Late Sunday evening (Eastern time, at any rate), Georgia Tech men’s track coach Grover Hinsdale was driving back to Portland, Ore. He had spent the past two weeks at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Ore. On his last day there, he was a marvel.
“Shoot, I don’t know what I can say about him,” Hinsdale said. “He’s just an incredibly special athlete.”
Georgia Tech grad Angelo Taylor is headed to his fourth Olympic Games, having finished second at the trials in the 400-meter hurdles. He’ll go for his third gold in the 400 hurdles, which would make him the first person to ever accomplish that hat trick.
He’ll be going with another former Yellow Jacket, high jumper Chaunte Lowe, who won her event Saturday for her third Olympic berth.
Taylor, though, nearly met catastrophe, which is what had Hinsdale agog. After sailing through qualifying and semifinal heats, Taylor took a sizeable lead in the final and, with two hurdles to go, seemed to be in the clear for first place. However, Taylor stumbled after clearing the ninth hurdle, losing his balance. He righted himself, but, having lost his rhythm and momentum, was passed by Michael Tinsley.
As Hinsdale put it, “When he came off the hurdle, he came off almost turned sideways.”
With a time of 48.57 seconds, Taylor finished safely ahead of third-place finisher Kerron Clement – the final qualifier – but Hinsdale admitted his heart jumped when Taylor stumbled.
Hinsdale knows a little bit about track – Taylor is the fourth Olympian he’s coached in his 34-year career at Tech (20 as head coach), all of whom have won gold. To him, Taylor’s save was astounding.
“Missteps happen in intermediate hurdles,” he said. “I’ll tell you this – if any of the other seven guys had made that mistake, they would have gotten buried. I have no doubt in my mind. You just don’t make a mistake in a fatigued state like he was – and everyone is, at that point – and still have the strength to finish and actually finish pretty well and make the team. He’s just an amazing, amazing athlete.”
Sunday night, Hinsdale hadn’t had the opportunity to visit with Taylor to find out what had actually happened. His theory bodes well for Taylor in London. Hinsdale thinks that Taylor was running so strongly, even at that late juncture in the race, that his strides were longer than they’d been in the qualifying and semifinals heats. As a result, his timing going into the ninth hurdle – in a hurdles event, every step of the race is choreographed to allow the runner to clear each hurdle in stride – was thrown off.
“He was running so strong and powerful, I think he just came up on the hurdle a little quicker than anticipated,” Hinsdale said. “I guarantee you it had nothing to do with lack of strength.”
Having seen him run his three races in Eugene at legendary Hayward Field – where, incidentally, Hinsdale was inspired to go into college coaching as a recent graduate taking in the 1976 U.S. Trials – Hinsdale believes Taylor is already in better form than he was at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where Taylor won his second hurdles gold.
“He’s ready to go,” Hinsdale said. “I’ll tell you what: In London, they’d better get ready to roll (to compete with him).”
A medal for Taylor would add to a considerable collection for runners Hinsdale has coached at Tech. Antonio McKay, Derrick Adkins, Derek Mills and Taylor have represented the U.S. (and Tech) in six Olympiads, stretching from 1984 to 2008. They’ve won seven golds and one bronze. Each has won at least one gold medal.
“We haven’t sent an inordinate amount to the Olympics, but the ones that we’ve sent have performed extremely well,” Hinsdale said.
Lowe has an excellent shot at becoming Tech’s first female medalist. Lowe finished first at the trials, setting the meet record in the process with a jump of 6 feet, 7 inches, which is the second highest outdoor jump in the world this year. She missed three tries at 6-8 ¼, narrowly missing on her first attempt, which would have been the world’s best for 2012.
“Obviously, very, very happy,” said Tech assistant coach Nat Page, who has coached Lowe since she came to Tech in Sept. 2002 and was still Chaunte Howard. However, “we wanted to be able to do a little bit more.”
Page kept thinking back to a year ago, when she had just given birth to her second child, Aurora. Just a few days after giving birth, she began a hurried six or seven weeks of training for U.S. nationals and finished ninth, clearing 5-10.
“A whole year goes by, same place, same venue, same athletes,” Page said, “but a far different result.”
Page said that the 28-year-old Lowe, the American record holder and the 2012 indoor champion, has returned to her world-class form.
Said Page, “Our plan is to get a medal.”
Page will be in London to coach Lowe. Hinsdale won’t attend, but he’ll most certainly be watching.
“He will make us all proud, I promise you,” he said of Taylor. “He is a vicious competitor. It’s going to be fun to watch him.”
Former Tech triple jumper Alphonso Jordan finished 14th with a best jump of 53 feet, 1 ½ inches June 28. He needed another 1 1/2 inches to qualify for the 12-jumper final.
“Alphonso, he didn’t have his best day,” Hinsdale said. “I know he’s better than that. It’s one of those things.”
Jordan has, in fact, jumped farther than the mark of the third-place finisher (Walter Davis, at 54-9 1/4), Hinsdale said. It was Jordan’s first trials.
Nikita Kirillov, who just completed his freshman year, no-heighted at the opening height in the pole vault June 25. Kirillov, who won the U.S. junior national title earlier this summer and will compete at the world juniors in July, was not alone. Of the 24 entrants, 13 failed to clear the opening height of 17-4 ½. Rain caused vision problems for Kirillov and the other vaulters.
“I thought the experience was wonderful for him,” Hinsdale said. “I know it’s something he’ll never forget.”
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog