By John Kovach
POLAND — For Sarah Flament of Poland, one second could have meant the difference between qualifying or missing the 2012 U.S. Women’s Olympic marathon trials.
Consider this: Flament, 34, ran the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 4 in St. Paul, Minn. — the only marathon this year for women to qualify for the 2012 trials — in a time of 2 hours, 46 minutes, 1 second, missing the qualifying time of 2:46.0 by just one second.
But the 2:46.1 was according to gun time, which race rules usually use to determine the starting time no matter where a runner is positioned in the pack; while Flament had a better chip time of 2:45.58 when she crossed the finish line.
Chip time measures how long it takes a runner to go from the start to finish lines, and obviously is way more accurate.
So Flament, a native of Wausau, Wis., and a two-time All-American at Wisconsin-Lacrosse in both cross country and the 5,000-meter run in track, was faced a dilemma.
She knew that she met the trials qualifying time legitimately but not according to race rules.
Confident in her logic, she applied the same perseverance as she uses as a runner to file an appeal with United States Track & Field — and won with her chip time — to qualify for the trials to be held in late 2011 or early 2012.
“You can only go by gun time [by rules] and being that I was one [second] over and two [seconds] under, and given that the elite men started ahead [of me in the pack], I decided to appeal,” said Flament, who moved to Poland about 3 1/2 years ago from the St. Louis area with her husband, Jeff.
The couple has two young children, Logan and Alyssa.
“So I appealed to U.S. Track and Field and it took 10 days for them to get back with me, which they did.”
She said she also “was entered as an elite athlete and because of that I was close to the front [at the start of the race]. They had me starting the race in four seconds [from when the gun went off]. It took me four seconds to cross the start line. The gun time was 8 a.m. and I crossed the start line at 8:04.”
She thinks that maybe the reason races usually use gun time is because of tradition beginning when race fields were not as big as they are today.
“Normally, gun time [is not accurate]. Chip is more reliable. I don’t know why they do gun time but that’s the rule of the race,” said Flament.
But she points out that when absolute accuracy is needed for a final time, that runners always can appeal like she did.
“There is no doubt I made it but I had to go through a lot of red tape because of the gun rule. I don’t think I can cut it closer than this,” said Flament, who finished 14:47 behind top-qualifier Ilsa Paulson (2:31.48) of New York.
“There were 30 people in the race who qualified for the trials and I am 30th.”
She said the race also served as the USA women’s marathon championship, and that she placed 30th among 3,556 women, 108th overall among 8,475 runners, and sixth in her 30-34 age group of 629.
Flament believes that the trials probably “will be held in November of 2011 in New York City, the same weekend as the NYC Marathon. This was the first race to qualify. There will be other races to qualify over the next two years, so the field will build.”
She noted that the last Olympic trials had between 100-150 women.
Only the top three finishers at the Olympic trials will qualify for the U.S. team.
“This was a real achievement for me and I intend to focus on running marathons and to try to improve my time so that I can get prepared for the trials,” said Flament.
Although she knows that she has to cut about 14 minutes off her time to have a chance to be among the top three women who make the U.S. team, she is facing her next big objective with hopeful optimism.
“You never know what will happen,” she said, “and just finishing high in the trials would be an achievement.”