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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Olympic athletes claim Tucson as olympic training ground

    Olympic athletes claim Tucson as olympic training ground

    If you plan on spending time outdoors over the next month, there is a chance you could run into a U.S. Olympic track athlete.

    For those on the west side of town, a jaunt along a trail near Starr Pass could find one being passed by America’s leading hope in the 10,000-meters: Abdi Abdirahman.

    The 32-year-old Somalia native says the trails are his typical stomping ground for the “”hour, hour-fifteen”” long runs he enjoys in the early Tucson sun to begin a busy training day.

    Should it be a Monday, the former Wildcat athlete would then head to McKale Center to complete a session of weight training.

    The day would end at Arizona’s Drachman Stadium, where Abdirahman would follow up a midday nap with an afternoon training run ranging anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

    With the Olympics less than a month away, his training schedule will undergo likely tweaks upon the advice of his coach, former Arizona head track coach David Murray.

    “”I’m just going to sit down with (Murray) and we’ll put together a plan,”” Abdirahman said. “”I’m in good shape now but if I went out and just tried to run as long as I can I’d kill myself.

    “”So we’ll just put together a program and I’ll do whatever it is (Murray) sets up.””

    The Beijing Olympics will be the third Summer Games of Abdirahman’s career.

    In 2000, the Tucson High graduate finished 10th in the 10,000m and then followed that up four years later with a 15th place finish in the 2004 Summer Games.

    This year, Abdirahman feels a medal could be a realistic possibility, as his times have steadily improved since his disappointing finish in Athens.

    In 2006, he posted a personal best in the event with a time of 27:22:81.

    Last weekend at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Abdirahman won the event with a time 19 minutes off his personal best but ahead of the two times he posted in the event in his prior Olympic performances.

    “”It definitely gives me confidence, winning the trials,”” Abdirahman said. “”I’m now the sixth fastest man in the world going into the Olympics which helps a lot with confidence.

    “”My main goal this year is to contend for a medal. I don’t know which medal but I feel anything is possible.””

    Abdirahman will not be the only Tucson resident to represent the U.S. Track and Field team in Beijing.

    The second Tucson athlete, Jillian Camarena, can be found most days at the Home Depot near El Con Mall, where her job title is U.S. shot putter and sales associate in the store’s garden section.

    Two days removed from the thrill of qualifying for the Olympics, Camarena was called into work Monday where she was greeted with congratulatory hugs and high-fives.

    “”I would have liked one day to relax,”” Camarena said with a laugh. “”But (the Home Depot) has been very flexible and I like working there so I didn’t mind.””

    Camarena, a 2004 Stanford graduate, moved to Tucson 18 months ago to train with Arizona’s throwing coach Craig Carter.

    The move paid off as Carter aided Camarena to a third place finish at the Olympic Trials and her first trip to the Summer Games.

    “”Coach (Carter) has been amazing for me to work with,”” Camarena said. “”He changed my technique from glide to the spin, and that alone put me on a different level because there’s not that many spinners at the top level – so you really have to be a front runner in that respect.””

    Making Camarena’s qualification for the U.S. team all the more impressive is the rapid road to recovery she has undergone in the past two months.

    Last April, the 26-year-old underwent spinal cord surgery to fix a herniated disk in her back.

    Two months later she found herself in third place after the Olympic Trials following a throw of 18.12m – a mere 0.73m behind the first place finisher Michelle Carter – and on her way to Beijing.

    “”I hadn’t competed at all (prior to the Trials),”” Camarena said. “”So going out there and being able to last six hard rounds of throwing gives me a lot more confidence.

    “”I didn’t have the distance but in these next few weeks I can start training a lot harder and work on that.””

    In addition to the two members of the Tucson and UA communities who will walk behind the American flag on August 8 as athletes, Arizona will send one more representative in the form of a team manager.

    Arizona associate head coach James Li will also join the U.S. Track and Field Team as a team manager.

    Li earned the position due to a resume full of experience with molding world-class runners.

    In addition to Abdirahman, Li has also coached Bernard Lagat, brother of former and current Wildcats Robert Cheseret and Irine Lagat and a serious contender for a gold medal in one of his two events, the 5,000m and 1,500m.

    “”The person who is most important (on a track team) is the head manager,”” UA head coach Fred Harvey said. “”You need a person who’s willing to work at all hours and also someone who knows the culture of the country you’re competing in; that’s coach Li.

    “”Secondly he is a tremendous track and field coach. Those things combined give you exactly the right man for the job.””

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