Flashback: Cliff Clark places fifth in try for Olympic team

08/03/2011 7:56 AM |

The July 6, 1972 edition of the Shelter Island Reporter.

This story was originally published in the July 6, 1972 edition of the Shelter Island Reporter, just four days after Cliff Clark finished competing in the Olympic Trials:

Cliff Clark, the Island’s harrier came in fifth in the steeplechase finals for the Olympics held Sunday in Eugene, Oregon. Although this takes the cross country runner out of the world wide event (only the top three will go to the Olympics) Clark says it isn’t going to stop him from competing for a spot in the 1976 International competition. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Y. Clark of South Ferry Road.

Clark’s time in the 3,000 meter race was 8:36.3. He said Monday in a telephone interview that he felt he had used the wrong strategy in the finals and this is what cost him a berth in the Olympics. “I am full of mixed feelings,” he said. “Ones of frustration because i do believe had I used the strategy I have used since college instead of changing it, I could have placed, also feelings of great honor for being allowed to enter the competition.” Clark has only been running seriously at the national level for two years.

Clark said he usually takes the lead with two or three laps to go and lets the others catch up from behind. He said he had used this in the trials and that it hadn’t seemed to work. In the finals he used another tactic, following and staying back hoping to catch the leaders in the last few laps. But, he said, the runners didn’t break until there was less than two laps to go. He was in eight place then, did not see the break ahead because of those in front of him and when he did realize what had happened it was too late it was too late to catch the top spots. “I reveresed my strategy slightly and got caught in it,” he said.

He described the course as about 270 feet less than two miles. It is run on an outside quarter-mile track the runners facing hurdles which are moved from place to place during the race as well as a water hole.

Clarks qualified for the olympic steeplechase preliinaries June 17 in the National Amateur Athletic union (NAAU) Track and Field Championships in Seattle. He placed third in that steeplechase with a time of 8:36.3, his best ever for the race and the same time he made in the finals.

Competitors for the Olympics are chosen from the top 24 runners in the United States. Each must have run the steeplechase for a time of under 8:28 sometime during the year. the runners are separated into two groups of 12 who compete in two heats. The top six of each of these heats then enter the finals. Clark placed fourth in his preliminary heat with a time of 8:43.4

Mike Manley of the Oregon Track Club took the top spot qualifying with a 8:29.8; Doug Brown, a sophomore at the University of Tenn. surprised everyone taking second (8:31.7); Steve Savage of the Oregon Track Club  placed third (8:31.9); and Jim Dare, NAAU champion fourth (8:33.5).

Clark was to compete for a second Olympic berth in the 5,000 meter run Thursday. “I don’t consider myself as a competitor, though. that run is not for me,” he said.

Clark and Dare do expect to compete in Italy and Germany this summer however, representing the United States in the cross country competition as Clark has for the past two years.

A captain in the U.S. Air Force, Clark is stationed at Castle AFB, Calif. He coaches a track team at the nearby Merced High School. he was graduated from S.I. High School in 1962 and from Harding College in 1967. He then coached a cross country team at the local school here before entering the Air Force.

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