Stevens seeks Olympic encore

Freedom will be waiting for Robyn Stevens at the finish line at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The 20-kilometer race walk could very be the last for the 2001 Vacaville High graduate. All she has to do to prevent that and qualify for the Paris Olympics is walk the fastest race of her life.

Whether the end comes Saturday or five weeks from now in Paris, Stevens will at last be free from having to survive on prize money. She will never again have to battle the race walkers who have a say in setting the rules and can manipulate them as Stevens claims they did to make it nearly impossible for her to qualify.

Robyn Stevens will need to produce the fastest race of her life to make it o Paris.

Finishing in the top three Saturday will not be enough for the 41-year-old who in 2021 was the oldest female race walker to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. The 2024 qualifying time as set by the International Olympic Committee is 1:29.20. Stevens set her personal best of 1:32.15 two years ago in the Czech Republic.

Stevens did not give much thought to making it to Paris after coming home from Tokyo. “I really didn’t care,” she said. “Tokyo was beyond my wildest dreams. I  knew inside me there was an Olympian. I brought my Olympic dream to fruition. I checked that off my list. I can say I did it. I had the perfect ending.”

Achieving her dream left Stevens with little motivation to continue training at a level necessary to be an elite athlete. She needed a new goal and set her sights on the U.S. record of 1:30.49 with the guidance of her coach, Jacinto Garzon of Spain. Garzon prepared Stevens for the 2021 Olympics without ever having met her face to face.

That first meeting came in Tokyo. Stevens did not come close to earning a medal, finishing 33rd in a field of 58 walkers, but she repaid Garzon for all of his efforts by walking “a well-executed race.” Stevens continues to work with Garzon, who sends her training plans to ensure she will be at her best for the Olympic Trials.

Robyn Stevens paid a visit to Vacaville High on June 5 to meet senior Jessie Lenox, who is recovering from cancer.

Her intense training to take a shot at the U.S. record turned out to be in vain when she contracted COVID-19. At least there was a vaccine to help her recover. There was no cure, however, from the “toxicity” she faced in dealing with the U.S. Race Walking Committee. It would be safe to say the committee is not fond of her.

Stevens believes her former boyfriend, Nick Christie, has had a hand in that. Their relationship made for a touching story in 2021 because Christie is also a race walker and competed in Tokyo. The two went their separate ways after returning and Stevens claims Christie has been sabotaging her career ever since.

“I have nothing to prove to myself. I just need to prove it to the people who have treated me so terribly,” said Stevens, who had hoped to be a two-time Olympian for the sole purpose of taking her mother to Paris. Carolyn now has no interest in going, Stevens said, because of all the treachery her daughter has had to face.

Surrendering is not an option for Stevens, who draws inspiration from those who have faced far greater battles. Her golden retriever April died from cancer in 2015 and left Stevens with the mantra to “be golden.” As Stevens explained, “That doesn’t mean I have to win a gold medal. It was a sign from her that ‘This is your life. You’re not finished yet.’ I knew I had to make the most of my talent.”

Stevens visited Vacaville High on June 5 to meet Jessie Lenox, a senior who could not compete in track this spring as she recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Stevens gave Lenox a Team USA bag and jersey from Tokyo along with a “Congrats Grad” balloon. Stevens was in awe of Lenox as much as Lenox was of meeting her.

The spotlight will dim once Stevens retires and she is fine with that. Freedom will light the way to the next chapter of her life. April will be barking in approval.

Former Ram is ready to run

David Phillips (center) finished first in the 200 at the USC Trojan Invitational and his time of 20.51 qualified the Dixon High graduate for the Olympic Trials.

Heads shook in disbelief after David Phillips, Jr. won the 100-meter dash at the 2018 Sac-Joaquin Section Masters track championships. Who knew Dixon High School, which is know for its agricultural programs more than athletics, had the fastest runner in the section. Who knew the school even had black students.

Phillips is fairly certain he was one of just 10 black students to graduate in 2019 from Dixon High. The 23-year-old is also fairly confident he can name the other nine without checking his yearbook. And he will guess that five years ago there were 16 black students attending the school with an enrollment of nearly 1,100.

“It was crazy,” Phillips said. “There was such a small black population (in Dixon)”

Phillips tried to talk his parents into allowing him to transfer to another school, but they were hell-bent on their son staying put. He did not ask to go elsewhere because he felt uncomfortable at Dixon High. Phillips wanted to attend a school where he could find out if he had the potential to be an exceptional athlete.

His potential was on display for all to see at Elk Grove High in 2018 when the junior won the 100 and finished fourth in the 200 at the Masters meet. Phillips made a name of himself in a matter of seconds and left those in attendance wondering how they had never heard of the sprinter or even Dixon High for that matter.

David Phillips pulled a surprise in 2018 by winning the 100 at the section meet.

Hopefully those folks will be watching the. U.S. Olympic Trials on Thursday evening when Phillips runs in the 200 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The senior at Cal State Northridge eclipsed the qualifying time of 20.60 seconds for the Olympic trials by finishing first in a school-record time of 20.51 at the USC Trojan Invitational in March.

The record belonged to Phillips until June when junior Chase Mars ran a 20.25 to take third at the NCAA West Regional in Fayetteville, Ark. Phillips also ran in Fayetteville despite still nursing a torn hamstring. His time of 28.39 showed his right leg was far from healed.

“I was out of shape. I was suppose to be out for six weeks, but the trainers got me back in two weeks.”said Phillips, who also competed in the 100 and 4×100 relay at the West Regional. The relay team qualified for the NCAA Championships earlier this month in Eugene. Mars also qualified n the 200 and finished 19th in 20.59.

Mars and Phillips will be joined at the Olympic Trials by Trey Knight, who qualified in the hammer throw after setting a school record at 76.99 meters (252 feet, 7 inches) at the Mt. SAC Relays in April. The junior finished first at the Big West Conference meet and was named the conference’s Field Athlete of the Year.

Phillips is well aware of what he will face Thursday after being the 35th and last runner to make it in the 200. Noah Lyles won the 100 on Sunday and is the favorite in the 200 with a time of 19.47. He is one of seven men to crack 20 seconds in the 200 this year. Phillips will have to be at this best if he is to stand any chance.

Athletes in such a situation often play the “I’m just happy to be here” card, but Phillips in not in Eugene to get autographs from the best track and field athletes in the country. He will burst from the blocks because “anything can happen.” It did in 2018 when he astonished the crowd at the section meet by winning the 100.

When asked if he might be intimidated by Lyles and the like, Phillips responded as if the question touched a sore sport. “Not at all,” he said. “I’m 100 percent and I feel good. I just need to run a well-executed race. I’m confident going into this.”