I was recently asked to write an article about my experience of serving as the Head Official for the US Olympic Team Trials 50K Racewalk. The more I thought about it the more I became conflicted, proud at having received such an honor but feeling to talk about it would be bragging. Then I thought of the 17 month journey of John Nunn to earn the right to represent his country and be a part of the contingent of United States athletes that will march into the Olympic Stadium in London this next summer. And, my part in helping him achieve his dream. This is the Readers Digest version of the journeys of two men whose paths joined and resulted in one of them going to the 2012 Olympic Games.
August 2010. John, a member of the US Army High Performance Team contacts me about setting up a 20K race for him. He needs a 1:26:00 to remain in the Army program. The event is arranged for the UC San Diego track. Recovering from an injury, John misses the needed time by about 2 minutes. That would seem to be that. I later learn John finished the 20K at the 2011 USATF Outdoor Championships nine seconds under the Army standard.
Fast forward to mid November 2011. John calls again. He needs a 50K qualifying time to get into the USATF Olympic Team Trials in January. Can we set up a race? Thanks to Chris Rael and Rick Campbell the Huntington Beach Central Park course is certified for 50K and the race is arranged for December 10. John finishes 20+ minutes under the qualifying standard, walking most of the final 20K on his own.
US Olympic Team 50K Racewalk Trials, January 22, 2012-Santee CA. For 30K a pack of 5 walks together. At 35K it is down to a pack of 4 and time to go for the gold. John pulls away but Tim Seaman reels him in and takes the lead. With 4 laps top go the lead changes again twice. With under 3K to go John takes the lead for good.
The race is over and my mind travels back over the past 17 months and what it took for John to get from barely hanging on to a place on the elite Army team to earning a trip to the Olympic Games. It felt, to paraphrase the Wide World of Sports slogan, like I had witnessed a journey from the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory. I had been on a journey also, albeit kind of like a NASCAR pit crew member. My Trials position called for supporting the other officials, before during and after the race. I was not one of the race judges, rather I got to watch one of the epic races in US Racewalking history.
What will I remember most about the 50K Trials? Not my position as an official. Rather it will be the memory of the 2 races leading up to the Trials and the Trials race itself. I will go to London with John in spirit.