Amy Haapanen isn’t ruling out making another run at it four years from now, but this could be her last chance to make the USA Track & Field Olympic team.
Now 32, the Manteca-based hammer thrower is making her third appearance in the Olympic Team Trials today at iconic Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon. Since narrowly missing the cut for the 2012 London Games with a fourth-place finish in the national meet, Haapanen has been busy rehabbing from what she describes as a “laundry list of injuries” that go back to her three-sport days at East Union.
She set a career-best mark of 70.63 meters (231 feet, 8 inches) back in 2012 but was working through soreness in her neck and shoulders. Turned out the injuries stemmed from her upper spine, and she even had concussion-like symptoms from whiplash. It all resulted in forcing changes in both her technique and training exercises.
“I’ve been training the same way for 10 years and it was doing damage to my body, so I had to start over from scratch,” Haapanen said in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “I haven’t had the best of seasons on paper, but every track meet has been a workshop and practice on what we’re trying to hone in on.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good the last couple of weeks. Things are coming easier and it’s more natural — I can execute without thinking. I’m feeling good at the right time and hopefully it all comes together (today).”
Haapanen remained active in competition while on the road to recovery. Since the 2012 Trials, she placed 10th (64.51), ninth (66.11) and 10th (65.20) in the last three USATF National Championships.
She said it has taken a team effort to rebuild her technique. John Dagata remains as her coach. He recruited her to UC Santa Barbara, where she went on to break school records and earn All-America status.
Haapanen credits chiropractor Dr. Ralph Jeffrey for nursing her back to full strength. His practice is in Modesto, but Jeffrey is a fellow Mantecan with children who are also former East Union athletes.
“He’s here to support me and make sure I don’t do anything to break my body,” Haapanen joked. “He has completely turned my body and healthy around. It has really given me hope again, not only for just being able to compete but be successful in my sport. He has donated much of his time to help me.
“As a struggling track and field athlete, we depend on the generosity of people around us. I couldn’t do it without the support of so many. Even the good thoughts or words of encouragement are a big people from people in the community.”
Though optimistic, Haapanen isn’t putting added pressure on herself to perform at the highest level today. She’s taking a more “happy to be here” approach than in previous attempts after working so hard just to remain competitive.
She’s especially excited about getting to compete on the infield of the stadium. The hammer throw is an event that typically takes place at venues separate from the rest of the track and field competition. The 2012 Trials for hammer throwers was held at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., more than 100 miles north of Hayward Field.
“It’s going to be real fun,” she said. “I may be one of the few competitors with stadium experience back when I did the shot put and discus in college. We’ll get to actually feel like we’re part of the meet now. It’s the first time ever we’ve had it at Hayward Field, so we’re all pretty excited.”
Haapanen is part of the first of two flights that begin competition at 1 p.m. today. The top nine overall make the final round which starts at 3. From there, the top three placers who reach the ‘A’ standard of 71 meters qualify for the Rio Games.
“With everything going on the last four years I’m definitely coming in feeling more gratitude that I’m even here,” Haapanen said. “I’m just taking more time to enjoy myself and appreciate the little moments that come with it. I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to do in four years. I’m just focused on what I’m doing now.”