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Helene Elliott

Teen is going the extra mile

July 05, 2008|Helene Elliott

EUGENE, ORE. — She ran smoothly and steadily, her waist-length blond hair fanning out behind her as the Hayward Field crowd cheered her on.

Jordan Hasay, 16, has the face of an angel and the slender body of a child, but on Friday she displayed the competitive instincts of an experienced, world-class athlete.

Hasay, who recently finished her junior year at Mission College Prep in San Luis Obispo, picked off enough runners down the stretch in her semifinal race to earn a berth in the finals of the women's 1,500 Sunday at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Her time of 4 minutes 14.50 seconds set a national high school record, and if she looked like a girl among women and giggled like a kid at a Hannah Montana concert, she didn't perform like one.

"It's one of those fairy tale stories," said Stephanie Hightower, women's chair of high performance for USA Track and Field.

Hasay had hoped to run here but wasn't sure it would happen, so she planned to leave Friday for the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

But she learned Wednesday that she had made the field for Thursday's quarterfinals after two runners dropped out. Then, she advanced to Friday's semifinals and her travel plans got seriously rearranged.

The junior national team left without her. She had business left here, including the national high school record.

"It's always been in the back of my mind," she said, pulling her warmup pants and shirt over her USA uniform.

"When we were at 3:22 at 1,200 I knew if I pushed it I would get it."

She needed that push and had the energy for it, never breaking form or looking tired.

The top six in each of the semifinals would advance to the final, and Hasay wasn't in the top six as the field came to the final curve.

With more than 20,000 people clapping and cheering -- probably double the size of the biggest crowd she had ever competed in front of before this -- she coolly made her way through the pack and finished fifth.

It was nothing new to Hasay. She staged a similar kick less than two weeks ago to pass two rivals and win the 1,500 at the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships, earning that trip to Poland.

"I just wanted to stay relaxed the first two laps. The last 300 I just wanted to give it all I had and see what I could do," she said.

"It was incredible on that last lap. I could just hear the crowd scream. It was so exciting. At the end they were chanting, 'Go to Oregon.' "

First, she gets a shot at going to Beijing.

She probably won't make the top three, but she's not a gimmick.

"Is she taking away from the others? No, because probably if anything they're worried about her running," Hightower said.

"You don't know what can happen with that kind of youth and that kind of energy. Hopefully she's motivating them to do some things, like run a little bit faster on Sunday."

Which is better for everyone.

With that run Friday, with a strong resume behind her at the state, junior and youth levels, Hasay suddenly turned the trials into more than what happens next month in Beijing. They're also providing a peek at what could be a very interesting future for young American athletes.

"Yes, this is about fielding the best team in the world and getting the end results of gold medals," Hightower said.

"But you know what, this is going to be that next person that, in four years, hopefully we're going to be looking at for gold medals."

Hasay has kept her head on straight through what has been a whirlwind the last few days.

Because she's so young -- she will be 17 in September -- she couldn't travel to Poland without her parents or chaperones. The chaperones left Friday with the rest of the U.S. team.

"At first they told me I had to go with the team," Hasay said of USATF officials, "but once I made the semis, they said this was a great opportunity for me and I really wanted to do this, so I'm traveling out on Monday.

"I never dreamed of making the final. But I'm so happy to be out there."

Hightower said Hasay's parents called Thursday to say their daughter wanted to run in the semifinals and delay her trip to Poland, even though it meant they'd have to rearrange their own itinerary.

"And we wanted to be supportive of one of our future athletes," said Hightower, who qualified for the 1980 Olympic team in the 100-meter hurdles but missed the Games because of the U.S. boycott.

"Her parents wanted to make the investment and we thought it was important to make the investment and look what we got tonight."

They got a moment to remember, four years from now and maybe beyond that.

"She's a nice young lady," Hightower said. "I'm glad to be able to support her and give her an opportunity to compete with the big girls and then go over to world juniors in Poland."

Big girls, beware.

--

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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