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Warming up for her 1,500-meter semifinal Wednesday at the London Olympics, Morgan Uceny was overtaken by a swarm of flying ants that descended upon the Track & Field stadium.
Fortunately, Morgan is not one to be easily distracted.
â€śMaybe on the warmup track I was eating some bugs, but I didnâ€™t notice it in the race at all,â€ť Uceny told an Associated Press reporter afterwards. â€śYou are in the zone then. There could have been an earthquake, and Iâ€™d have no idea.â€ť
Ignoring the ants and focusing strictly on the job at hand, the 2003 Plymouth High School graduate qualified for Fridayâ€™s Gold Medal race by finishing third with a time of 4 minutes, 5.34 seconds.
She now stands at the edge of history and will run for an Olympic championship tomorrow at 3:55 p.m.Â No American has ever won a medal in this event.
There will be 13 women in the race.
While fans in her hometown of Plymouth suffered some anxious moments during the semifinal race, Uceny was never in any real danger of failing to advance. The top five finishers in each of two heats automatically qualified for the final, along with the next three fastest finishers.
Uceny established herself among the leaders during a 66-second first lap, then officially led the field through the 800-meter mark in 2:15.32.
She was boxed in sixth place briefly at the bell, but worked her way out of traffic and smoothly kicked up to third by the finish. Asli Ă‡akir Alptekin of Turkey â€” the Gold Medal favorite, according to track experts â€” took first in 4:05.11.
American teammate Shannon Rowbury finished fifth in the same heat as Uceny and also advanced. This is the first time since 2000 that two Americans have qualified for the Olympic 1,500-meter final.
In a shocking development, the third U.S. runner â€” defending world champion Jennifer Simpson â€” finished last in a different semifinal race and was eliminated from competition. Simpson had been viewed as a Gold Medal contender.
Simpson â€” one of Ucenyâ€™s biggest rivals â€” never seemed to find a rhythm and faded badly on the homestretch. Though she clocked a respectable 4:06.89, she was far behind the lead pack.
â€śThere was nothing wrong; I was in good shape,â€ť said a tearful Simpson afterwards. â€śI felt good. I just ran really poorly.
â€śIâ€™m disappointed only because I know I put in the work, and I know my coach knows I can do better than this,â€ť Simpson said. â€śI have no excuse. Iâ€™m not hurt. Iâ€™m not out of shape. I did a really, really great workout two weeks ago, and it is shame on me for not finishing what I started here.â€ť
There were no such issues with Uceny, who felt confident as the finish line came into sight.
â€śI knew I had extra gears in the tank, so I was pretty calm,â€ť Uceny told The Indianapolis Star. â€śThis is experience. Having been in that position before, I knew not to panic and keep my head.â€ť
Now, she has 24 hours to get ready for the race of her life.
A couple days before the 1,500-meter prelims, in an interview with the track & field Website, Flotrack.org, Uceny said that she has been building to this point for a year.
â€śFor me, the training side is easy,â€ť said Uceny. â€śIt was getting the confidence that was holding me back before. Now that Iâ€™ve opened that door, I know that bigger things can come.â€ť
And now, she hopes she can make history by becoming the first runner from the United States â€” and the first from Plymouth, also â€” to earn an Olympic medal in the womenâ€™s 1,500.
â€śIâ€™ve got to take it round by round and stay healthy the whole time,â€ť she said of the three-round grind. â€śI just have to execute.
â€śThereâ€™s no reason I shouldnâ€™t be in the top three,â€ť she said. â€śThatâ€™s the ultimate goal.â€ť
GOLD MEDAL NOTES
Fridayâ€™s championship race takes place just a few minutes following the womenâ€™s 5,000-meter final. Molly Huddle, a 10-time All-American from the University of Notre Dame, will be in that 5,000-meter contest...
Two of Fridayâ€™s 13 finalists in the womenâ€™s 1,500 have served two-year doping bans for using performance-enhancing drugs in the past. Tatyana Tomashova of Russia missed the 2008 Olympics for tampering with drug samples. Asli Ă‡akir Alptekin of Turkey was banned for illegal drug use after the 2004 World Junior Championshipsâ€¦
Hellen Obiri of Kenya is the runner who fell in front of Morgan Uceny and knocked her out of the World Championship race in Korea last yearâ€¦
Maryam Yusuf Jamal used to be named Zenebech Tola and used to live in Ethiopia. She sought political refuge in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2002. Jamal applied for citizenship in the United States, Canada and France before Bahrain finally accepted her applicationâ€¦
â€˘ OLYMPIC WOMENâ€™S
At Olympic Stadium,
3:55 p.m. FRIDAY (EDT)
Lane 1 â€“ Shannon Rowbury (United States). Personal best time: 4:00.33
Lane 2 â€“ Gamze Bulut (Turkey). Personal best time: 4:01.18
Lane 3 â€“ Natallia KareivaÂ (Belarus). Personal best time: 4:02.37
Lane 4 â€“ Lucia KlocovĂˇ (Slovak Republic). Personal best time: 4:02.99
Lane 5 â€“ Tatyana Tomashova (Russia). Personal best time: 3:56.91
Lane 6 â€“ Hellen Onsanso Obiri (Kenya). Personal best time: 3:59.68
Lane 7 â€“ Abeba Aregawi (Ethiopia). Personal best time: 3:56.54
Lane 8 â€“ Asli Ă‡akir Alptekin (Turkey). Personal best time: 3:56.62
Lane 9 â€“ Maryam Yusuf Jamal (Bahrain). Personal best time: 3:56.18
Lane 10 â€“ Ekaterina Kostetskaya (Russia). Personal best time:Â 3:59.28
Lane 11 â€“ Morgan Uceny (United States). Personal best time: 4:00.06
Lane 12 â€“ Laura Weightman (Great Britain). Personal best time: 4:02.99
Lane 13 â€“ Lisa Dobriskey (Great Britain). Personal best time:Â 3:59.50