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Olympic hopes rest on Trials

Curtis Beach is one of four Blue Devils who earned All-America honors at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Curtis Beach is one of four Blue Devils who earned All-America honors at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

For most athletes, going to the Olympics is a dream and nothing more. Although few athletes get to travel to the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Friday, three current Blue Devils—Curtis Beach, Tanner Anderson and Michelle Anumba—will take their first official steps toward their Olympic goals.

Beach—a senior who will compete in the decathlon against greats like two-time world outdoor gold-medalist in the decathlon Trey Hardee, world indoor record holder in the heptathlon Ashton Eaton and Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay—has been looking forward to competing in the Olympics since high school. Beach showed his skills earlier in his collegiate career when he set a world record in the 1000m indoor heptathlon at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championship meet, and then broke it on his way to a first place finish at the national meet in 2012.

Despite being expected to finish fourth in the Trials, both he and his coach, Shawn Wilbourn, acknowledge that if everything falls into place, moving up one spot—and onto the Olympic Team—is a possibility.

“He has a realistic shot of making the team,” Wilbourn said. “I think the mindset [Beach] has this year is… if he makes it, it will be an awesome experience, if he doesn’t, I think he will be able to put it into context. He’s really looking four years from now.”

Although Anderson, a sophomore, is not entering the Trials as highly ranked in the high jump as Beach is in the decathlon, neither he nor his coach, Jan Ogilvie, are willing to let that deter him Saturday as he aims to move on to Monday’s round.

“[Anderson’s] confidence is soaring. He looks absolutely fantastic,” Ogilvie said. “That being said, we’ll see where he is in front of a crowd and mixed up with 23 of the other top jumpers in the country. He’s excited, I’m excited, I think he’s earned this trip.”

Unlike Beach, though, Anderson is new to the feeling of having his Olympic dreams within reach and so is not in the same place mentally.

“As a kid you know it’s kind of everyone’s dream to go to the Olympics one day,” Anderson said. “Honestly I never really thought it was that attainable until I jumped really big.”

Even though he has not had as long as Beach to adjust to the idea of competing at Trials, Anderson is entering the meet with a little extra help in the form of his role model, famed high jumper Jesse Williams.

Williams and Anderson have a unique relationship, one that started when Anderson broke Williams’ North Carolina high school record in the high jump in 2010. The two met for the first time in Eugene at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2011, when the now world champion gave the young Blue Devil encouragement. Now, as they return to the city where they first met for their next competition, Anderson is once again looking to Williams for inspiration.

“I read an article of an interview with Jesse,” Anderson said, “and he was saying how you can’t go in expecting to surprise somebody. You have to go in thinking... that you have the ability to win. I’ve been trying to do that now and I think it’s really worked. Earlier this week I had the best practice I think I’ve ever had in my life. I’m going in really confident.”

In contrast to both of her teammates, Anumba is heading into the shot put competition solely for the experience and without any preset goals. Both she and her coach B.J. Linnenbrink view the Trials as a learning experience, Anumba said.

Despite the junior’s lack of experience in the event—she did not do the event in high school—she quickly proved that she had found her element in the shot put, earning an individual title in the event at the 2012 NCAA Indoor meet.

“I didn’t think I would get this good so soon,” Anumba said. “But it just shows how much potential I have.… This is all motivation for the Olympics in the next four years.”

Linnenbrink also voiced his pride at the way Anumba has been competing and improving since she first entered the event, adding that she is just beginning to reach her potential.

The three Blue Devils will not be the only ones with Duke ties heading into the Trials, however. Shannon Rowbury, who graduated in 2006, will be competing in the 1500m race. She will be joined by fellow Duke alum Devotia Moore, who will compete in the 800m run.

Although all three of the current Duke athletes are approaching the Trials with different goals, their outlook on the competition is remarkably similar. Each athlete is just focusing on doing what they do best and trying to view the Trials as just another meet. Regardless of their best efforts, though, Wilbourn acknowledged the difficulty they will have keeping their relaxed mindset.

“Preparing physically for the meet is no different than preparing for NCAAs,” Wilbourn said. “You can say that you’re going to treat it the same mentally, but the Olympic Trials are a different beast, once you get there it’s difficult to control your emotions.”

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