EUGENE, Ore. — Time hasn’t been on Dorian Ulrey’s side, but he certainly has made the most of it.
A lingering hip injury threw a wrench into Ulrey’s training schedule, leaving the Port Byron native only four months to prepare for his lifelong dream of trying to make the United States Olympic track and field team.
After overcoming a torn labrum in his hip, Ulrey will get that shot beginning Thursday in Eugene, Ore., when he competes in the preliminaries of the 1,500 meters at the U.S. trials.
“I’m just staying relaxed, not getting too nerved up and doing the daily things I need to do to get to the starting line,” said Ulrey, who has had a couple of minor setbacks with his hip since March.
If Ulrey can survive Thursday’s prelims, the semifinals would be Friday and the finals Sunday. A top-three finish would land the two-time IHSA 1,600-meter state champion and former Arkansas standout a spot on the Olympic team.
“I think all too often people kind of make the mistake of thinking top three would be great but come up one spot short of their goal,” said Ulrey, who is competing in his first Olympic trials. “Fourth place is pretty much the worst feeling you can have in the world. So, the way I see it is everybody wants to win anyway, so why not come out and say I want to win and confront it head on.”
Ulrey qualified for the trials with a mark of 3 minutes, 37.69 seconds. The mark is 4 seconds slower than Leonel Manzano’s top time of 3:33.66 and about 3 seconds slower than the third-fastest qualifying time.
“My time may be 3 seconds slower, but I ran that over a month ago,” said Ulrey, who recently joined Alberto Salazar and the Oregon Project training team. “I have come so far since then that I feel like no matter how the race goes, as long as I make it into the final and don’t mess up, I stand as good a shot as anyone else.”
Staying laid back and not getting wound too tight will be key.
“Going into Thursday, it’s the same game plan at any championship where you have rounds,” Ulrey said. “You don’t want to expend all your energy but at the same time you don’t want to hold something back and miss the next round. In a way, you have to treat the prelims as the finals. You have to do whatever you have to do to make the next round.”
His success this year has come as sort of a surprise for Ulrey.
Four years ago, the former Northern Iowa runner was “super fit,” but didn’t hit the qualifying standard for the trials. This year, the 24-year-old, 11-time all-American has been injured and his 1,500 time is 4 seconds faster than his 2008 mark.
“It’s kind of an interesting feeling, knowing that I have come so far in the past four years, but I still haven’t done everything I could have this year,” Ulrey said. “But that isn’t going to deter me from my ultimate goal, which is to win the Olympic Trials.”
That mentality and determination goes back to his high school days at Riverdale, where he won IHSA Class A state titles in the 1,600 meters in 2005 and 2006.
“Making the Olympic team is a goal that he’s had for a real long time,” Riverdale coach Gordon Fortney said. “He’s worked extremely hard and has a real good mindset. I’m not going to bet against him.”
In addition to his two state titles, Ulrey also has an NCAA indoor national title in the 3,000 in 2010 and was second at last year’s NCAA national outdoor championships in the 1,500. He also was a part of the U.S. World Championship team in 2009.
“I’ve been to one of the biggest stages a professional athlete can go in track,” Ulrey said. “I’ve kind of seen everything there is minus, ironically enough, the Olympic Trials and an Olympics.”
Come Thursday, on one of the biggest stages for American runners, hopefully time is on Ulrey’s side.
“Whether I make the team or not, I’m going to hold my head high and know I did everything I could have done this year to get myself on the Olympic team,” Ulrey said. “If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to apply the lessons learned this year to next year and two years from now, three years from now, four years from now to be the best that I can be.”
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