Stars shine bright at USATF San Diego meet

SAN  DIEGO, CA-The bigger the stage, the bigger that star athletes perform. Allyson Felix has been there and done that. So has Melisa and Mikele Barber. It’s almost become old hat for Carol Rodriguez.

Felix won three gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics. At one point (ranked No. 1 in 2006, according to Track and Field News ) during her fantastic track and field career, Me’Lisa Barber has been America’s top sprinter. Mikele Barber has also climbed the ladder in U.S. sprint dominance.

Rodriguez, representing Puerto Rico, has appeared in the last two Olympics (2008 and 2012).

Yet, all four of these marvelous track and field stars relish the thought of having an opportunity to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. These are exciting times for the world of sports. And no stage is quite as big as the Olympics.

But just making your country’s Olympic team is a battle that is sometimes tougher than actual competing in the Summer Games themselves. Well, let’s just say that it is a tenuous process to go through before being formally invited to the Big Dance.

That’s what Felix, Rodriguez, the Barber twins and every other track and field athlete are facing. It is one of the reasons why all four attended and competed at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifier Track and Field meet at San Diego Mesa College on Saturday, June 11.

It’s getting to be crunch time to try to make the qualifying standards to compete at this year’s U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials. Rodriguez has more time to meet the qualifying marks for Puerto Rico. For everyone else, though, it’s sink or swim time.

Allyson Felix crosses the finish line in the women's 400 with a winning time of 51.23 seconds at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Qualifier Track and Field Meet on Saturday, June 11, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Allyson Felix crosses the finish line in the women’s 400 with a winning time of 51.23 seconds at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifier Track and Field Meet on Saturday, June 11, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

It’s Felix Time

Felix, the reigning Olympic champion in the 200 meters, didn’t just swim in the race she competed in, she took another stroke in the right direction.

For the second week in a row, Felix rolled to victory in the women’s 400, easily distancing herself from a star-studded field that included Rodriguez and Monica Hargrove. Felix came out strong and delivered a punishing kick in the last 200 meters to cruise to win the 400 in a San Diego Mesa College stadium record of 51.23 seconds.

Last week, Felix clocked a time of 51.57 seconds at the So Cal Jim Bush Championships that was held at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. After being forced to sit for a stint following an ankle injury, Felix, who has her eyes on a possible double (200 and 400) at this year’s Olympics, has looked impressive in her last two outings.

Getting the stadium record was great, but Felix has her eyes on a much bigger prize.

“It was good, but just working on things, building up and trying to get things together for [Olympic] trials,” Felix said.

Part of that building process is gearing up to try to win two events in the same Summer Games, something that was achieved by American Michael Johnson, who collected gold in the 200 and 400 in the 1996 Olympics. Felix said her 2015 world championship win in the 400 opened the door for her and coach Bob Kersee to pursue that double possibility. Of course, that is all predicated on Felix making the qualifying cut in both events.

“It’s always been in the back of his head, and after last year, being able to win the world championships, was encouraging,” Felix said. “So, [I’m] feeling like I haven’t reached my full potential yet. Things was going so great until I got hurt. So now we’re just seeing where things are. I’m going to give it all at trials and re-evaluate from there.”

Melisa Barber and Mikele Barber finish 1-2 in the women's 100 meters at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifier Track and Field Meet at San Diego Mesa College. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Me’Lisa Barber (left) and Mikele Barber finish 1-2 in the women’s 100 meters at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifier Track and Field Meet at San Diego Mesa College. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Running by Twins

Felix is not by herself in that assessment. The Barber sisters used this meet as a technical tune-up and improving their racing form as the trials near. Being veterans on the track and field circuit, Me’Lisa and Mikele know when best to hit their peak and when to run with consistency.

For four years (2005-2008), Me’Lisa Barber ran the 100 meters with dominance, ranking among the top 10 sprinters (No. 1 in 2006; No. 2 in 2005; No. 3 in 2007; and No. 10 in 2008) in the U.S. Mikele Barber has been just as great as her sister, hitting the No. 6 mark in 2007, climbing up to No. 5 in 2010, and matching that top 5 status in 2011.

Both sisters looked at the top of their game as they finished 1-2 in the women’s 100 meters. Me’Lisa, who ran 11.25 in the 100 last week at the So Cal Jim Bush Championship, turned on the smoke gun in the last 10 meters to nip Mikele at the tape. Me’Lisa won the race in 11.55 seconds. Mikele clocked in at 11. 62 seconds.

“Coming into this race, we we’re just using it for maintenance,” said Me’Lisa Barber. “My sister Miki (Mikele), she’s just getting off an injury, so we have three weeks until the trials, and no matter what the time as, we’re just working on our form and coming in first and second, which we did.”

Mikele wasn’t as impressed by her performance.

“I didn’t feel too good,” Mikele Barber said. “I thought that I was going to run faster, but this was my first race back in a month. I set my goals high, and today was not the day. But it’s okay. It’s one of those days. We came in and did what we had to do, and got first and second.”

Working out the Kinks

Besides Felix and the Barber sisters dominating the day, there were several other standout performances. LeKeisha Lawson smoked the field in the 200 to come away with the win in a time of 23.69. Former UCLA standout Turquoise Thompson glided to victory in the 400 hurdles. Ronald Brookins snapped up the men’s 110-meter hurdles in a respectable time of 13.8. Liberia’s Emmanuel Matadi completed his own sprint double, winning both the men’s 100 (10.26) and 200 (20.51).

After running and winning the 100 and 200 last week, Lawson opted out of the shorter race this time around to concentrate and putting in work in the longer sprint.

“My coach told me to sign up and see how practice goes. He wants me to run a really good 200 (meters) before trials, so he was like, ‘let’s just go out there and run the 200,'” Lawson said. “Last week I was kind of tired when the 200 came around. So this week, we just kind of wanted to gear my week more towards the 200.”

Carol Rodriguez (left) is hoping to make her third Olympic team representing Puerto Rico. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Carol Rodriguez (left) is hoping to make her third Olympic team representing Puerto Rico. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

One More Olympic Bid

Rodriguez didn’t have the kind of day she was expecting to have, finishing third in the 400 and taking fifth in the 200. Particularly frustrating to Rodriguez was that she didn’t hit her qualifying mark in the 400.

“I’m not really happy with my race,” Rodriguez said after running the 400. “I feel like I need to go over some things in practice…just not happy with my time. It just didn’t feel fluid. It like I was more kind of pacing instead of racing. Training is just coming along and coming along, and I am getting more race-sharpened, more speed. [But] I am kind of frustrated because I’ve been stuck with at the same time the last four races.”

The two-time Olympian, however, is confident she will be able right the ship and get things on track so she can meet the qualifying standards to have the chance to represent Puerto Rico in a third Olympic Games.

“I’m going to keep racing until the deadline comes,” said Rodriguez. “I was hoping that I would get it today, but I didn’t get it. I am going to keep racing until I get it. Once I get it, I can just focus on training for the Olympics.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1044 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.