July 6, 2008
Eugene, OR - Anna Willard '06 set an American record in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase Thursday night en route to winning the event at the Olympic Trials. Her 9:27.59 effort effectively punches her ticket to the 2008 summer games in Beijing, China where she will represent the United States as the event makes its Olympic debut.
"It's pretty cool to be a part of history," Willard said on making the first women's steeplechase team. "The Olympics is pretty cool alone. This is a pretty neat addition."
The time is also an Olympic Trials (the event was contested in 2004 as an exhibition) and Hayward Field record.
Joining the Greenwood, Maine native, who now runs professionally for Nike, will be second-place finisher Lindsey Andersen (9:30, Nike) and Jennifer Barringer (9:33, University of Colorado).
Though as many as six athletes stayed with the frontrunners in the beginning, the trio separated from the pack just after the midway point. While she led the majority of Monday's preliminary race, Willard allowed Barringer to pace the final through the early laps, as the Buffalo settled in on American Record splits from the gun.
Willard said afterwards she had originally planned to wait until there were only 300 meters left in the race to take the lead, but opted to go early.
"With 600 to go, I just felt so fantastic, incredible," Willard said. "My foot kept going to the side. I wanted to go. The fifth lap, mentally, is the hardest lap. The second to last water jump, I went early."
Willard won the NCAA Championships in 2007 with a similar game plan. Anderson led Willard (competing as a graduate student at the University of Michigan) through the first six laps until Willard broke away at the water jump. She notched a then-NCAA record of 9:37 in the victory. Barringer finished sixth in that race after losing her shoe in the first lap.
"I knew I was in 9:28 or better shape. I knew I was ready," Willard said. "When I heard 9:28 (over the PA), I thought, 'this feels pretty good.' I honestly didn't know how much of a gap I had. At this point, time is completely peripheral. It's 'make the team.'"
Heading into Thursday's final, Willard sat as the third seed, behind Barringer's new NCAA record of 9:29 and Lisa Galaviz's former American record of 9:28. However, unlike her competitors, Willard also posted times this spring which qualified her to run in two other events, the 1,500-meter run (4:06.26) and 800-meter run (2:02.72). The combination of her foot speed and history of closing hard made her one of the pre-race favorites for the title.
Her time in the 1,500-meter run was an Olympic A standard and put her sixth in the U.S. coming into the Trials, and though Willard considered competing in both events, she ultimately decided to focus on her marquee event.
Willard did not begin steeplechasing until her junior year at Brown, and she set the school record that year with a 10:35 effort at the ECACs. As a senior and her first year under the coaching of Director of Track and Field Craig Lake, Willard won the Ivy League Heptagonal Championship title and advanced to the NCAA meet where she was an All-American. Her time of 10:06 from that season still stands as the school record. Willard also owns the outdoor 800-meter, 1,500-meter, 3,000-meter, 5,000-meter records, all set in her senior season. Additionally, Willard anchored the All-American distance medley squad at the 2006 NCAA Indoor Nationals.
Courtesy of Jilane Rodgers