Given that she earned a degree from the University of Arizona in 2007, Amy Hastings can almost certainly count higher than three. She just hasn’t wanted to.
The day before the women’s 10,000-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, OR, coach Terrence Mahon told Hastings that she was one of only four women who would bring the Olympic “A” standard to the starting line—and that one of them was Shalane Flanagan, who was already committed to the Olympic marathon. Unless the race was unexpectedly fast, a trip to London was all but guaranteed.
“To be completely honest, I had not even thought about that,” said Hastings at a Sunday morning breakfast hosted by Brooks, her shoe sponsor, about 36 hours after the victory in 31:58.36 that would send her to her first Olympic Games. “I knew who had [the standard], but I was like, ‘I have to be top three, I have to be top three.’ That’s the way to get on the team, because I was fourth at the [U.S. Olympic Marathon] Trials and I’m not on the team. And then Terrence explained it to me. That was a little bit of a relief, but I wanted to qualify with the A standard and by being in the top three.”
The mindset proved useful when, lined up on the starting line just before the gun went off, she thought she heard the track announcer say that a fourth woman had the “A.” Hmm, she thought, that’s a bit nerve-wracking. “But that was OK,” she said later, “because for six months it was ‘I have to be in the top three.’”
Last January, in just her second career marathon after a sterling 2:27:03 debut in the 2011 Honda LA Marathon, Hastings was devastated when she missed the team by one spot. Not top three, but fourth. Walking back to her hotel, she vowed even as she sobbed, “‘I’m going to do the 10K and I’m going to do the 5K and I’m going to get on the team.’ I’m sure anyone there thought ‘My gosh, this girl is crazy.’”
Mahon said he wasn’t surprised, calling it a testament to the will of the athlete he has nicknamed “little Deena,” after Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist who still holds seven American records on the roads from 5K to the marathon.
“I’ve always been a coach who believes in diversity for an athlete, strictly because I think each event helps the other ones,” said Mahon, who coaches both athletes. “If you get pigeonholed too soon in your career you definitely minimize what your development can be. You look at your long-term goals. If [Amy] is someone who wants to break 2:20 in the marathon, she needs to be a sub-15-minute runner and a sub-31-minute runner. So we have to keep pushing those races on the track.”
Kastor and Hastings, he said, are both very aggressive runners who have little fear. Both bring enthusiasm to whatever distance they are training for at the time. Neither looks at reasons why she shouldn’t be able to do things.
“The only thing,” said Mahon, “is that Amy’s got a better kick than Deena.”
Hastings, 28, used her kick to win the 10,000 meters in Eugene and her strong will to fight back from more than just the disappointment of Houston. After taking three weeks completely off after the marathon, she hobbled through a week of training on a sore left foot before cross-training for another two weeks. Still, the foot hurt. An MRI revealed no fractures, thankfully, but the bone bruise lingered and caused a variety of small but persistent compensation injuries, including a vexing bout of plantar fasciitis.
Hastings said she needed every minute of the time between January 14 and June 22 to heal, both physically and mentally.
“It was such an emotional thing at the [marathon] Trials that it was really hard to willingly put myself through that again,” she said. “But at the same time I wanted it so bad.”
As the 10,000-meter race unfolded last Friday night, Hastings, Flanagan, Lisa Uhl, Natosha Rogers, and Alisha Williams were together out front in the late stages. With 800 meters remaining, Hastings surged. Suddenly, it seemed, she couldn’t count past one.
“When I hit two laps to go it was still just trying to be top three, and then I guess in the last 100 meters, I don’t know, I flipped the switch and went for the gold,” she said in a giddy post-race press conference.
Flanagan and Rogers were leading with 150 meters to go when Hastings gave it everything she had on the final straightaway, passing them both. Rogers finished second in 31:59.21, with Flanagan third in 31:59.69. Because Rogers did not attain the “A” standard and Flanagan is going to contest only the marathon in London, Uhl (fourth) and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (seventh) will join Hastings on the team.
In London, Hastings will share a suite with her college roommate, Desiree Davila. The two went out for coffee in Eugene on Sunday morning, Hastings said, and for the first five minutes they just laughed, remembering how as college sophomores they used to talk about making an Olympic team together. “We did not have any right to talk about ourselves as Olympians,” said Hastings, looking back. “We had no idea what it took. But the thing is, we never stopped believing it.”
After London, next up for Hastings could be a fall marathon, assuming that her foot is 100 percent.
“The marathon saved my running career,” she said. “I was starting something brand new; it was like being in high school again doing that first cross country race and having the excitement of the unknown. I fell in love with it in L.A. Houston was tough but it’s given me more…” Hastings paused. “I need to redeem myself I guess, is what it comes down to. I want to get back out there so badly.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg