- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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EUGENE, Ore. -- WHAT DID YOU SAY? HUH? I'M SORRY, I CAN'T HEAR YOU! COULD YOU PLEASE SPEAK UP?! NO, THE CONNECTION IS FINE, BUT I'M AT A TRACK MEET IN EUGENE! IT'S KIND OF LIKE BEING AT A CAR RACE IN TALLADEGA!
There. That's a little better.
I'm standing inside a porta-potty outside Hayward Field. Actually, it's a porta-potty suite. Seriously. That's what it says on the wall. A suite. And it does have multiple stalls and urinals, which are all necessary considering that each day here at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials more than 20,000 Microbrew-drinking, Pinot-sipping, track-loving fans have packed a stadium that officially holds 16,000.
And they are LOUD. Forget wind-aided. The performances Monday might have been decibel-aided.
"You could not not hear that crowd," Nick Symmonds said after winning a classic 800-meter race. "It was deafening. It was twice as loud as at the Pre Classic. I don't know if it was those extra 4,000 people in here that made the difference or just me and Christian [Smith] and [Andrew] Wheating moving up, but I couldn't hear myself breathing."
Hell, the crowd was so loud during the final stretch of the 800 that Steve Prefontaine could have heard them cheering.
(Wait a minute. Is that sort of comment considered sacrilegious in this town where there is the Pre Trail, the Pre Rock, the Pre Classic and T-shirts that read "Pre Lives"? Oh, well. Too late now.)
"I saw the 800 during my warm-ups and man, that was unbelievable," Bernard Lagat said after winning the 5,000 meters. "My agent came up to me and said, 'That was great. That was amazing.' The energy in there from the fans was awesome."
Those fans will be discussing the 800 race for years, decades perhaps, maybe even after their ears stop ringing. As the runners entered the final 100 meters, Symmonds, a 5-foot-10 alumnus of nearby Willamette University, fought his way through the pack on the inside, while Wheating, the 6-foot-5, 20-year-old wunderkind from the University of Oregon, began his kick and swept around the outside. After they finished first and second, Smith, who runs for Oregon Track Club with Symmonds, collapsed across the line with Khadevis Robinson to take the third spot on the Olympic team by six-hundredths of a second.
Smith lay on the field shaking his head while the crowd noise increased to leaf-blower levels.
"I thought it was all for me," Symmonds said with a smile, "but it was probably for Andrew. I don't think Hayward can get any louder than that."
"They really pushed me through that last 100," Wheating said. "I was feeling pretty good, but it was so loud, I couldn't even hear myself breathing. I couldn't hear anybody next to me. Couldn't hear anyone running. All I heard was screaming and shouting from the crowd. I really think that the three Oregon boys making it is due to the crowd."
Lagat didn't need any help for his victory, but it was such a special night nonetheless that he said he got goose bumps just watching the previous Olympic qualifiers trot around the track to display the new Team USA uniforms that will be worn in Beijing.
"Right now, I'm so happy that I'm on Team USA and part of the team that is going to wear that uniform," said Lagat, who became an American citizen after running in the 2004 Olympics for his native Kenya. "I was really excited watching them parade around the track. I had to tell myself, 'I need to concentrate. Forget about the uniforms.'"
It really wasn't a problem. Lagat blew away the field in the final 150 meters to win the race by more than two seconds with a time of 13:27.47.
This being Eugene, the track announcer quickly informed the crowd, "I need to tell you that Steve Prefontaine's Olympic trials 5,000 record is still intact." Which prompted even more cheering.
The trials take a two-day rest for athletes to recover and fans to regain their voices. And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to stuff some toilet paper in my ears to stop the bleeding in my eardrums.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.
4dBonnie D. Ford