Former Wildcat middle distance runner Christian Smith and current K-State assistant track and field coach Tom Pappas qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games June 30 at the U.S. Olympic Trials at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Smith, the 2006 NCAA indoor mile champion, qualified for his first Olympic Games when he narrowly beat prohibitive race favorite and 2004 Olympian Khadevis Robinson to finish third in the men’s 800 meters.
The final lunge towards the finish line, as each runner tried to lean over the line to secure the final U.S. spot for the event, left both sprawled on the track.
“I wasn’t even sure if I was third or fourth,” Smith said in a recent interview. “I didn’t want to face the possibility of coming so close and not making the team, so I laid there on my stomach for about 15 seconds.”
He got his answer less than a minute later when the times were posted on the scoreboard.
Smith defeated Robinson by a margin of .06 seconds and qualified to represent the U.S. in Beijing with a time of 1:45.47. Smith, a Garfield, Kan., native and Pawnee Heights High School graduate, finished behind Nicholas Symmonds, who won the event with a time of 1:44.10, and Andrew Wheating, who finished in 1:45.03.
Earlier that day, Wildcat assistant coach Tom Pappas qualified for his third Olympic Games with a third-place finish in the decathlon. He finished this year’s trials with a two-day total of 8,511 points, and will join winner Bryan Clay (8,832) and second-place finisher Trey Hardee (8,534) on the U.S. team.
The five-time U.S. outdoor champion finished fifth in the 2000 Olympic decathlon with a total of 8,425 points. The University of Tennessee graduate was favored to win the event in 2004 after winning the 2003 world championship, but was unable to finish due to a foot injury sustained during his first pole-vault attempt of the games.
Pappas’ personal best in the decathlon came when he won the USA Outdoor Championships in 2003 with a total of 8,784 points, setting a meet record.
After arriving in China in early August, Smith will run in the first round of the 800 meters on August 20 and Pappas will begin decathlon competition the next day.