EUGENE, Ore. - Two of LSU's NCAA champions have certainly made the most of their debut at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials as senior Cassandra Tate and junior Kimberlyn Duncan each secured a spot in their respective championship finals during Friday's action at Oregon's Hayward Field.
The Lady Tiger stars look to finish among the top three in their event to earn a spot on Team USA making the trip to London for the 2012 Olympic Games scheduled to run Aug. 3-12.
Duncan opened the competition for the LSU Track & Field teams by lining up in lane No. 5 in the second of three 200-meter semifinals with Sanya Richards-Ross running on her outside in lane No. 6.
It quickly turned into two-horse race to the finish line as Richards-Ross took the lead on the curve with Duncan trailing coming down the home straightaway. Richards-Ross won the race with the fastest time of the day at 22.15, while Duncan followed in second place with the sixth-fastest time of the day at 22.37. They crossed the finish line well ahead of LaShaunte'a Moore (22.85) in third place, Natasha Hastings (22.93) in fourth place and Murray State's Alexis Love (23.10) in fifth place in the second heat.
Also earning their spot in Saturday's 200-meter final were heat winners Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh with their matching times of 22.30, as well as Tianna Madison (22.33), Bianca Knight (22.34), Aurieyall Scott (22.56) and U.S. Olympic Trials 100-meter champion Carmelita Jeter (22.64).
This marks the second time in as many seasons for Duncan to qualify for a U.S. final after earning a fifth-place finish in the 200-meter dash at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships a year ago.
"My main goal all along has been to make it through each round and get in that top three in the final. That is my main focus going into the final," Duncan said. "It's great that I have that experience of running here in the final last year and competing with many of these same women. There's so much more on the line in this race, so everybody is going to be read to run all out. I'm looking forward to it."
Tate followed by lining up in the first of two semifinals of the women's 400-meter hurdles with a difficult task of running in lane No. 8 while needing a top-four finish to advance to the final.
Tate found herself grouped with six hurdlers coming off the final turn and was actually back in sixth place with just two hurdles to go. After passing Jennifer Grossarth (56.18), Tate surged across the finish line for a fourth-place finish with the second-fastest time of her career at 55.77, claiming a spot in the final by just one one-hundredth of a second ahead of Latosha Wallace (55.78) running in lane No. 7.
Arizona's Georganne Moline won the heat with the second-fastest time of the afternoon at 54.72. Trailing in second place was Tiffany Williams (55.47), followed by Christine Spence (55.72) in third place.
"I couldn't really see where everybody was, so I just wanted to make sure I focused on my hurdles, and to stay calm no matter if I saw somebody coming on the inside. I got it at the end," Tate said. "Every step counts, even over the last hurdle. I knew I had to push it to the end. I feel really good. I have enough races under my belt to feel confident, so I'm taking it one round at a time.
"I knew I was behind, but I didn't want to panic. I just wanted to make sure I cleared every hurdle. After I cleared that 10th hurdle, I just pushed with everything I had through the (finish) line. When the day comes, anything can happen. I'm excited to have another chance to run here in the final."
Both Duncan and Tate were catalysts in leading the Lady Tigers to their national championship in 2012 as Duncan won the 200-meter dash and anchored LSU to a victory in the 4x100-meter relay and Tate earned the national title in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships held earlier this month. Duncan was also the national runner-up in the 100-meter dash.
Duncan will line up in the 200-meter final on Saturday at 8:50 p.m. CT and Tate will follow by running in the final of the 400-meter hurdles on Sunday at 6:02 p.m. in the finale of the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Senior Barrett Nugent will join his teammates in Saturday's competition after qualifying for the semifinal in the men's 110-meter hurdles by running 13.52 (+0.3) for fourth place in the second heat. Nugent set the 16th-fastest time of the day to advance to the semifinal round to run Saturday at 6:20 p.m. CT.
Former Tiger standout Ryan Fontenot also made an appearance in the first round of the men's 110 hurdles on Friday evening as he clocked 13.85 (-1.6) for seventh place in the first heat and 23rd place overall.
LSU Track & Field fans will have the opportunity to see the Tigers and Lady Tigers in action Saturday as NBC will air live coverage of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials from 8-9 p.m. CT. The championship final of the women's 400-meter hurdles will also kick off Sunday's live NBC telecast from 6-7 p.m. as the meet is ready to come to a close with the final members of Team USA earning their trip to London.
Time Schedule for LSU Entries at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials
Note: Times are Central and subject to change based on round-by-round qualifying. All television broadcasts are LIVE.
Saturday, June 30
TV Coverage: NBC (8-9 p.m. CT)
6:20 p.m. - Men's 110 Hurdles Semifinals (Barrett Nugent)
6:40 p.m. - Men's Triple Jump Final (Walter Davis, Zedric Thomas)
8:40 p.m. - Men's 110 Hurdles Final (Barrett Nugent)
8:50 p.m. - Women's 200 Meters Final (Kimberlyn Duncan)
Sunday, July 1
TV Coverage: NBC (6-7 p.m. CT)
6:02 p.m. - Women's 400 Hurdles Final (Cassandra Tate)