Acuff, Miles beat the clock at trials

EUGENE, Ore. -- It was Old-Timers Day at the U.S. track and field trials Thursday. Or maybe it was Turn Back the Clock Night. Take your pick. Either way, it was a good night to be older and experienced.

Competing in her sixth Olympic trials, 37-year-old high jumper Amy Acuff advanced to Saturday's final in her event. Acuff is one of six jumpers who cleared 1.83 meters (six feet), but looks like a good bet to make for her fifth Olympic team (she is one of three jumpers in the finals who has met the A qualifying standard of 1.95 meters).

"I was on the circuit 20 years ago competing internationally," Acuff said, marveling at her longevity. "It's like death, taxes and me."

Thirty-nine-year-old Derek Miles, meanwhile, finished fourth in the pole vault but will be going to London because third-place finisher Scott Roth did not met the qualifying standard.

"I'm definitely the horse who needs to be shot out back and made glue from before too long," Miles said. "It's been a long career and this is my last Olympic trials so to at least make the team was certainly a goal, but I would have liked to have been more competitive. But it's been a long road -- I've got a bad Achilles, so the last couple months have been pretty bad."

Well, that's what happens when you get old. Your Achilles aches, your knees ache, your back aches and pretty soon you're yelling at kids to get off your lawn.

But not always. Sometimes you improve with age. Consider Acuff. Her best Olympic performance was 2004, when she finished fourth with a 1.99 jump. But she may be getting better despite her age and leaving the sport to have a daughter in 2010.

"I really thought I was done," she said. "But I'm like a moth to the flame. I got the bug and I came back. Actually, I really surprised myself pretty early at how certain kinds of fitness don't go away. Even after just vegetating for two years."

"Vegetating to the Olympics." Sounds like a training bestseller.

Acuff said she got the itch to start jumping again after watching last year's nationals but didn't start actually jumping again until last fall.

"I got really inflexible, but I was really strong and really fast," she said. "I wondered how it would be to have so much time off. I really don't train nearly as much as I used to. That's been very good. I'm not injured at all -- my body is healthy. I probably over-trained before and now I've probably found some sort of happy medium. It feels really good.

"Practices have been going so well. There are only a few meets left, but I feel like I could PR this year, which is really surprising, not only because I'm 37 years old, but that you could do this for so long and then find a way to improve. So it's kind of shocking really."

The toughest part of Acuff's comeback may have been finding competition. She said she entered two all-comers meets recently only to have no one else show up for the high jump. "The high jump official at one said, 'Well, I'm going to go officiate the races. I'll be back in a while.'"

This was Miles' fourth trials. He was the alternate on the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney, finished seventh at Athens in 2004 and fourth in Beijing four years ago. He said his right Achilles began aching in April and got so bad he could only vault twice in the past month.

"The therapy I got since I was here got me to where I could get down the runway, which I wasn't sure I could even do," he said. "Now I'm just spending the next month getting healthy as I can and getting fast and pain free by the time London rolls around.

"I still feel like I can still be competitive. If I can't be competitive with the rest of the world, then I don't want to do it anymore. I want to remember being in the final of every world championship or every Olympics. At least being in the mix. That's been the priority, to be competitive, and that continues to drive me through this year. But probably this is coming to an end for me."

Eventually their athletic careers will end (unless they can develop a knuckleball), and there will be someone to replace them. Such as high-schooler Gabrielle Williams, who also advanced to Saturday's high jump finals.

"When I saw Amy, I was just like star-struck. 'Oh my gosh, it's Amy Acuff and Chaunte Lowe,'" Williams said. "They're all nice, and it wasn't so bad out there. ... Before I even thought I'd be coming to the Olympic trials, those were the two I watched to see what I needed to do better, and now I get to see them in person, close up."

"I was really excited for Williams," Acuff said. "It made me remember when I went to Olympic trials in high school. I was a little older than her and I was going to change all this stuff and I no-heighted. Remember her name, because that took so much composure to do what she did. She's the one to watch."

But keep your eye on the old folks, as well.