By EDDIE PELLS
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — The first thing Alysia Montano thought was, “Get up. Get up.” By the time she finally did, everyone else was gone.
The 800-meter runner who has been victimized more than once by the unseemly side of her sport got the cruelest break of all at U.S. Track and Field Trials.
Cheated out of medal after medal by Russians who were later found to have been doping — including at the London Olympics four years ago — Montano saw her chance at an Olympic victory come up painfully short when she tripped over a competitor’s feet while lining up her last charge in Monday night’s final.
“It doesn’t really settle in in that moment where you’re thinking, ‘This is it,'” Montano said about the split second when she hooked shoes with Brenda Martinez, who was stumbling after making contact with the leader and eventual runner-up, Ajee Wilson. “And then, you get up and they’re really far away. Your heart breaks.” Montano did get up. She jogged a bit, then stopped, fell to her knees and began to wail as she kicked her foot to the ground in disgust. She got up again and ran to the finish line, then collapsed to her knees, put her head on the ground, looked skyward, clutched her right hand to her heart and let out a primal wail.
“All of a sudden, they came around the corner and she wasn’t there,” said her husband, Louis, who was watching from the side with their daughter, Linnea, who turns two next month. “It was heartbreaking.”
Officials reviewed the tape and deemed the smashup a result of incidental contact. They did not disqualify anyone.
Asked if she would protest, Montano replied: “What good would that do me?”
If anyone would know, it would be her.
The woman who showed her devotion to the sport by running on this track two years ago when she was eight months pregnant made herself the poster child for all athletes who’ve been robbed over the past several years by what investigators say is a state sponsored Russian system that encourages doping among the country’s athletes.
Montano finished either fourth or fifth at 2011 and 2013 world championships, and at the London Olympics, behind Russians who were later found to have cheated. She may get medals for those races someday.
She will not get one this year, and the fact that the sport’s governing body, the IAAF, has called for the Russian track team to be banned from the Rio Games comes as small consolation for her.
“Eight years of my life as a professional runner, and my entire professional career has been a farce, basically,” the 30-year-old said. “Now, people are saying Russians aren’t running in the Olympics, but they’re missing the whole point. The IAAF is a corrupt institution and it’s still running the games.”
She tried to set all that anger aside coming into trials, knowing she would have no platform, no way to get her fair due, if she did not perform over three days of racing in Eugene this week.
She cruised into the final and, for 600 meters, everything looked fine. Boxed on the inside in years past, she did what she’d been practicing all spring — moving out to Lane 3 to stay out of trouble and make her final push. She was vying for third place when the contact started.
“I saw tripping. Brenda start to trip and Alysia start to fall,” said Kate Grace, who picked an inside route and coasted past the trouble for the victory.
And Montano saw some dreams slip away.
“There’s a lot of healing,” she said, “that has to happen beyond this race.”