- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2004

ST. LOUIS — Although Heather Hanscom may not publicly admit it, she is a contender at the 2004 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials here today.

“I never really thought about it,” said Hanscom, 26, who is ranked 17th going into a race that will send up to three women to the Olympic marathon in Athens on Aug.22. “I just want to have fun here. I don’t think like that. I’ve been running for so long, I just go a day at a time.”

But recent history at these trials has proved that dark horses can win. In 1996, Jenny Spangler came to the trials and stunned everybody, including herself, with a four-minute personal best and a trip to the Atlanta Games.

At the 2000 trials, Christine Clark was the 22nd qualifier, chopped more than seven minutes off her best and won a trip to Sydney.

“I’m not nervous,” said Hanscom, a research assistant who will move into her new condo in Arlington next month. “I’m really excited. I was nervous about a week before Marine Corps. People were coming up to me and telling me I would win the race.”

She’s not entertaining such thoughts this weekend, nor is she sharing any expectations she has for herself, saying, “It’s silly. It’s a race. It’s the Olympic trials. No goals, no times, no predictions.”

Hanscom is one of three Northern Virginia entrants in today’s trials. The other two are No.26 Christina Wells of Woodbridge and No.107 Meghan McLaughlin of Vienna.

Wells is a newcomer to the Washington area. A lifelong Kentuckian, the 29-year-old moved to Woodbridge in November when her husband and coach, Bobby, took a job with the government. She earned a ticket to the trials in the summer of 2002, turning in a 2:45 at the Louisville Marathon. A few months later, she lowered her time to 2:40:27 at Chicago.

Her goal is to “cross that finish line knowing I was 100 percent competitive the whole time. There are 40 to 50 ladies who are vying for the top 20,” she said. “This race has a history of long shots.”

Like Hanscom, McLaughlin was not even thinking marathon until last fall, when her coaches suggested the 26.2-mile distance. She nailed her qualifier at Philadelphia in November.

“I’m very anxious at this point — I just want to get there,” McLaughlin said. “I know what I am capable of now. I want to better my time [2:46:52]. I’ve had better training, and I feel better prepared.”

Deena (Drossin) Kastor, the American marathon record-holder, is a favorite to earn one of the three spots on the Team USA roster.

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