Uceny cruises through round 1

OK, here’s the key thing to remember:
Morgan Uceny has to run three races to earn an Olympic Gold Medal.
But she only has to win one.
As much as everyone in Plymouth wanted to see the 2003 PHS graduate sweep through her preliminary race of the women’s 1,500-meter run in London Monday morning, the fact is: the only race that really matters is the one for the championship Friday night.
So, Uceny’s second-place finish in round one Monday was fine, just fine. She advances to Wednesday’s semifinals, scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m. (EDT).
“My goal is always to be in the top three in the rounds to make it to the final,” said Uceny in a press conference after the race. “I felt good. I was a little anxious because I haven’t raced a lot. There’s nothing better to prepare you than to do three rounds. I did it once, I can do it again.”
The other two Americans in the field, Jenny Barringer-Simpson and Shannon Rowbury, also advanced.
Running in the third of three preliminary heats, Uceny stayed off the throttle through the first lap, positioned herself among the leaders during the second, and came home comfortably in 4 minutes, 6.87 seconds.
Heat winner Gamze Bulut of Turkey clocked 4:06.69.
The top six finishers in each heat advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals, along with the next six fastest finishers overall. There will be 24 runners total in the semis, with 12 advancing to the final.
Runners don’t get points for their places in a preliminary race. Sixth place is just as good as first, as long as you advance. It’s not unusual to see top-flight athletes look around and back off the gas in a prelim, saving their energy for things to come.
So, the former Indiana high school state champ from Plymouth did exactly what she was supposed to do.
And there’s one other reason she ran relaxed: She’s coming back from an injury.
It happened at the Olympic Trials. And very few people knew.
“I’ve had some chronic injury issues with my feet, and the three rounds at the Olympic Trials caused some of those old injury issues to return,” Uceny explained in an e-mail right before the Olympics began.
Uceny only competed in one race after the Trials, a Diamond League 1,500 in London on July 13. It didn’t go well. She finished fifth and decided at that point to forego any more racing until her Olympic prelim.
“I should have taken a few more days to recover, but I stubbornly pushed through the runs and workouts so that I could race (in the Diamond League), ” she said.
“After (the Diamond League meet), I knew that I had to skip the rest of my races and focus on getting healthy again,” she said. “After doing endless drills, therapy and using various recovery aids, my foot has responded well, and I’ve been able to resume my training.”
At this moment, she says everything’s OK. But she did lose some critical training time.
Thus, she is saving as much energy as she can in the early races, because she’ll need to go all out if she makes the finals on Friday.
“My training has made me strong enough to run fast from the gun and quick enough to have a strong sprint finish,” Uceny said. “Of course, it’s not as simple as that. For me, it’s going to be about having patience and not wasting energy.”
The 1,500-meter run — known as the “metric mile” — is one of the Olympics’ premier events. As far as the experts are concerned, the Gold Medal favorite is Aslı Çakır Alptekin of Turkey, who owns the fastest time in the world this year — 3 minutes, 56.62 seconds.
Çakır Alptekin finished third in the second of three heats Monday and easily advanced to the semis.
There was one significant development in round one, however. One of the other Gold Medal favorites, Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, failed to advance. She apparently suffered a leg injury and limped across the finish line.
Uceny is viewed as one of about six women who could win the Gold. She was ranked No. 1 in the world last year by Track & Field News magazine.
Track & Field News, by the way, is predicting Uceny to finish third and win a bronze medal.
Olympic 1,500-meter races are typically slow, tactical affairs. Runners jockey for position for three laps and then make an all-out dash for the finish line.
If that happens in the final, it plays right into the hands of a runner like Uceny. She has a superb kick.
However, the African runners have been known to take races out hard from the start. There’s no way to predict what will happen, so Uceny knows she has to be ready for anything.
“(Coach Terrance Mahon and I) have discussed several different scenarios. I don’t like to have only one race plan, because if the race sets up differently, it’s important to be able to adapt to the situation and not worry about sticking to one specific plan,” she said. “So, I’m just going to have to be ready for anything and put myself in the best position for that race.”
Sort of like what her fans in Plymouth will have to do. Be ready for anything.
Uceny is well aware of her support back home, by the way. She’s seen pictures of the signs and banners that have popped up all over Plymouth.
“The last few weeks, I’ve really started to see the outpouring of support,” said Uceny. “Every time I am on Facebook, I see pictures of ‘Go, Mo, Go’ bracelets or signs or tee-shirts.
“At first, I thought it was just my immediate family wearing these things,” she said. “But then, I started seeing people I didn’t even know wearing them and sending me good luck messages.”
It has been a humbling experience for the 27-year-old, who knows most of Marshall County will be watching her races.
“I really am proud to be representing Plymouth and I just hope that I have become an example of what a small town girl can accomplish with a bit of determination and patience,” Uceny said.