 2021 and that, as the decision-makers of World Athletics, the global governing body of the sport, get to work, should get him the Olympic opportunity denied him so frustratingly four years ago. Shuey (36th on the world list) and Dolezal (43rd) are much longer shots for Tokyo..
To backtrack, however, why put these valiant spearmen through such aggravation in the first place?
A lot of fingers can be pointed at the Hayward architects/engineers/designers.
The "new Hayward" javelin runway heads south to north, just as it was at "old Hayward."
"The dynamics of it all don't seem to add up," said veteran Hayward track enthusiast Frank Ratti, a man who has seen it all, as an athlete
(who once hoped to get into the U.S. Olympic marathon trial), official, fan, volunteer, expert analyst and amateur anenometrist.
"The best throwers need a tailwind to get their best throws.
"Today, they were throwing into the wind, which probably cost them a lot of meters.
"It's been like that at Hayward - forever. "
Had Thompson, et al, been throwing north to south, the numbers on the results sheets would have been very very much larger..
But such is life with these wielders of the ancient weapon.
They take the conditions they're given. They don't bitch and moan.
Bobby Smith certainly didn't in 2008. He got on with his life, and now directs a busy, growing, successful physical therapy practice in
Ocean Township, N.J.
He surely wishes fellow New Jerseyan Curtis Thompson the very best if and when the list-makers add him to the roster of the
Tokyo javelin field.
It's a clear case of "c'est la vie" all over again.