August 16, 2008

Modesto Olympian Suzy Powell: 'Not to make it was tough'

Suzy Powell’s third Olympics came to a disappointing end Friday in Beijing.

Modesto's Powell threw 190 feet, 4¼ inches in women's discus qualifying and didn't advance to Monday's final. That mark came on the first of her three throws. She fouled on the other two.

To qualify for the final, she needed either a top 12 finish or a throw of 61.50 meters (201-9, the predetermined qualifying mark).

There were 38 competitors. The 12th and final qualifier threw 197-9. Powell made the Olympic team by throwing 206-5 at the U.S. trials. Her American record 222-0 came at the 2007 Maui "Big Wind" Discus Challenge.

"It's disappointing," Powell said Friday. "61.50 is not a terribly difficult qualifying mark, so not to make it tonight was tough. I'll go back and take a shower and soak it in. My margin for error is very small and precise."

When the discus left her hand on Powell's final throw, she didn't need to consult the scoreboard to understand where she stood.

"It was just a technical error," she said. "And any margin for technical errors is small and precise. It's like that game where you beat down the little hedgehog, and up pops another one. That's where I am right now. I make an adjustment, something else pops up."

Powell, 31, whose husband Tim Roos was cheering her on in China, indicated before the Summer Games that this could be the end of her track and field career.

"I have to see what's in my heart after the Olympics," she said recently. "I'll make a decision in the fall."

Powell threw in the first of the two evening qualifying sessions Friday. Galt's Stephanie Brown-Trafton, also in that group, had the top throw of the day at 205-11¼.

In May's California Invitational Relays at Modesto Junior College, Brown-Trafton finished first at 207-8; Powell was third at 200-1. At last year's Modesto meet, Powell won at 213-10 and Brown-Trafton was fifth at 190-7.

The other American in Friday's discus, Powell's longtime friend and rival Aretha Thurmond, advanced out of the second session with the sixth-best mark of the day at 203-1.

Because there was no breeze in the Bird's Nest -- the stadium is partially enclosed, open at the top but without access to any kind of wind -- qualifying marks were unspectacular.

Nobody is an obvious favorite for the gold medal, which bodes well for Thurmond, the wife of discus thrower Reedus Thurmond and mother of a 1-year-old son, Theo.

"This is one time where age is helping me," said Thurmond, a three-time Olympian who turned 32 on the eve of the qualifying round. "This is where my age and experience has helped me more than anybody else. Having gone through this event so many times, you've got to get it right once, right?"

Thurmond could empathize with her friend Powell. The two have known each other since their Pacific-10 Conference days, when Thurmond was a University of Washington student named Aretha Hill and Powell competed for UCLA.

When told how Powell's four years of work were erased with three subpar throws, Thurmond shook her head.

"I've been there," she said.

Pressure is off now

On Monday, medals will be at stake and the mood will be one of tension and electricity. But the worst is over now.

"You get past the preliminaries and make it to the finals, it can really take the pressure off," said Brown-Trafton, whose third and final qualifying throw transformed her from fringe medalist candidate to owner of the longest qualifying effort of the night. "That's why I'm not afraid, because there's not any more pressure. This was the most pressure I'll be under."

In her previous Olympics, Powell also came up short in the preliminary round.

In the Sydney Games in 2000, she fouled on her first two attempts before throwing 195-9 on her final attempt, leaving her 15th out of 32 competitors.

In Atlanta in 1996, she finished 33rd among 39 competitors with a toss of 184-6. Then 19, she was the youngest member of the track and field team.

A hamstring injury hampered her in 2004 when she failed to qualify for the Athens Games.

Powell, a Downey High grad, is a two-time national champion and seven-time runner-up. Three times she was the U.S. Junior champion and three times she was the NCAA runner-up at UCLA. She's been throwing the discus since the fifth grade.

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