EUGENE, Ore. — When English Gardner failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team at the 2012 track and field trials here, she left the track at Hayward Field, went to her car, opened the door, sat down and started bawling.
If Gardner shed any tears on Sunday, they were tears of happiness. That’s because she won the women’s 100-meter dash to make the U.S. team. Her time of 10.74 was the second fastest in the world this year, the seventh-fastest all time and fourth fastest by an American woman.
“[In 2012], I cried my eyes out and came to the realization that I never wanted to feel that feeling again,” she said Sunday. “So when I crossed the line and saw the results, I didn’t really care if I came in first, second or third, I was just excited that I made the team. With the help of these ladies [who also made the team], we were able to give the show that we promised from the beginning.”
Gardner was one of a handful of athletes who celebrated the Fourth of July a day early by making the U.S. Olympic team in one of seven events.
In addition to Gardner, here are some of the sprint athletes you should watch for next month at the Rio de Janeiro Games:
Gardner’s win was impressive — and a large improvement over her 14th-place finish (11.13) at worlds last year. But also pay attention to Tianna Bartoletta, who finished second by just three-hundredths of a second. That is pretty amazing, considering it came after Bartoletta finished second in the long jump finals on Saturday, while also running in a 100 heat on the same day. Then she had to follow it up by running the 100 twice on Sunday. She will be one of the few American women to ever compete in both the 100 and long jump at the Olympics.
“The schedule for Rio is going to be completely easy compared to this weekend,” Bartoletta said. “The 100 meters is going to be four days before the long jump. I had a difficult trials here. The last two weeks and, frankly, the whole season has been a little bit of struggle to try to find my stride.”
She found it this weekend, as did third-place finisher Tori Bowie.
Justin Gatlin won the gold medal in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games. Twelve years and two PED suspensions later, his hair is graying and his reputation is heavily damaged, but he is still running at top speeds and motivated to win gold again (especially if Usain Bolt is still hurting). He won the men’s 100 on Sunday in 10.80 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year.
“I was crying inside,” he said. “I got down on one knee after I crossed the finish line and was crying inside. I just want to get healthy, get strong and be able to represent the United States.”
Neither of the sprinters who finished behind him, Trayvon Bromell, 20, nor Marvin Bracy, 22, could remember seeing Gatlin win gold in Athens in 2004. “I was in the fourth grade,” Bracy said.
However long it’s been since you were in the fourth grade, keep an eye on Bromell. He finished second at 9.84, four-hundredths of a second behind Gatlin, and the third-fastest time in the world this year. And he did so despite many obstacles. He grew up extremely poor, lived in terrible conditions and had knee and hip injuries. And is still just 20. Yet he Olympics bound.
“I’m happy for all the hardship I’ve had in my life, because it’s built me into the person I am,” Bromell said.
You should know Allyson Felix by now. She competed in four events at the 2012 London Games, winning gold in three of them: the 200, 4×100 relay and 4×400 relay. She finished fifth in the 100, so she has dropped that event and replaced it with the 400, which she won Sunday by blazing past everyone down the stretch for the fastest time in the world this year at 49.68 seconds.
And Felix did it despite a severe right ankle injury that she said left her unable to walk just a couple of months ago.
“At the beginning of the year, it seemed like nothing was going my way,” she said.
So how did it feel to win Sunday, beating Phyllis Francis (second) and Natasha Hastings (third)?
“I think I was just like, ‘Thank you, Lord,'” Felix said. “It’s been a tough year, and it was a relief. I have put in so much work, and to see it all come together when two months ago I was barely walking — to be at this moment is pretty unbelievable.”
Not that it’s over. Felix still has to qualify for the 200 to qualify later this week. And she’s not alone. There is Gatlin. And there is also … well, read on:
LaShawn Merritt won gold in the 400 at the 2008 Beijing Games, served a 21-month suspension for an, um, enlargement product for a certain body part and made the U.S. Olympic team again in 2012, but he pulled up with a hamstring injury during a heat in London. He will have a chance at another medal, though, after winning the 400 on Sunday in 43.97, the only sub-44 time this year, for his third Olympic trial victory in the event.
“I think they know that I’ve still got it,” Merritt said after beating second-place finisher Gil Roberts and third-place finisher David Verburg.
After his impressive performance on Sunday, Merritt said he will also give the 200 a try.
“I’m rounding back into good form and I’m feeling good,” he said. “I might as well as go out there.”
So keep your eyes on the trials. There is still a lot to go before Rio.
TheUndefeated.com senior writer Jesse Washington contributed to this story.