Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why Making U.S. Teams is Important to Naturalized Citizen Lopez Lomong

Lopez Lomong competes in the 2012 Olympics. He hopes to make another U.S. team at this weekend’s indoor national championships. Photo by PhotoRun.

For two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong and his Bowerman Track Club teammates, it’s highly convenient that the U.S. and world indoor championships will be held on consecutive weekends in their training base of Portland, Oregon. But Lopez would be aiming for a top finish in the 3,000 meters at USAs on Friday, and the subsequent spot on the world indoor team, regardless of the meets’ locations.

“The opportunity to race against the world best is never one to be missed,” he says. “In 2012 I competed in indoor worlds in Istanbul, and it gave me a chance to test out tactics against the world’s most elite runners. I learned a lot about what it would take to be on the Olympic stage and chase after a medal. You can never be fully prepared for the feeling of stepping into the Olympic stadium, but world indoor still gives a good taste and is like an Olympic testing bed. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are really magnified on that little indoor track!”

As a former Lost Boy from Sudan who was the American team’s flag bearer at the 2008 Olympics, Lopez has another motivation to wear the U.S. uniform—to be a counterargument to the harsh language on immigration that’s marked much of the U.S. presidential campaign.

“I think the discussion around immigration is one that will define the U.S. for many years to come,” he says. “Running has allowed me the platform to speak about the conflicts in South Sudan, the need to use athletics and sport in general to achieve greater goals, and this year about the importance of embracing immigrants.

“I will certainly be proudly representing the U.S. again this year and forever thankful to the people who opened their arms to me to give me a second chance. I pray that we as a country continue to believe in the American dream that is built upon our great diversity.”

Lopez qualified for indoor nationals with an indoor 3,000-meter PR of 7:43.01 at the Millrose Games on February 20. After years of battling muscle and nerve issues, he says a new focus on recovery has him feeling strong and agile. “The key for me is health so that when I line up I can pour everything into the race without any concern about pain,” he says.

Perhaps fitting for someone with such a broad international outlook, Lopez did much of his base training for this season on the other side of the world. His wife, Brittany Morreale, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, is currently stationed in Adelaide, Australia. Lopez joined her there for three months, training with a local group known as Team Tempo. He’s already pining to return.

“I am really encouraging [BTC coach] Jerry [Schumacher] to bring more of the team down next year so we can escape the cold, rainy Portland winter and train on the amazing park lands in the perfect Adelaide weather,” Lopez says.

After, of course, he makes one or more U.S. teams in this Olympic year.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Before Indoor Nationals, Evan Jager is Already Looking Ahead to the Summer

Evan Jager competes in his qualifying heat at the 2015 World Championships. He’ll use this weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships to practice racing tactics for his 2016 outdoor season. Photo by PhotoRun.

As is fitting for a specialist in a race involving 28 hurdles and seven water jumps, Evan Jager likes to look ahead, not back.

At the Paris Diamond League meet last July 4, Evan was meters away from winning the steeplechase in a sub-8:00 time. He tripped over the last barrier, but recovered almost immediately and finished second in an American record of 8:00.45. When asked whether he’s still haunted by the incident, Evan jokingly says, “Not really. The only time I really think about it is when other people bring it up or ask questions about it.”

Instead, Evan’s thoughts are totally oriented toward the summer of 2016.

“I only have two goals for this year,” he says. “Make the Olympic team in the steeple and medal at the Olympics if I am able to make the team.”

For Evan, this weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships are a means to those big-picture ends.

“My focus going into US Indoors is to work on my racing tactics and trying to win a championship-style race,” he says. “If I happen to make the world team I will be very happy and do my best to try to medal.”

That both meets will be held in his training base of Portland, Oregon, simplified the decision to run a brief indoor campaign. To get his qualifier for the meets, Evan placed fourth in the 3,000 at the Millrose Games on February 20. His time of 7:40.10 was just off his indoor PR for the distance.

“I would guess I’m in close to the same shape as [this time] last year, possibly just a little bit fitter,” Evan says. “We have trained just a little bit harder this winter compared to last year, and that is mainly because most of our team wanted to try to qualify for the World Indoor Championships here in Portland.”

That high level of fitness will be crucial to Evan’s goal of medaling in the Olympics. At last summer’s world championships, he led with one lap to go, perfectly positioned in the outer part of the first lane. But over the last 250 meters, he was unable to match the closing sprint of eventual winner Ezekiel Kemboi and the three other Kenyans in the race, and finished sixth.

After the final, Evan told Runner’s World, “They just have that quick step and can put five meters on you in no time, so it’s really hard to play their game. I’ve got to figure out how to do it my way. I don’t think I can do it their way and beat them.”

Months later, Evan says he meant both fitness and racing tactics when discussing how to get on the podium in a global championship. “I believe I have to be able to use race tactics that benefit my strengths, and in order to do that I need to be the fittest I have ever been so that I can follow through with those tactics,” he says.

So while Evan is looking forward to competing indoors in Portland this weekend, he has the much bigger events of the summer fully in sight.

“The biggest change I have made for this year has been my goals and my mentality,” he says. “The only thing that I care about and the only thing that I am thinking about this year is making that Olympic team and trying to medal at the Olympics if I make that team.”

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