Monday, June 28, 2021

A Great Run

It dawns on TigerBlog, or at least it was told to TigerBlog, that there is some luck involved in making the U.S. team for the Olympics in track and field. 

You need to finish in the top three at the Trials. You have to also better the Olympic qualifying standard for that particular event as well.

There are athletes who come into the Trials having already bettered the standard during the year, possibly because they had the good fortune to have found themselves in a race in, oh, March or April where the weather was right, the pacing was perfect, the field was just strong enough - and the athlete was on top of his or her game. There are others who chose to go to a different race that same weekend that didn't have all of those factors in their favor in that moment, and so they came to the Trials not having met the standard.

Donn Cabral found himself in that situation Friday night in the steeplechase final. The veteran (he's 31 now, somehow) had not yet bettered the 8:22.0 he needed to in order to get to Tokyo, and so he had to run at a faster pace than he might have wanted to if all he had to do was worry about finishing in the top three.

Cabral led for six laps. Ultimately, he finished sixth in what TB presumes was his last go-round of an Olympic cycle. He'll be 34 for the 2024 Games, which will be in Paris. 

He's already been to the Olympics twice, and both times he reached the final in the steeplechase.

To give you a sense of what TB was talking about before about how there is a certain amount of luck involved and how much things can fluctuate race to race, consider this:

Cabral 2012 Olympic final – 8:25.91 (good for eighth in the final)
Cabral 2016 Olympic final – 8:25.81 (good for eight in the final)
Cabral 2021 Olympic Trials – 8:25.95 (good for sixth in the trials)

Think about that. There was a 0.14-second different between the fastest and the slowest of his three times, but they had much different outcomes. 

So where does this all leave Cabral? 

He's clearly one of Princeton's all-time best athletes. He was an NCAA champion in the steeplechase his senior year, winning that race by five full seconds back on June 9, 2012. In less than two months, he went from there to the Olympic Trials, to the Olympic semifinal and then to the Olympic final.

He repeated that trip four years later.

When you think of the very, very best male athletes Princeton has ever produced, all logic says it's a group of three at the top - Hobey Baker, Dick Kazmaier and Bill Bradley. The question is, who is fourth? There are a lot of options there.

Another question is who is the best Princeton male athlete since Bradley? Again, there are all kinds of possibilities. 

Then there's another question that TB has asked before. Who are the most successful Princeton athletes beyond Princeton? This is one of his favorite questions to ask.

First of all, you have to start out again with Bradley. In addition to what he did at Princeton, which was ridiculous in its own right, he also added an Olympic gold medal and two NBA championships. 

Who else? Chris Young is way up there too, with a World Series championship, an All-Star Game appearance, a Comeback Player of the Year Award and had a career that lasted 13 years. There's Ryan Boyle and Matt Striebel, who won multiple lacrosse championships in the professional ranks and the World Championships. There are others, including NFL and NHL players, Olympic medalists, professional soccer players and others. 

Maybe TB will make a list sometime this summer.

If he does, you can be certain Cabral will be on it. His career has been something special and something extraordinary, and he's represented Princeton with great class with every stride he's taken internationally. He's done this in one of the toughest events on the track, and he's had success on the highest level that few Americans have ever matched.

If the race Friday was indeed his last chance, then Cabral had what can only be called an amazing run.

No comments: