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Seven current, former Buckeyes ready for chance at Olympic dreams

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

Eugene, Oregon could be the place where dreams come true for some members of the Ohio State men’s and women’s track and field teams.

Seven current and two former Buckeyes have qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials and will compete from June 21 to July 1 at the University of Oregon for a place on the U.S. Olympic Team.

Karen Dennis, head women’s track and cross country coach said this is the largest number of OSU athletes that have qualified for the Summer Olympics. Nine current and former athletes, including 2012 graduate Christina Manning and redshirt senior Corey Leslie, will have the opportunity to compete against elite competition.

“Anytime you can get among the top 24 athletes in the country to be able to compete in the Olympic Trials, that is an honor in itself,” said Dennis.

Ranked ninth worldwide in the 100-meter hurdles, Manning’s senior year was marked with several awards and honors including OSU’s 2011-2012 Female Athlete of the Year, 2012 Suzy Favor Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year and she is a semifinalist for The Bowerman, collegiate track and field’s top award announced in December.

“It was very exciting for everything to pay off my senior year and to be named Athlete of the Year,” Manning said. “It would mean so much to me to be able to represent USA, to just do everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing since I was very young.”

Training for the trials was different for Manning who said everything she did so far was strictly for the team in all events.

“Now I’m just strictly focusing on the hurdles,” Manning said.

2012 graduate Maggie Mullen, who is a hammer throw Canadian Team qualifier, felt training wasn’t that much different, but just a little more specified and “just making sure you’re doing the right thing on the right day and making sure that you’re going to peak on that day.”

Senior shot putter Matt DeChant, and 2012 graduate long jumper Mike Hartfield think because they are underdogs, it gives them a good chance at the trials.

“I’m going in ranked 22nd, so hopefully I can come out…of finals ranked Top-12, so that’d be great,” DeChant said. “Top-12 you advance to day two of the shot put.”

Hartfield shared a similar sentiment.

“(I’m) a new face on the scene,” said Hartfield. “It’s not really any pressure on me, so I can go out and have fun and relax, and that’s when I do my best.”

For senior hammer thrower Alexis Thomas and sophomore 400-meter hurdler Antonio Blanks, they are already looking to the 2016 Olympics and consider this a good opportunity to gain experience.

Blanks said he had nothing to lose and qualifying this year gives him “a good heads up on what to look forward to in the future.”

Thomas said she felt similarly.

“I have the capacity to be at that level one day, so I’m definitely going after that dream,” said Thomas.

Former Buckeyes, Jeff See and Brian Olinger, who will compete in the 1500-meter run and 300-meter steeplechase, respectively, were at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene with 20,000 people in the stands.

They said they know what to expect this year and what mistakes they made four years ago. See said the electric atmosphere was something a track runner isn’t used to in college.

“I think the best thing that you can do is to get yourself in the race and stay in the mix, because the excitement will certainly make you do as good a job as you can do and it’ll make you fight for every step,” See said. “Let yourself feel the excitement of the meet.”

Olinger said a mistake he made was going out early and watching some of the events because it built anxiety.

Dennis said it’s good for the younger athletes to be able to see the athletes that they’re in the competition with who will make the Olympic team.

“To get a chance to not only compete against them, but they’ll also get a chance to get an education about how the very best get it done,” said Dennis.

“The Olympics are like the Super Bowl of our sport to me,” Hartfield said. “That’s everyone’s goal, to get to the Olympics, so the fact that we even have the opportunity to go to trials is a great thing.”

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