NEW ORLEANS -- Four years ago, she was young and slightly overconfident, a Morgan State quarter-miler challenging for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team.
But in the heat and humidity of Indianapolis, Rochelle Stevens withered in a final and failed to earn a trip to the Summer Games of Seoul, South Korea.
Now, in her second U.S. Olympic trials, Stevens is a stronger, tougher runner, capable of dealing with the stresses of four rounds of qualifying.
Yesterday, Stevens began her assault in the 400 meters. Running with precision, she easily won her heat in 51.64 seconds. The time was only the sixth-fastest in the preliminaries, but at this stage of the trials, the goal was to advance while exerting as little energy as possible.
"I actually wanted to run faster before the race, but when I got out on the track, I decided to just run smart and win my round," said Stevens, 25, a native of Memphis, Tenn.
As she looked over the field, Stevens said, she had a sense of looking at herself, four years earlier.
"I hadn't run against all these girls before, and I knew they were young," she said. "I knew they didn't know to take it easy during the rounds, so I had to go out and try and control the race and
not let it get out of hand."
* Wendy Vereen, a 1988 Morgan State graduate, was eliminated in the women's 100-meter semifinals. Vereen was seventh in her heat in 11.49.
Torrance Zellner, a 1987 Woodlawn High graduate, was also bounced from the trials, finishing sixth in 49.87 in a semifinal heat of the 400 hurdles.
* There is a marvelous final shaping up in today's women's 800. Meredith Rainey, a 1990 Harvard graduate, was the fastest qualifier through the semifinals in 2:00.60. But right on her heels was Celeste Halliday-Over, who finished in 2:00.63.
The other semifinal produced an equally compelling finish, with Joetta Clark winning in 2:01.49, and Alisa Hill in second in 2:01.67.
What makes this final so intriguing is the presence of Halliday-Over, an aggressive runner who has gone for the lead quickly in her two heats.
"I'm not going to let anyone else dictate my race," Halliday-Over said. "In the past, I let myself get forced into running someone else's race, and I've lost a lot that way."
* Fashion statement: Sandra Farmer-Patrick wore a pink tutu while running in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles. The extra lace apparently didn't slow her, though. She had the fastest time: 54.94.