Chula Vista, CA – Cheryl Rellinger set and American track record today and became the first female athlete to qualify for the 2004 Track and Field Olympic Team Trials en route to her 30,000m national championship victory at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA.
Rellinger, a resident of Troy, New York started out at a cautious pace and ducked under the Olympic Trials automatic qualifying standard of 1:48 with a 1:47:44 for her 20,000m split, but it was no walk in the park.
“I had 2 red cards within the first 4 laps of a 75 lap race, and that got me worried, because one more would have meant I was disqualified. I was called for bent knee, and learned that it was my right leg that was locking late.” The two rules of race walking state that an athlete must always have one foot on the ground, and that the knee shall be straightened as the foot touches the ground and remain straight until thebody passes over it. “That surprised me because my left leg is longer than the right, and I would think my left leg would have trouble before the right one would. I was puzzled by the biomechanics, but then I told myself not to think about it until after the race and instead concentrated on correcting my technique. I consciously drove my right arm further back, figuring that would bring my leg further in front and give me more time to straighten it before it landed. A few laps later, I grabbed a cup of water at the middle of the straightaway and dumped it over my head. I wasn’t trying to balance it, but when it didn’t fall off my head until I leaned into the curve, I knew I had corrected my technique and was not pushing off asymmetrically.” Rellinger hit her 10,000m split exactly as planned: 53:45, 2:09 per lap, which would give her a 20,000m time 1:47:30. “Two (minutes) 10 (seconds) would be! too slow, and I liked the idea of that 30 second cushion. My plan was to start as slowly as would meet the standard because of the heat, then pick up the pace if I could. That split seemed pretty easy, pretty controlled, but I did not hold it too much longer after that.” Rellinger started slipping to 2:14 per lap, and after calculating the remaining laps and time, knew she had to drop to 2:06. “I spent two laps trying to do math, but I was getting tired and confused. At 46 laps, I realized my current pace would yield a 1:48:36, and I knew I had to forget about the last 25 laps and focus on the next four. I was worried that I would get so fatigued making up the time that once I crossed the line I would lose form and get a third red card and be disqualified, so I asked permission to step off the track after the 50th lap”. After crossing in 1:47:45, she did just that, taking a full 2 minute r! est. “The rest was nice, but I knew if I took any longer than two minutes, I would have trouble getting back out there for another 25 laps.” Since she had entered the 30k national championship race, U.S.A.T.F. rules dictate that she complete the race in order for her split to count. Rellinger said she did not pay attention much to pace after that, only on her technique. “If I’d have known how slow I was doing that last 10k, my ego probably would have taken over and I’d have accelerated, risking a disqualification”. The top seed in the race, defending champion and national 50k record holder Susan Armenta, a resident athlete of the ARCO Olympic Training Center since 1997, dropped out of the race after 42 laps. “Her technique did not look as fluid as usual, and I knew she wasn’t having a good day, which happens to everyone at some point. I was surprised I had lapped her 3 times, but I never! counted her out of it until I saw her on the sidelines because I know how strong she is.” Rellinger finished the national championship race in 2:51:50, ahead of Heidi Hauch of Scottsdale, AZ in 3:02:30 and Erin Taylor of Queens, NY in 3:11:18.