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Years from now, after all this running business is over, you have to hope Morgan Uceny will look back on her athletic career and understand what an amazing young lady she really was.
You have to hope she will remember the summer of 2012 as the time when she excited and united her hometown of Plymouth like few people have ever managed to do. You have to hope she will realize how she inspired youngsters and had hometown pride popping buttons off the seniors.
You have to hope.
But Friday afternoon, there was none of that going through Ucenyâs mind, only frustration and despair, after she tripped and fell with one lap remaining in the womenâs 1,500-meter final at the London Olympics.
For the second year in a row, a world championship that appeared to be hers for the taking was snatched away in an instant. In 2011, it happened during the IAAF World Championship final in Korea, as a runner from Africa stumbled in front of her and knocked her out of the race. Friday, it came just after the bell lap began and the field was amping up for an Olympic gold medal sprint.
Television replays provided no clear answer as to what happened. A reporter for the Indianapolis Star said the back kick of a Russian runner struck the inside of Ucenyâs left knee, causing the spill. Television commentators from NBC said Ethiopiaâs Abeba Aregawi tripped her. Others thought that Kenyaâs Hellen Obiri â the same runner who fell in front of Uceny during the 2011 world championship âstepped on the back of her foot.
No matter what or who, the end result was that Uceny lay crumpled in the middle of the track, head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. She pounded the track with the palm of her hands, and stayed there for a long time, even after the race was finished.
Turkeyâs Asli Ăakir Alptekin â the pre-race favorite â ended up winning the Gold Medal in a pedestrian 4 minutes, 10.23 seconds. Another Turk, Gamze Bulut, finished second.
For whatever reason, none of the other runners â including American teammate Shannon Rowbury â came to Ucenyâs aid, or even acknowledged she was lying there. Uceny finally stood up and walked off. She left the stadium without addressing the media.
Rowbury, by the way, finished sixth in 4:11.26. Not a medal winner, but still the best-ever finish by an American in this race.
Rowbury said she heard someone fall and thought it was Uceny.
âI heard a big âsplatâ at 400 to go,â Rowbury told NBCâs Joe Battaglia afterwards. âI think I could tell it was Morgan.â
âItâs hard,â added Rowbury, who suffered a similar incident herself in 2009. âThereâs not really anything you can do to prepare for that. You just have to be able to stay on your feet.â
Making things even more frustrating for Ucenyâs fans is the fact that, before the fall, the race had been shaping up perfectly for the Plymouth High School and Cornell University graduate.
With none of the 13 runners willing to push the pace, the field almost jogged its first two laps, passing through the first 400 in 75 seconds and the 800-meter mark in 2:24.
It was exactly the situation that Uceny â well-known for her last-lap kick â was hoping for. She had run in lane two through the first 1,000 meters to avoid traffic, and was just starting to make her move when the mishap occurred.
Hours afterwards, Uceny posted a message on her Facebook fan page:
âIâve never experienced such a heartbreaking moment,â she wrote. âI put myself in the perfect position coming into the bell lap and felt so relaxed and just ready to roll...I even thought to myself, âI AM getting a medalâ and the next thing I know Iâm skidding on the track, out of contention.
âAs soon as it happened I knew it was over, and I couldnât control the emotions,â she said.
âI was able to see my family tonight, and I donât know what I would have done without them. They all shared my tears but also were the rocks of support that I needed. I feel like Iâm in a dream, and that I will wake up tomorrow to August 10th to race the 1500m final over....but no.
âI canât thank all of you enough for the TREMENDOUS amount of support given to me. Itâs been unbelievable and has made me realize (how many) special people are in my life, so thank you. And hereâs to the journey ahead, cheers.â
Literally hundreds of her new-found friends responded with messages of love and encouragement.
âWe watched you fall,â wrote someone named Ashley VanLandingham. âAnd weâll watch you pick yourself back up.â
As for the journey ahead, well, track season is not over. Many Olympic athletes are heading from London to Stockholm, Sweden for a Diamond League meet on Aug. 17. Uceny has several more opportunities to race.
And Friday marked the start of a one-year countdown to next yearâs world championship meet in Moscow. Nobody doubts that Uceny has another shot at a world title, if she wants it.