Thursday, June 30, 2016

20k Race Walk Festival in Salem

Ticket to Rio

Men’s and Women’s 20k Race Walks

“This is my ticket to Rio!” exclaimed Maria Michta-Coffey while holding her Olympic Trials 20k race walk gold medal. Michta-Coffey won Thursday’s Olympic Trials race in Salem, OR, in 1:33:40.8, under the Olympic qualifying standard of 1:36:00. She is joined on the US team by Miranda Melville who was 2nd in 1:34:11.1. Bronze medal winner Katie Burnett finished in a non-qualifying 1:41:12.2.

While winner John Nunn (1:25:36.1) finished outside the 1:24:00 standard, he earlier had qualified in the men’s 50k walk, so his ticket to Rio is already stamped. He was followed by the resurgent Trevor Barron (1:27:27.1) and Nick Christie (1:27:43.3). Nunn noted that today’s time qualifies him for next year’s London World Championships, “… so there’s that silver lining.”

In an Olympic year, the Trials race counts as the US national championship, and so Michta-Coffey and Nunn are US champions as well. They were greeted by enthusiastic crowds along the one kilometer race route in the shadow of Oregon’s state capitol building.

Four years ago, Melville lost out on an Olympic team berth by a heartbreaking three seconds. Those three seconds both haunted and motivated her. After a strenuous race on a hot day, Melville leaped into the air as she crossed the finish line.

“I (am) ecstatic,” she said. “Right now, it’s floating on cloud 9 and then we get back to business. Maria and I have seven weeks until we race in Rio. We’re ready to show that the US is moving up in the ranks of race walking.”

“In the past four years we told ourselves we’re going to do this together,” said Michta-Coffey of her training partner’s Olympic quest. “In the past two months of training we’ve been visualizing hugging each other at the finish line and saying ‘We made it to Rio!’ That happened today… this is redemption for her.”

The two training partners are #1 and #2 all-time in the United States in this event. “Miranda and I have gone back and forth for years now and it’s only made us stronger,” said Michta-Coffey. “We both continually keep raising the bar.”

Michta-Coffey credited the New York state public high school system with today’s two-Olympian performance, as race walking is part of New York’s high school track and field lineup.

“That’s how we started,” she said. “When you do have race walking in your high school program, Olympians are possible.”

Michta-Coffey became the first Olympian for Oiselle, the Seattle-based women’s running and athletic apparel company. “It’s so awesome!” said Michta-Coffey. “It’s a way of life and the people that I represent are amazing. I always tell everyone back home that I’m racing for them and I feel even more connected now, because the people now aren’t just back home in New York, they’re all over the US – the whole flock!”

John Nunn noted today’s festive celebration of race walking when he addressed the crowd. “I want to thank the city of Salem. This was phenomenal. The crowd lined the course the whole way and I can’t thank you enough. This is the best crowd we have ever had. Thank you city of Salem.”

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