July 17, 2004
University of Tennessee sprinter Dee Dee Trotter extended what has been a long and record-breaking season. Competing on the biggest stage of her spectacular career, the Lady Vol junior raced to a bronze medal in the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials 400-meter dash final Saturday afternoon and earned a spot on America's 2004 Olympic Team.
A product of Cedar Grove High School in Decatur, Ga., Trotter toppled her own school record with a 50.28 clocking to earn third place and become the first active Lady Vol track & field Olympian since LaVonna Martin did so in the 100-meter hurdles in 1988. Trotter is also the first UT non-senior to earn a spot in the Games since 1984, when Ilrey Oliver (4x400m relay/400m) ran for Jamaica at the end of her sophomore season and Patricia Walsh (discus) threw for Ireland at the conclusion of her junior campaign.
"The race is a blur right now," Trotter said. "My goal was to come out here and make the team, and I did that. I am really looking forward to going to the Olympics.
"I was inspired by a medallion given to me by my mother. It says 'sweet victory' on the front, and on the back it says Lord, guide my feet while I run this race."
Joining Trotter on the U.S. 400m contingent that will travel to Athens, Greece, for the track & field portion of the Olympics on Aug. 20-29 will be unattached competitor Monique Hennagan and Nike's Sanya Richards. Hennagan took the Olympic Trials gold in 49.56, which is the second-fastest time in the world this year. Richards, formerly of Texas, was second in 49.89, breaking her own U.S. junior record.
"It's definitely an exciting moment to see Dee Dee make her run and enjoy Olympic status, "UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. I'm proud of what she's done. She's a very electrifying athlete.
"Everything has fallen into place, and she's developed into one of the nation's best quarter milers. She is still young in her event, with this only being her second year in it, but she possesses a lot of God-given ability."
After the start of the 400 meters was delayed twice by the crowd responding to great leaps in the men's triple jump, Trotter didn't seem to be bothered. She appeared to get out of the blocks better than she did in the semifinal round on Thursday. Hennagan and Richards, though, opened up an advantage that they would carry into the homestretch, with Nike's Crystal Cox in close pursuit.
As she always seems to do, Trotter began to bring closure to the gap as she made the turn down the home stretch. While she would run down Cox to gain the third Olympic berth, catching the sub-50 Hennagan and Richards was not quite within her grasp on this day.
"I'm known as a closer and someone who finishes very strong, but I'm working on being in closer striking distance," Trotter said. "It's still a work in progress. Today was just the tip of the iceberg, because I'm still relatively new to this event, and there is more to learn and more that I can give.
With Trotter's productive afternoon at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex, Coach Clark's troops wrapped up an incredibly successful trip to the West Coast. The second-year Tennessee mentor qualified five athletes with Lady Vol connections and two family members for the meet, and every one of them made the finals of her event.
Recapping that list, Clark's wife (Jearl Miles-Clark) and sister (Hazel Clark) finished first and third in the 800 meters, while Lady Vols Kameisha Bennett and Nicole Cook placed fourth and seventh, respectively.
Freshman long jumper Tianna Madison was eighth in her event, while former Lady Vol Sharon Dickie was 11th in the 10,000 meters. And, of course, Trotter capped the festivities by taking third in the 400 meters. Not a bad haul in a part of our nation that was once known as prime country for precious metals during the gold rush days.