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LaCaze’s tale of two races

17 June 2012

Every four years we rediscover sports that defy gravity and athletes with the explosive talents to match. Whether we are talking about the degree of difficulty of Lauren Mitchell’s floor routine or the amount of splash on Matt Mitcham’s entry, Australians love talking sport and the Olympics.

This past week the 3000m steeplechase became a national talking point thanks to the almighty efforts of Genevieve LaCaze. The majority of discussion centred on the proverbial clearing of red tape, but the way 22-year-old LaCaze cleared the real hurdles deserves as much of a spotlight.

It was a tale of two races five crucial days apart as LaCaze chased the magic Olympic A standard time of 9:43.00.

On June 8 LaCaze ran for her US College team the Florida Gators and bettered her personal best time by five seconds. She ran 9:50.25 to finish second in what she thought was her final dash at Olympic qualification. The Olympic dream appeared over as she fell two seconds outside even the Olympic B standard of 9:48.00.

“In my mind I’ve had those splits engrained in there since the start of the season,” she said after the race.

“I thought we’d gain that time back, and we gained some time back but we couldn’t do it.”

The girl that claims she is a “Gator for life” was disappointed despite finishing a valiant second.

“Any other year that I’ve run here in college I would have given up or I would have been happy with second place and said ‘hey, good on you Gen!’“

But missing the Olympic qualifier made the pain worse and LaCaze collapsed over the line. Then she saw her dad, Tony who had flown over from Australia as a surprise. LaCaze had booked him in to a ‘Motel 6’ at the last minute. Seeing him gave her some perspective.

“I’ve made so many people proud here that love me and believe in me- friends, family, everything, so I can’t ask for anything more. I’ve got to stand up and put my head up and realise I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought I could this year,” she said at the time.

In a stunning post-race revelation LaCaze said: “Now I just have to look to the future and realise that there is a future in running for me. I don’t want to hang my spikes up yet. I’m not ready to yet, I’m going to keep going.”

Five days later on June 13 LaCaze recorded a time of 9:41.15 to win the American Milers Meet in Indianapolis. Not only was it two seconds better than the 9:43.00 Olympic A standard set by the IAAF, but it was a ridiculous nine second personal best.

The Athletics Australia deadline passed in between on June 11, but LaCaze was granted a reprieve yesterday when Athletics Australia extended their qualification period to 22 June.

It marked a huge win for LaCaze and other Australians trying to qualify at the death such as Olympic middle-distance runners Tamsyn Manou (nee Lewis) and Lachlan Renshaw and long jumper Fabrice Lapierre.

Dad Tony broke the news to LaCaze in a text message saying three simple words: "Gen, you're in."

He wrote on her facebook wall “When you wake up in the morning, you'll wake up an Olympian.”

An overwhelmed LaCaze tweeted with excitement to over 1000 of her new followers.

“Thank you to everyone. Words can’t express how thankful I am. BEST DAY EVER… I will show the world I am meant to be there! Green & Gold all the way!” she tweeted.

From the start, a vocal social media base was behind LaCaze. Australian athletes across the Olympic sports jumped on the twitter hash-tag #letlacazego and her facebook supporters group gained momentum. Some even questioned whether LaCaze was the first athlete to be added to the Olympic Team through the power of social media. 

True, the support was almighty, but LaCaze’s rapid improvement on the track is just as inspiring.

Let’s hope Genevieve LaCaze (@GenGen_LaCaze) will be trending on twitter when she hits the track in London, along with Australia’s male steeplechase runner Youcef Abdi (@abdirunning) who finished sixth at the Beijing Olympics, and every athlete competing for the Australian Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) in just 40 days.

Taya Conomos

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