The official results will show that 2008 Soldotna graduate Paige Blackburn missed making the finals at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials in the women’s discus preliminaries Friday by 10 feet and 1 inch.
In reality, the distance between Blackburn and the finals at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, was probably about 3 inches.
Blackburn, a captain in the Air Force, needed to be in the top 12 to make Saturday’s finals and had three throws to make it happen.
She said she was tight on the first throw, didn’t get the discus back far enough, and threw 166—5.
Telling herself to turn it up, Blackburn spun into a second throw and, for the split second it left her fingertips, she figured she was in the finals.
But, by about 3 inches, the discus crashed into the safety net meant to corral stray throws.
“It was kind of a tight net and I just clipped the right edge,” Blackburn said Saturday from Oregon via cellphone. “Some of my best throws are released outside the sector line and come back in the sector.”
On her final chance, Blackburn thought about being a powerful thrower. She was powerful, just not to the right end.
“It was definitely a powerful throw — I think I won a height award,” she said.
The throw landed at 172—11, while Maggie Ewen of Arizona State was 12th in the qualifying at 182—10.
The frustration for Blackburn didn’t stop with Saturday’s finals, where Wisconsin’s Kelsey Card finished third and took the last spot at the Olympics with a toss of 197—3.
Blackburn’s best career toss is 200—8.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Blackburn said. “They say when you don’t get the results you want, you get experience.
“I got experience at this meet.”
She also made the 2012 Olympic trials in javelin, but said this meet was much different because this time she had a legitimate shot at making the Olympics.
Blackburn learned firsthand why eight American women came into the meet with throws over 200 feet, yet only one was able to go over 200 feet at the trials.
“It’s more spotlight and more pressure, and it brings a finer microscope on how much you really trust your technique,” Blackburn said.
Making discus even more tricky is that it balances explosion and power with relaxation and length. Adrenaline tends to mess with that balance.
In hindsight, Blackburn said she was probably too fired up for her throws.
“The way I see it we’re all on a cliffhanger,” Blackburn said. “Only a few get to that glorious summit, but the rest fall off the cliff.
“At least I’m on the cliff trying. Some people never get the feeling of hanging on the cliff and trying to get to the top.”
Another big part of the equation is how one recovers from the fall off the cliff. Just one day later, Blackburn stands ready to make another assault on the summit.
“I feel like I have a lot more to share, a lot more potential,” Blackburn said. “A fire was definitely burning inside my chest after this competition that this isn’t right.
“I need to be here again and perform at a level I am capable of.”
The next Olympics will be in 2020, when Blackburn is 30. That’s still athletic prime for a thrower.
That also would be four more years of concentrating on the discus.
Blackburn, part of the World Class Athletes Program for the Air Force, just started focusing solely on the discus this season.
The focus worked, as her personal record went from just over 188 feet to the 200—8.
“This season was definitely a success, except for the last meet,” Blackburn said.
But Blackburn also said the lack of discus reps from going to high school in a cold state, doing all the throws at Air Force and not quitting the javelin until her mid-20s showed up at the trials.
“They say there’s no such thing as choking, but you do need faith and confidence in your technique,” Blackburn said. “Mine is still a work in progress.
“In the next four years of throwing the discus, my technique will only get better. When the microscope gets real close and you look at my technique, hopefully it will be clear.”
The World Class Athletes Program only starts two years before an Olympics, so Blackburn is on her own for now.
Her next assignment is in South Korea, where she will be posted for a year.
“South Korea is certainly not the ideal training location,” Blackburn said. “But I’m a civil engineer. If I have to get some QUIKRETE and wrangle up some guys in my unit and buy them lunch to help me set up a ring, I’ll do it.”