1,500 runner Holthaus faces double standard

ON THE OLYMPICS

Olympics

July 09, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

This year, Matt Holthaus wants to win the battle and the war.

Holthaus, a Columbia resident, has been one of the nation's better 1,500-meter runners in recent years. He has never posted any eye-popping times - few Americans do - but he is coming off of the best year of his career and expects to be a factor at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

The trials open in Sacramento, Calif., Friday. The qualifying round in the 1,500 will be held that night, and by Sunday's final, Holthaus could be celebrating a trip to Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Games.

The top three finishers in each event at the U.S. trials will qualify for the Games, if they attain a certain level of performance.

Qualifying standards were a hitch for Holthaus in 1999, when he followed up a national indoor title with a third-place finish at the outdoor nationals. That won him the right to represent the U.S. at the world championships in Seville, Spain, but he never went, as he futilely spent the summer trying to reach the qualifying time.

For a nation to earn three berths at the worlds and now the Olympics, its qualifiers must all have run 3 minutes, 36.80 seconds. (Roughly, that's the equivalent of a 3:54 mile.) Holthaus lowered his personal best to 3:38.65 in a meet in Austria last July, but in the end was unable to reach the standard.

"That was a very frustrating experience," Holthaus said. "The nationals are always emotional, and to finish among the top three for the first time was a huge relief. I thought it was a foregone conclusion that I would get the standard, but when I got to Europe, things didn't come as easily.

"It's kind of nuts having a deadline like that hanging over your head."

Holthaus has other deadlines.

A graduate of Wilde Lake High and James Madison University, Holthaus runs for the Reebok Enclave, which is based at Georgetown University. He has another semester left on a graduate degree at American University, where he's also worked as an assistant coach.

He's 28, and Holthaus has said that he might need a breakthrough - like competing in the Olympics - to stay in the sport.

Holthaus passed on the indoor season, when he took longer than expected to kick a flu bug. He ran a strong 1,500 anchor split at the Penn Relays, where he made up some serious ground on Seneca Lassister, and was third in the Oregon Track Classic two weeks ago.

"It took me awhile to get my feet under myself," Holthaus said. "I wasn't ready to run fast before, but I feel I am now."

The blanket finish at the nationals last year was Steve Holman, Lassister and then Holthaus. Holman, another member of Reebok Enclave, was briefly sidelined by a stress fracture in May, but he's as accomplished and experienced as anyone in a field that will be lucky to produce someone capable of reaching the Olympic finals.

"The 1,500 at the trials can be so unpredictable," said Holthaus, who reached the trials final in 1996. "Just getting into the final is going to be a dogfight. That's not a foregone conclusion for anyone."

As Holthaus can attest, even a top three finish doesn't always deliver a happy ending.

Trial for locals

It's been 28 years since a graduate of a Baltimore area high school was in a footrace at the Olympics, and it happened in Holthaus's specialty.

Bob Wheeler was two years out of Dulaney High when he reached the semifinals of the 1,500 in Munich in 1972.

Douglass alum Cliff Wiley qualified for the 200 in 1980, but stayed home when the U.S. boycotted the Games in Moscow. In 1992, Tony Parrilla represented the U.S. in the 800. Before he concluded his prep career in Florida, he ran scintillating times for Severna Park High.

Bernard Williams is one of only three Americans who has run under 10 seconds in the 100 this year. The Carver graduate won the NCAA title for Florida, and then was tested by some international fields. He was fourth in the Prefontaine Classic June 24 in 10.21, and three days later was third in a race in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 10.27.

Canadian Donovan Bailey, the reigning Olympic champion, won that race in 9.98.

Briefly

There must be something in that Wilde Lake water. Besides Holthaus, the Columbia high school also produced acclaimed actor Edward Norton and gymnast Elise Ray, the top American woman in the all-around at last year's world championships. ... With Ray mending from recent minor knee surgery, the U.S. Classic in Tulsa took another hit when Shannon Miller withdrew with a stress fracture to her right shinbone. ... The final U.S. wrestling berth will be determined July 27 when Les Gutches meets Charles Burton in a best-of-three match. Burton won the U.S. trials, which top-seeded Gutches missed with an injury. ... Speaking of combat, the U.S. fencing trials in Austin, Texas, will conclude today.

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