Amy Cragg has experienced a lot of memorable moments during her career in running, including one Saturday that gave Cragg redemption for one of her most disappointing times.
Cragg, a native of Leavenworth, finished first in the women’s competition at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles and qualified for the Summer Olympics in August in Rio de Janeiro. She won the race in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 27 seconds, making up for a fourth-place finish in the trials in 2012 that kept her from qualifying for the marathon at the London Games.
“Four years ago, it was pretty heartbreaking finishing fourth,” Cragg told reporters after her victory. “I worked really, really hard for four years to move up one position (and make the team).”
The triumph was the just the latest success in Cragg’s running career.
Never miss a local story.
Cragg, the former Amy Hastings before her marriage in 2014, won three state championships — two in track and field and one in cross country — during her career at Leavenworth High School, and she was the 2006 NCAA indoor champion in the 5,000 meters while running for Arizona State. And while she missed out on making the marathon in 2012, she did qualify for the London Games in the 10,000 meters, finishing 11th.
“The marathon is my dream event,” Cragg said Sunday from Los Angeles. “It was incredibly special to make the Olympics in the 10,000 meters, but I honestly feel that I am a marathoner.”
While the victory was special for Cragg, she also was happy to qualify along with former Arizona State teammate Desiree Linden, who finished second, and training partner Shalane Flanagan, who was third.
“It all worked out,” Cragg said. “It’s the dream team we wanted.”
Cragg and Flanagan have trained together since Cragg moved last October from Providence, R.I., to Portland.
On Saturday, they became a selfless team, sharing water bottles and cooling towels as they ran through the streets of Los Angeles as the temperature climbed into the 70s.
“We kind of started running together like it was practice,” Cragg said.
But as they pounded through the loop course, what was routine suddenly became a formidable challenge. Flanagan began to labor after about 23 miles and soon was in distress.
Cragg turned to her repeatedly, coaxing and cajoling, reluctant to break away while Flanagan was in peril.
“Before the last water stop I looked at her and she was turning bright red and I knew the heat was getting to her,” Cragg said. “That’s where I told her, ‘I’m going to get you a water bottle. Dump the whole thing on your head.’ So I handed her a water bottle and that’s where I started getting a little bit concerned because once that starts happening you never know if you’re even going to finish.”
Cragg worked to keep Flanagan calm.
“I knew no matter how bad she was hurting she could make it happen, but I knew I needed to help,” Cragg said.
Linden passed Flanagan in mile 26 and finished seconds in 2:28:54. After Cragg and Linden embraced, Cragg turned to encourage Flanagan, who sank to her knees after clocking in at 2:29:19 and qualifying for her fourth Olympics. When Flanagan was seated in a wheelchair to rest, Cragg stood by her side again.
“Today it was one of the bravest and most courageous runs I’ve ever seen,” Cragg said, “because definitely something was going on and she had to focus on every single step she was taking to get to the finish line and still she made it happen.”
Flanagan couldn’t have done it without Cragg.
“She’s the epitome of what a friend is,” Flanagan said before receiving treatment that included intravenous fluids. “There was a point where I thought, ‘I’m dying. I can’t do this,’ and she talked me through it. Sweet baby Jesus, I’m so thankful for her.”
Cragg said days like Saturday make her training seem worthwhile.
“It’s definitely a lot of hard work,” she said. “There are a lot of sacrifices. I love the running community, it’s like a second family to me, and to be outside.”