Bizzarri closes in on Beijing

By Daniel Johnson

If the upcoming Olympic qualifying trials for LaNeisha Waller and Aja Evans are anything like Angela Bizzarri’s, all three should be preparing for the finals in their respective events later this week.

Bizzarri had another personal-best time Monday night of 15 minutes, 45.78 seconds in her Olympic trial 5,000-meter run. The mark was good enough for eighth in her heat and 14th overall in the event to advance to the finals; it also is the second race in a row that Bizzarri has broken her personal best, after taking second at the NCAA Championships.

“She was obviously a little bit more nervous for this race than the NCAAs, but as far as during the race, she looked just as good at this race, probably better,” Bizzarri’s event coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “She actually looked a bit weaker in the final 600 meters here than she did at NCAAs. She finished stronger there, but she said it was just a bit of a mental thing at the trials.”

Rasmussen said that Bizzarri’s ability to finish with a better time at Olympic trials than at NCAAs, even with a weaker final 600 meters, is a testament to how she has progressed in the event. Bizzarri, a sophomore, primarily ran the 1,500 meters during her freshman year.

“She’s so new to the event, it’s only her first year running it,” said Rasmussen, who also serves as the Illinois track and field distance coach. “I think with a little bit more experience of running that national-level pace, she’s going to have races where she can finish well even if she doesn’t have a great race. It’s an adjustment that she’s made very well.”

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Another, less conventional adjustment that Bizzarri will make is the time of the race. After running the majority of her races, at the latest, around 5 p.m., the Mason, Ohio, native will be coming out of the gate at 10:55 p.m. Friday. Rasmussen said Bizzarri has taken some small steps, such as going to bed later while she was home, to prepare for the late start.

“We were just trying to get her used to being up a little later after the girls were up early all throughout the year,” he said, “But we haven’t changed a whole lot. I just was trying to get her acclimated to west-coast time.”

Regardless of what she does in preparation for the run, Bizzarri’s qualifying time, although exceptional for her, was still about 13 seconds off of Kara Goucher’s event-best mark in the 5,000.

Rasmussen said that throughout the year, he had been working with all of the Illini’s 5,000 runners on finishing with a strong final 1,600 meters.

Even with preparation, he and Bizzarri expect the women who finished in the top spots in the qualifying race to be pushing even harder in the event final.

“Those front girls are going to be running quicker than (what they did in the first race,) so really, (Angela’s) goal is to (run another personal-best time) and beat the two other college girls in the race,” Rasmussen said.

The Illinois coaching staff that will be in Eugene, Ore., may be surprised if Bizzarri earns one of the three Olympic roster spots, but none are shocked that she has come this far.

“For her to make the final, just going out, being in that kind of competition and not giving up when the pack starts to move away is the kind of stuff you expect from Angela because of who she is,” recently-named Illinois head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.