It wasn’t so much that the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center’s premier athletes met with major misfortune during the concluding weekend of action at the 2012 London Games.
It was how they met with misfortune that burned its grotesque image into the minds of television viewers sitting nearly half a world away. They all met their demise in inglorious, spectacular fashion.
For those viewers who somehow avoided Internet spoilers all day, watching last Friday night’s delayed telecast must have seemed like a horror show at times. Friday the 13th, it wasn’t. But Friday, Aug. 10, will certainly be a day remembered in infamy in Chula Vista Olympic lore.
In the course of one hour of pre-recorded highlights, local fans witnessed the following tragedies transpire:
•Brad Walker, the U.S. record-holder, no-heighted in the finals of the men’s pole vault.
•As the bell lap sounded in the women’s 1,500-meter final, Morgan Uceny was clipped by a runner from behind and fell to the track.
•In perhaps the biggest shocker of the entire 17-day run of these Olympics, the five-member American team failed to bring home a medal in BMX cycling after setting the standard with three in Beijing.
To complete the nightmare run, the U.S. women’s field hockey team lost, 2-1, to Belgium to finish 12th out of 12 teams. Thankfully, the game was not shown in prime time.
TV commentators weren’t particularly surprised by Walker’s failure to clear opening height, referring to his string of inconsistencies over the years. He no-heighted in the qualifying rounds in Beijing in 2008 and failed to make the cut for last year’s world championships.
Uceny appeared to be in position to make a run at a medal as runners began to jockey in tight quarters for break-outs, It was her second consecutive fall in a major international race. She also fell in the finals of last year’s world championships.
After falling in London, she pounded her fists angrily into the track while crying uncontrollably. Her emotional outburst was understandable: four years of hard work and sacrifice evaporated in an instant so close to her goal.
As for BMX? That’s the puzzling one.
Based on the success in Beijing, the USOC perhaps wisely gave the go-ahead to build a replica of the London track on site at the Chula Vista OTC. The sprawling new course was completed exactly 100 days before the opening of the London Olympics and served as the site of the U.S. Olympic Trials.
But something just wasn’t right. Despite using photos from satellite imagery, the Chula Vista course didn’t turn out to be an exact replica.
That was apparent throughout the three days of competition in London as riders from various nations took spills on the Olympic course.
The last turn proved to be the trickiest. It featured an odd angle that required riders to be going a specific speed in order to successfully negotiate it.
The day before the Chula Vista BMX contingent was to leave for London, Arielle Martin, the No. 1-ranked women’s rider, suffered a devastating crash during a practice run. She suffered a lacerated liver and punctured lung in the accident and sat out the Olympics while undergoing three surgeries.
The charismatic Martin is expected to make a full recovery and plans on resuming her racing career.
It proved to be a bad omen for the Americans, in retrospect.
David Herman, the No. 1-ranked U.S. men’s rider, suffered two spills during his three semifinals runs in London and failed to make the final.
Brooke Crain, Martin’s replacement, promptly crashed in qualifying and competed the rest of the way with an injured quadriceps muscle.
Connor Fields, the U.S. Olympic Trials champion, was the lone American to make the men’s final. After finishing undefeated in the quarterfinals and winning two of his three semifinal heats, Fields appeared to be the rider to beat for the gold medal.
But in the final, he got off to a poor start and crashed on the final turn, eventually placing seventh.
In her final semifinal heat, Alise Post crashed face first into the first berm. Somehow, it seemed the perfect ending to the string of mishaps.
Crain was the lone American woman in the final. She finished eighth: dead last.
Interestingly, Australian Sam Willoughby trained on the CV-OTC’s Beijing replica course. He captured the silver medal.
Glory went to Latvia’s Maris Strombergs, who won his second Olympic gold medal, and Colombia’s Mariana Pajon, the women’s gold medalist.
Next up are the Paralympic Games, scheduled Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, also in London.
May the flame burn brighter then.