Area track stars move on from U.S. Olympic Trials

Staff Writer

The disappointment of not earning a place on the 2012 U.S. Olympic track and field team did not linger long with Ashley Higginson or Robby Andrews. They did not have time to dwell on their performances at the Olympic Trials as both were soon off to Europe to compete on the professional track circuit.

Andrews, a Manalapan High School graduate and NCAA champion at Virginia, competes for Adidas, and Higginson, a graduate of Colts Neck High School and Princeton University, competes for Saucony.

Both runners came close to calling themselves Olympians when the Olympic Trials were held from June 22 through July 1 at the University of Oregon.

Higginson finished fourth in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, while Andrews’ stretch run in the men’s 1,500- meter race came up just short (fifth place).

The top three finishers in each event earned a trip to London for the Olympics.

There were mixed emotions for Higginson, who a year ago decided to forgo law school to devote herself full-time to running. She is a member of the New Jersey-New York Track Club and competes for Saucony.

In the last year, Higginson was able to take her place alongside the very best the country has to offer. She ran personal bests at 1,500 and 3,000 meters and in the steeplechase. In the steeplechase final at the Olympic Trials she ran her personal best by seven seconds (9:38.06).

“I have no regrets,” Higginson said. “I did what my goals were (breaking 9:40). It’s bittersweet when you’re that close” to making the Olympic team.

Higginson did receive a nice consolation prize as she was invited to compete in the London Grand Prix on July 14. Higginson finished sixth in the steeplechase in another personal best, 9:34.49.

Higginson will also run a 1,500-meter race in Belgium and a 3,000-meter race in Switzerland this month.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I’m so excited.”

Having seen where her dedication to training can take her, Higginson is not about to retire from the sport. If anything, coming so close to the Olympics has added more fuel to her considerable passion.

“I’m excited about the next chapter,” she said. “I think it’s nothing but up from here.”

Andrews came away from his Olympic Trials experience with more determination than ever.

“It’s going to make me stronger,” he said. “I’m ready to go again.”

For Andrews, the challenge is not putting the trials behind him, but getting faster and more experienced.

“You never want to stand still,” he said. “You want to keep moving forward. You don’t want to get stuck in one place too long.”

Andrews surprised many track observers by opting to run only the 1,500 at the Olympic Trials.

He had world class times in the 800 (1:44.71 personal best) and in the 1,500 (3:34.78), but while running at the University of Virginia he left his mark in the 800 by winning NCAA titles indoors and outdoors. After consulting with his coach, Jason Vigilante, they decided the 1,500 was Andrews’ best chance to make the Olympic team.

“I never questioned it,” Andrews said of the decision.

Andrews, who earlier this year gave up his final two years of college eligibility to turn professional, cruised through the qualifying heats of the 1,500 and in the final he was in position to use his finishing kick to nail down one of the three qualifying spots.

Coming off the final turn, Andrews was in fourth place and charging. Ahead of him in third place was his college rival, Andrew Wheating.

Andrews had caught Wheating before in the stretch, but he could not do it this time as Wheating held on for third place and a spot on the Olympic team.

Andrews was edged at the finish line for fourth place and wound up fifth in 3:37.45.

“It’s just disappointing,” Andrews said about the 1,500 final. “I was right where I wanted to be. I felt great. It was not my day.”

Andrews’ agent, former world class miler Ryan Flynn, is now getting Andrews races in Europe, where he will look to erase the bitter taste left from the trials and race against the world’s best runners.

“It will be good to get the experience,” Andrews said. “I am thankful for the opportunity. It’s time to really grow as an athlete. I’m doing it (running) for a living.”

Colts Neck High School graduate Craig Forys made a solid debut at the national level at the Olympic Trials.

After a full collegiate season that saw him win the Big 10 title and finish second at the NCAA championships, Forys, a University of Michigan graduate, qualified for the steeplechase final, where he finished 13th.

Forys is now looking to join Andrews and Higginson on the professional level. He is returning to Ann Arbor where he will continue to be coached by the Wolverines’Alex Gibby.

“It’s a huge step transitioning into the next level, the professional aspect of the sport,” Forys said in a press release from the school.

Forys made a strong case for himself as one of the country’s elite runners with his performance at the Olympic Trials.

Freehold High School graduate Justin Frick came up with his finest performance on the biggest stage of his career in the high jump competition at the Olympic Trials.

Frick cleared a lifetime personal best 7- 4½ and finished fifth in the high jump final. He achieved his personal best under conditions that have felled many a high jumper, as he set his mark in the rain.

Frick, who was an All-American at Princeton before competing for the University of Oregon, is returning east where he will continue to compete for the Shore Athletic Club and become an assistant coach at Princeton.

Adam Kuehl, who starred at Monmouth Regional High School, qualified for the Trials in the discus. Kuehl finished 10th in his group during the qualifying rounds (185-8) and did not advance to the final.

Kuehl was a three-time All-American in the discus while at the University of Arizona and won a silver medal at the Pan- American Games in 2007.