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Posted: July 22, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: 800M Qualifying Standard Still Eludes Wright & Vessey

From David Monti

© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved RaceResultsWeekly.com

June 28th was a triumphant day in Eugene, Ore., for Phoebe Wright and Maggie Vessey. The pair had just finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 800m at the USA Outdoor Championships, with Wright setting a personal best 2:01.12 after a terrific stretch run. The late-closing Vessey was only 7/100ths of a second behind.

Ahead of them, Hazel Clark had won her fifth USA outdoor 800m title and, with the IAAF "A" standard of 2:00.00 in her pocket she had cemented her place on the national team for the IAAF World Athletics Championships which open in Berlin on Aug. 15. Second place Geena Gall, who had just graduated from the University of Michigan after winning her second NCAA 800m title, also locked-in her team spot because she already had the "B" standard of 2:01.30. Neither Clark nor Gall were under any obligation to improve on their times prior to Berlin.

Not so for Wright or Vessey. Under IAAF rules, a national team for each athletics discipline can consist of two "A" qualifiers and one "B," so in order for either Wright or Vessey to claim a team berth, they had to hit the "A" standard by the end of the qualifying period (the IAAF allows until Aug. 3, but USATF has set July 31 as the final date). Under USATF rules, only the top-4 finishers at the national championships may chase the standard. Wright would also make the team immediately if Gall would improve to the "A" standard by July 31.

Back on that day in Eugene, an elated Wright, 20, wasn't worried about getting the standard. "That's not a problem," she told Race Results Weekly immediately following her race. The University of Tennessee Vol who, like Hazel Clark is coached by J.J. Clark, said that Clark would help her attain the standard. "I'm going to try to rabbit her to get the standard," Clark said just minutes later.

Soon, both Wright and Vessey boarded flights for Europe and have been chasing the standard since early July. Neither have made it, and time is running out.

Vessey, 27, made the first attempt, upsetting Italian star Elisa Cusma at the Golden Gala in Rome on July 10, winning in a personal best 2:00.13. Wright ran next, clocking 2:04.49 at a meet in Kortrijk, Belgium, on July 11. It was her 18th 800m race of the year. Vessey was supposed to run the 800m at the Meeting AREVA in Paris on July 17, but pulled out because of some hamstring soreness, according to her manager, Ray Flynn.

Wright decided to go home to Tennessee to take a rest before making another attempt at the standard. Last Sunday in Marietta, Ga., Wright took to the track with Tennessee teammate Chanelle Price at the Georgia Games Track & Field Championships. The pair entered the open division of the women's 800m, and finished 1-2, both setting personal bests. Wright ran 2:00.40 and Price, who is only a sophomore, ran 2:01.33.

Meanwhile, Vessey made another attempt at a low-key meeting in Gent, Belgium, last night. She came achingly close to the standard, winning the 800m in 2:00.04, another personal best. According to Flynn, she will try again in London on Friday at the Aviva London Grand Prix.

For Wright, the fight may be over, according to J.J. Clark, who made a statement published on his university's website. "After a long year, that was a tough order, but she's also very tough by nature," Clarke said after Wright's run in Marietta. "It was such a good run, and she was so close to making the mark, but it was a little short of the time required to go to Berlin." He added: "She is pondering the idea of taking another shot at it, but the races at this point are very limited in terms of where to go. We'll see what happens over the next few days. Right now, I don't believe she'll race, but we have until Saturday to make a decision."

As for Gall, she ran in a meeting in Lignano, Italy, on July, 12, winning her first race in Europe in a personal best 2:00.44. She also ran in Naimette-Xhovémont, Belgium, last Wednesday night (second, 2:01.07) and again in Heusden last Saturday night (4th, 2:01.61). None of those marks were good enough to help Wright onto the team.

Wright's and Vessey's quests for the "A" standard are reminiscent of Jen Toomey's and Nicole Teter's fight to make the national 800m team in 2001. Toomey had finished third in the USA Outdoor Championships, while Teter finished fourth. Neither athlete had the 2:00.00 "A" standard. The pair then ran in Brunswick, Me. (2:01.95 and 2:02.10); Montreal (Teter, 2:01.50); Heusden (Toomey, 2:00.83); Cottbus, Germany (2:01.54 and 2:01.59); Hamburg (Toomey, 2:02.84); and Cuxhaven, Germany (2:00.38 and 2:01.32). Both had to settle for watching the World Championships on television.


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