Just before 9:00 in the evening in the Olympic Stadium in London, Cornell alumna Morgan Uceny stood ready. She and twelve competitors were three and three quarter laps of the track from realizing a dream they'd chased their whole lives. After falling in last year's World Championships, Uceny finished first at the U. S. Olympic Trials in the 1,500 meter run. She was widely projected as a serious medal contender.
But the Fates, which normally work in mysterious ways, were pretty straightforward this time. They were well aware of Uceny's alma mater, and decided it was time to go deep into the bag of tricks and pull out a really cruel way to screw this up.
Thus it was that the race was run, to borrow a NASCAR term, with the restrictor plates on. Both the splits and the commentators' remarks indicated how slowly the final was progressing. I thought this would benefit Uceny - unlike several of her competitors, she had never run a competitive race under four minutes at this distance. So she'd have plenty in the tank, right? And she was on the outside, so maneuvering through traffic shouldn't be a problem. As the runners heard the bell for the final lap, I fully expected Uceny to copy what Tirunesh Dibaba did in the 10,000 meters... that is, she'd switch to the secret hyper jets, pull away from the field down the back stretch, and bring home gold for the Stars and Stripes and the Big Red.
The field took the first turn of the final lap, and... disaster. Before the announcers could even begin to speculate as to who had gone down, I knew it was Uceny. Even they sounded truly disappointed; they'd remarked many times on her tactical skills. (To clarify, I'm referring to the British announcers on the live Internet feed, not the NBC crew.) My instinctive reaction was "unbelievable! How? Why?"
It didn't take long for the cynical side of the brain to kick in. This always happens to the Big Red. Uceny's Olympic dreams were doomed the moment she donned a Cornell uniform. I've previously documented here how those Fates have given no quarter to Big Red teams in the last decade. Of course something would find its way between Uceny and an Olympic medal.
The tape delayed version of the final wasn't any less easy to watch, despite my knowing what the result would be. It was only then that I got my first glimpse at both the slow-motion replays of the fall itself and of Uceny's reaction. And to have this on the twenty-eighth anniversary of Mary Decker Slaney's infamous fall in the 3,000 meters in Los Angeles. Ugh.
But Uceny is resilient. I know this with certainty, because she is a Cornellian. It may not be easy, and it may take time, but she'll come back from this. I'm tempted to hope that in the two days left in these Games of the Thirtieth Olympiad, she might run across McKayla Maroney, and those two go to lunch. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that hypothetical meal. In the end, whether that meal happens or not doesn't so much matter. Irrespective of what happened on the track in London, I'm certain that Morgan Uceny will find a way to propel herself "far above..."