After watching two of his USF athletes compete with some of the greatest athletes in the world last week, coach Greg Thiel could smile at the effort and determination each showed.
Neither 400-meter hurdler Amber Delpino nor discus thrower Dayana Octavien made it to the finals at the U.S. Olympic trials at the A.G. Spanos Sports Complex in Sacramento, Calif., but Thiel was proud of the way the two women carried themselves throughout the entire experience — especially because this event was like none they had ever competed in before.
It’s like that old saying, “You can’t replace experience,” Thiel said. “They’ve never been in a setting like this.”
Before her qualifying heat, Delpino arrived to the track to find only about a thousand onlookers. She left to warm up knowing hers was the first heat. When she came back to the stadium, she found 26,000 fans and television cameras everywhere.
“Then it hits you,” Thiel said. “You try to say, ‘Well, it’s just another meet,’ but it’s not just another meet. She was warming up next to (sprinter) Maurice Greene, and (gold medalist) Marion Jones is around. As a young athlete you have got to get past all those things and then you have to try to compete, and it’s tough.”
Octavien has been battling nerves since she fouled out of the 2003 NCAA championships.
“Even the great ones are nervous to the point of nausea at some point because of the level of competition — this is it,” Thiel said. “The only thing higher than this is the Olympics, and most people in track and field will tell you this is the most competitive track meet in the world, more so even than the Olympics in some events.”
Delpino had trouble in her qualifying heat, running one of her slowest times of the year at 59:11. She began by drawing lane eight, the most difficult lane on the track, and things didn’t get much better afterward. She began her run and felt fine, but near the end of her race, she experienced an asthma attack and finished very poorly, she said.
“For some reason out here when we warmed up when we did a practice run the other day, she got an asthma attack,” Thiel said. ” We thought it was just getting used to the time (change) and that type of thing, but she had the same thing happen toward the end of the race.”
Local doctors later told the 22-year-old that asthma attacks are not uncommon in the Sacramento area because of the extreme dryness of the air.
Delpino was extremely disappointed with the way she performed and said she knows she can perform better.
“My legs were just dead at the end. Usually that’s my strongest point. I always come from behind. I just couldn’t catch up,” she said.
Delpino finished fifth in her heat and 19th overall in the women’s 400-meter hurdles.
Octavien had trouble as well, but it wasn’t because of nerves or the large crowd.
“She did a really good job with nerves and things like that,” Thiel said. “Her event is very technical. Mechanically she just wasn’t there. Her last throw she did everything mechanically right except she dropped her right shoulder and when she did it went kind of straight up in the air.”
“When you have a technical event like that, not only do you have to deal with the (crowd) noise, which she handled very well, one little goof up and you can’t fix it,” he added.
Octavien finished 18th with a throw of 172-feet 7-inches, which is 19-20 feet off of her personal record.
But she was just happy to have gotten over the nerves that have plagued her in the past.
“There will be other trials for me, I assure you,” Octavien said, thinking four years down the road.
Thiel was happy with the competitiveness both women showed.
“The first thing both of them said to me was they apologized to me, and they apologized to the university that they didn’t compete better,” Thiel said. “I mean, that’s crazy. They just have their priorities in the right place. I think that’s pretty special, and it shows what kind of people these two young ladies are.”
Former USF high jumper and basketball player Jimmy Baxter travels to Sacramento Tuesday and will compete in the high jump on Thursday, at 8:05 p.m. (ET).