Young Hasay captures spotlight at U.S. trials

EUGENE, Ore. -- So how did you spend the Fourth of July when you were 16? Watching a lame fireworks display with your parents while wishing you were with your cool friends? Sitting through five consecutive showings of "Independence Day"? Blowing off two fingers with an M-80?

Here's how Jordan Hasay spent the nation's birthday. She blew off a flight to Poland, broke the national high school record in the 1,500 meters, advanced to the 1,500 finals at the U.S. track and field trials for an outside shot at the Olympic team and, oh yeah, received one of the loudest college recruiting pitches in history from a crowd of 20,000-plus at Hayward Field.

"Every time I passed a runner, I could hear the crowd scream -- it was so exciting," Hasay said. "And then when I was out there at the end, they were chanting, 'Go to Oregon.'"

(Note to the NCAA: Is that a recruiting violation?)

Hasay, who turns 17 in September and will be a high school senior this fall, was scheduled to fly out Friday for the world junior championships in Poland. But after running well enough in Thursday's quarterfinal heat to advance to the next round, she decided to bag the flight and run in the semifinal instead. Not that it was entirely up to her. Because she is 16, the junior national team wouldn't let her fly to Europe unaccompanied on a later flight, so officials had to make sure her mother could go with her. Plus, there was the change fee for rebooking a flight to Europe at the last minute.

"I don't even want to know how much it was," said Stephanie Hightower, chair of the USATF's Women's U.S. Track and Field Committee. "Whatever it was, it was worth it."

It certainly beat sitting in coach on a red-eye, especially if "Fool's Gold" was the in-flight movie.

"At first, [the junior coaches] said I had to go with the junior team," Hasay said, "but once I made the semis, they decided this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I really wanted to do it."

Hold on. The hope is that running in the finals for a spot on the Olympic team is definitely not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This is going to be that person that hopefully we're going to be looking at in four years to win a gold medal," Hightower said. "I think we have a responsibility in this sport when we have these gems to help and progress them. This is a tremendous opportunity for her to come and run in a race like this and be able to run and get the mark she just got. It's going to boost her confidence. It helps us to know we have a junior program that is doing what it's supposed to do. That's what we're about."

Hasay finished fifth in her heat in 4 minutes, 14.50 seconds, the 11th best time of the 12 qualifiers and less than 3 seconds shy of top seed Shannon Rowbury's 4:11.75. So she's a long shot to finish in the top three in Sunday's final and qualify for the Olympic team. But you never know. At least when she rebooked her flight to Poland, she had the foresight to reserve a Monday flight, the day after the final.

Looking as if she weighs about 70 pounds, much of which is her waist-long blond hair, Hasay drew the lion's share of reporters in the mixed zone after the race.

"Does it take away from the others?" Hightower said of the attention on Hasay. "No, because they're probably worried about her right about now, worried that she doesn't take one of their spots on the Olympic team because you don't know what can happen when you're dealing with that kind of youth and that kind of energy. Hopefully, she's motivating them to do some things to run a little faster."

So Hasay will push her elders while racing for one of three spots on the Olympic team Sunday. Sure, that sounds great. But then again, she's probably missing a totally awesome slumber party with her classmates watching "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.