Trials and tribulations: Former Livingstone sprinter attempts to make Olympic team
By Bret Strelow
Jordon Vaden slid his feet into the starting blocks and pressed his palms against the track.
One arm trembled.
The movement wasn’t a function of nervousness, but restless nights have resulted from that feeling.
Vaden, a Livingstone alum who broke his left arm earlier this year, is scheduled to run the 200 meters tonight at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.
The first round begins at 9:50 p.m. EST, and the next two rounds will be held Saturday. The final is set for Sunday, and the top three finishers qualify automatically for the Summer Games in Beijing.
“The closer I get, the less sleep I get at night,” Vaden, 29, said earlier this week in a telephone interview from Eugene. “I toss and turn all through the night because I’m running my race through my head so much and really focusing on what I do so much that I don’t get much sleep.”
The track and field trials are a long-awaited reward following the rehabilitation period Vaden, who resides in Concord, faced after a March surgery.
He tripped when one of his spikes stuck into the track surface near the finish line during a workout earlier this year, and he extended his arms to brace himself for the fall. He shattered one of the bones in his left forearm and broke the other.
The post-surgery prognosis wasn’t positive.
“My doctor said, ‘I don’t think you’ll be ready to go by the time the trials get here,’ ” Vaden recalled. “Anybody that knows me, once you tell me something I can’t do, that motivates me.”
With a cast covering the forearm, Vaden returned to practice two weeks after his surgery. He had his cast removed in late April ó after receiving a lukewarm blessing from his doctor.
Vaden resumed full-speed workouts and ran the 100 meters in a meet at North Carolina A&T just to test himself.
“I wasn’t able to compete much because I wasn’t able to hold myself up in the blocks in a set position,” Vaden said. “There’s no more thinking about my arm, no shaking any more. At the beginning I was shaking because my arm was so weak and I thought it was going to break again because I was putting too much pressure on it.”
The injury actually helped Vaden in one regard.
Proper form calls for a runner’s elbow to bend at a 90-degree angle, with the upper arm perpendicular to the forearm. Vaden never had trouble getting his right arm into that position, but his left arm rarely cooperated.
“When I broke my arm, the doctor had me in a sling and a cast, and I had to hold it in that ‘L’ position for almost a month,” Vaden said. “So when I take it out of the cast, ‘Huh, how about that, it’s in that perfect position.’
“Now I’m not wasting a lot of energy with my arm opening up. My practice times have been faster than before I broke my arm because I’m getting quicker rotation with my arms.”
Vaden is seeded eighth in the 200 with a time of 20.17 seconds. Tyson Gay, the 100-meter champion, is the top seed with a time of 19.62.
Vaden, who nearly qualified to run the 100 in Eugene, will make his second appearance at the Olympic trials. He won a national title in the 200 and finished second in the 400 at the Division II championships as a Livingstone senior in 2004, then ran the 200 at the trials seven weeks later.
Vaden had the 12th-fastest time in the first round and the 19th-fastest time in the quarterfinals. The top 15 advanced to the semifinals.
“In 2004, coming from a small school and not seeing track on this level, it was more of a shock,” said Vaden, whose first name is still misspelled in most meet programs. “I really couldn’t relax and get into my groove.
“It’s more settling now. It’s like I’m accepted. I expected to be going to the trials, enjoying being here, enjoying the crowds. The anticipation, I can’t wait to get out here and get in the blocks.”
Vaden also competed in the 400 at the 2004 trials, but he has established himself as more of a pure sprinter in the last four years.
At the 2006 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis, Vaden officially took third behind Gay and Shawn Crawford in the 100 ó Justin Gatlin’s first-place result has been removed. Vaden ran a 19.98 in the final of the 200 and placed second behind Wallace Spearmon.
Gay, Crawford and Spearmon are three of the top four seeds in a loaded 200 field that will flock to historic Hayward Field today.
“It’s a God-given talent to be doing what I’m doing, and if it’s meant to be, something good will happen,” Vaden said. “My training has been going good, and I’m mentally focused and prepared. My arm is healed 100 percent, and I’m ready to go.”
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