June 11, 2008
There has been a change in plans.
Mattie Bridgmon will be competing for All-America honors Friday (June 13) as the Eastern Washington University track and field athlete qualified for the finals in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Track and Field Championships Wednesday (June 11) in Des Moines, Iowa.
Although she will be missing EWU's commencement ceremony on Saturday (June 14), that doesn't take away from any of her excitement of competing in the finals Friday (June 13) at 7:15 p.m. Pacific time. The top eight American finishers are given All-America status.
"If I am going to have to pick between nationals and graduation, I would definitely pick nationals," said an overjoyed Bridgmon after her race. "It is a shock that I made it to finals and I am definitely excited."
Bridgmon, a 2005 graduate of Laramie High School (Wyo.), is making her first appearance at the national level in track and field. However, she advanced to the NCAA Championships in cross country last fall, finishing 64th.
She had the 10th-fastest time out of 27 runners (17:18.39) as the top six finishers in each of the two heats and the next four fastest times qualified for finals. Bridgmon was 10th in her heat and was actually the last competitor to qualify. She entered ranked 23rd with a time of 16:33.60, which was a new school record set at the Oregon Relays earlier this season.
"Today race was about getting a place and making it to finals," said EWU distance/cross country coach Chris Zeller. "I would have liked to see Mattie a little quicker but she did what she had to do. Friday it all depends on how the race goes to see if she can earn All-America status."
Bridgmon won't be in person to receive her bachelor's degree in exercise science Saturday in Cheney, Wash., but she will have her family by her side cheering for her in Des Moines. Her father and step-mother watched her run on Wednesday and, had she not qualified for finals, would have made the long drive to Cheney for commencement.
Instead, they will be joined in Des Moines by Bridgmon's brother and mother, who will be driving 676 miles Friday from Wyoming to watch her in the finals.
Wednesday's first heat in the 5,000 was slow-paced and was won by Texas Tech's Sally Kipyego with a time of 17:23.14. Thus, all Bridgmon had to do to make it to finals was to beat the sixth-place time of 17:37.46 and finish in the top 10 in the second and final heat.
She was actually 11th when Rice's Allison Pye fell, putting Bridgmon in the top 10. She then held off 11th-place finisher Tone Hjalmarsen from Oklahoma State by three seconds to advance to the finals.
"As long as Mattie's heat ran at a decent clip and made the top 10 they were in," explained Zeller. "In over half the race she was in 11th until the Rice runner fell. It was fortunate for Mattie and she kept enough separation to make finals. Friday is a new race and we will see what she can do."
Eastern has had five All-Americans in its history at the NCAA Division I level (indoors and outdoors). Carolee Gutierrez finished eighth in the javelin (161-10) in 2007 and Kari McKay placed fourth in the 10,000 (35:18.15) in 1992. On the men's side outdoors, Ryan Cole in 2001 placed eighth in the javelin (223-3) and Greg Jones took second in the high jump (7-3) in 1986. Eastern's only indoor All-American was Kurt Kraemer with a triple jump mark of 52-1 3/4 to finish ninth in 2001.