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Eugene, Ore. • The raw talent, boundless energy and glaring inexperience of former BYU track and field star Shaquille Walker were all on display Friday afternoon at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Walker immediately bolted into the lead with his usual fast start in the 800-meter run and led all the way until he was caught by surprise when two rivals surged past him on the final straightaway. Walker's third-place finish was good enough for him to advance to Saturday's semifinals.
"I didn't know there were other guys right there," Walker admitted.
Such mistakes are understandable for a young man who was slowed in high school by injuries, then missed two seasons at BYU while serving a Mormon mission. He recently turned pro with Brooks, giving up his senior year of eligibility with the Cougars.
Despite finishing third in his heat and 10th overall among 30 finishers in Friday's first round, Walker was brimming with confidence when discussing his chances of making the Olympic team.
"I like 'em," he said with one of his frequent smiles. "The stars are lining up.
"I'm tired right now, but by tomorrow, I'll forget I get tired after races. I'll be ready to run again and run a lot faster."
Walker clocked 1 minute, 47.76 seconds before a sun-baked crowd of 20,987 at historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. Three weeks ago, Walker placed third at the NCAA meet at Hayward in 1:45.17.
Penn State freshman Isaiah Harris, who placed fourth behind Walker at the NCAA meet, won Friday's heat in 1:47.60. Walker insisted he "didn't go out too fast," and Harris did not argue the point.
"He's not just one to go out fast and die," Harris said. "He's one to go out and hold that pace.
"He's a good runner. He's a GREAT runner."
Sixteen runners the top three in each of four heats plus the next four fastest advanced to Saturday's semifinals. Eight move on to the finals Monday. Three of the finalists make the Olympic team, provided they've met the 1:46.00 qualifying time.
Walker acknowledges that three 800 races in four days is "brutal," but he added, "You get through it. You run well and you're fine."
BYU's other trials entrant, Shea Martinez-Collinsworth, struggled from the beginning in the first round of the women's 800. She finished seventh (last) in her heat and 33rd among 38 total runners in 2:06.65.
"It was tough," Martinez-Collinsworth said. "Getting out, my legs felt kind of heavy. You try to trick your mind, but it just wasn't working today."
Martinez-Collinsworth, the wife of former BYU basketball star Kyle Collinsworth, said she hopes to turn pro after running for BYU as a senior next year.
Only two finals were held Friday, after the meet opened Thursday with men's and women's race walking. Former Oregon great Galen Rupp easily won the 10,000 in 27:55.04, and ex-Texas star Ryan Crouser beat world shot put champion Joe Kovacs with a heave of 72 feet, 6 1/2 inches.