Texas Tech teammates Gil Roberts and Shane Brathwaite will get on planes today, headed thousands of miles in opposite directions but with the same goal in mind: to meet up again at the Olympics in London.
Roberts competes in the U.S. track and field Olympic Trials this weekend in Eugene, Ore., while Brathwaite runs at his country’s trials in Bridgetown, Barbados. Once he gets home, Brathwaite will reconnect with family and friends and have only a 20-minute drive to a stadium he knows well.
“We only have one track in Barbados, so I’ve been running there since I was real young,” Brathwaite said Tuesday at the Tech Athletic Training Center.
Roberts has similar good feelings about Eugene, site of one of his biggest career achievements. In 2009, he finished second there in the 400 at the U.S. outdoor championships.
“That was definitely a great moment for me,” he said. “Hopefully, I can repeat some things this year by making the team and hopefully, even better, I’ll win.”
Both athletes ended their Tech careers two weeks ago at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships, where Roberts finished third in the 400 meters and Brathwaite got seventh in the 110-meter hurdles.
Three other Tech exes will be at the Trials in Eugene: Omo Osaghae in the 110 hurdles, Jason Young in the discus and Tori Polk in the women’s long jump.
A few Tech athletes already have clinched spots on Olympic teams. Hurdler Jamele Mason, second in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA outdoor, will compete for Puerto Rico. Thrower Julian Wruck, who transferred to UCLA after winning the NCAA outdoor discus title for Tech in 2011, is on the team for Australia. Distance runner Sally Kipyego last week won a spot on the Kenyan team.
Brathwaite and Roberts both have good opportunities. Brathwaite ranks No. 2 in Barbados and knocked out a key obstacle this season for Tech by twice beating the Olympic A standard time of 13.52 seconds. All he needs to do to qualify for London is finish top three on Saturday, when both rounds of the 110 hurdles at the Barbados trials unfold.
Barbados’ No. 1 hurdler is 2009 world champion Ryan Brathwaite, no relation to the Tech all-American. Shane Brathwaite is hoping, for his country’s sake, that Indiana State sophomore Greggmar Swift will meet the A standard this weekend in Bridgetown to qualify for London. Swift ran 13.55 this year.
“They’ve said if you don’t hit the A standard, they’re just going to take me and Ryan,” Brathwaite said. “I hope he would hit the A standard, because it’s the first time Barbados ever had three people for the event (in the Olympics). I think it’s the first time we’ve ever had two, so that would be a big thing for us.”
In contrast, Roberts faces a much stiffer test this weekend in Oregon. He has three rounds of the 400 in three days — running Friday, Saturday and Sunday — and there’s no shortage of U.S. quartermilers with Olympic aspirations.
“It wouldn’t be America if it wasn’t strong competition, especially in an Olympic year,” Roberts said. “This is the biggest stage for a track and field athlete. Everybody’s prepared. Everybody’s been working hard since the beginning of the season. Everybody’s ready.”
Roberts ranks fifth in the U.S. this year with the personal record 44.84 he ran in the semifinal round of the NCAA outdoor in Des Moines, Iowa. Ahead of him are Nike’s LaShawn Merritt (44.19) and three runners against whom Roberts ran two weeks ago at the NCAA: Florida’s Tony McQuay (44.58), Oregon’s Mike Berry (44.75) and Southern Cal’s Josh Mance (44.83).
The top three in the 400 qualify for the U.S. in that event, but the top six are included in the 1,600-meter relay team for London.
Roberts has big skins on the wall, though. Since beating everyone but Merritt in the 2009 U.S. outdoor 400, Roberts has competed in two World Championships, won a gold medal on a relay and claimed a U.S. indoor title in the 400.
Roberts ran two of the best times of his life at the recent NCAA outdoor, but still wasn’t happy about the race he ran to finish third in the final.
“It hasn’t been the best past two weeks,” he said. “I’ve been beating myself up little bit about the race, but you’ve got to get over it. You’ve got to get past it.
“I made some mistakes, so me and coach came back this past week in practice and tried to fix those mistakes. ... I’m just trying to stay positive and hopefully God has something bigger and better for me.”
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