Aug. 21, 2004
ATHENS, Greece - As the clock struck midnight Friday in Athens, former Husky Aretha Hill saw her Olympic dream come to a premature end with a 19th-place effort in qualifying rounds of the women's discus. The two-time defending U.S. champion and 2003 Pan Am Games gold medalist, Hill's top throw of 192 feet, 11 3/4 inches was not enough to earn one of 10 spots in Saturday's final at Olympic Stadium. Seven women, led by the Czech Republic's Vera Pospisilova-Chechlova, bettered the automatic-qualifying standard of 205-0 3/4, with the next three best throwers from the prelims earning provisional finals spots. Temperatures in the high 80s for much of the day cooled to mid-70s by 11:30 p.m., when Hill finally entered the circle for her first throw in the second of two qualifying heats. Ranked eighth in the world entering the event, the Renton native came to Athens seeking to improve upon her 34th-place effort at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, in which she competed as a college sophomore. After a first-attempt toss of just 173-6, Hill added nearly 20 feet on her second throw, but was still more than 15 feet shy of her winning mark of 208-6 at last month's U.S. Olympic Trials. Trying to muster all her strength for one final throw to better the automatic qualifying standard, Hill instead was charged with a foul, ending her hopes of an Olympic medal. "It's one of those good days, bad days," Hill said afterward. "It just wasn't the day I wanted to have. My body felt fine, felt good. The discus just didn't go anywhere. I tried to stay calm out there. Physically, I wasn't hitting it right at the finish. It's disappointing. It's a matter of regrouping and figuring out how to get it right the next time." A 1994 graduate of Renton High School, Hill was coached by legendary Husky Ken Shannon during an outstanding four-year career at Washington in which she earned four All-America honors, and set an American collegiate record in the discus. After placing 34th in Atlanta, Hill missed the Sydney Olympic Games by one spot, placing fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2000. Since that near-miss, however, Hill has been the American standard-bearer in the event, winning U.S. discus titles in 2003 and 2004, and capturing a gold medal at the Pan Am Games last year. Currently a resident of Opelika, Ala., Hill works at Home Depot as part of the company's Olympic Development Program, and is sponsored in part by the University of Washington's Big "W" Alumni Club. Washington track and field will have one more shot at a medal when 1998 UW graduate Christian Belz takes to the track for the 5,000-meter preliminaries on Wednesday. A native of Switzerland, Belz will also be competing in his second Olympics, having run the steeplechase for Switzerland in 2000. Washington has sent at least one athlete to all but four of the Summer Olympic Games held since 1924, including a record four participants in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Of the 36 Huskies who have competed in Olympic Games, four have earned medals, and 18 placed among the top-five in their events. For complete schedules, quotes and results of all Olympic track and field action, visit www.athens2004.com.