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Monday, August 2, 2004

Athens-bound Gruber stunned

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Somebody pinch Charlie Gruber. He must be dreaming.

Gruber, a former Kansas University track and field distance standout from Denver, is headed to the Olympics -- and he can hardly believe it.

"It really hasn't hit me yet," Gruber said by phone Sunday from Liege, Belgium, the day after he met the Olympic "A" qualifying standard in the 1,500-meter run and completed his eligibility to represent the United States in that event at the Athens Games. "I've been dreaming about it so long, and it just happened. It feels like I'm still dreaming about it."

It's no dream.

Gruber placed second in the 1,500 at the U.S. Olympic trials on July 18 in 3 minutes, 38.45 seconds. But he hadn't met the qualifying standard of 3:36.2 that would have made him eligible for the Olympics.

Gruber went to Europe to try to reach the qualifying standard before the Aug. 9 deadline. He ran 3:38.02 earlier this week at a meet in Sweden.

Saturday, at the KBC Night of Athletics meet in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, Gruber ran 3:34.71 and placed 10th.

"A lot of it was, the first one was just two days after traveling to Europe," Gruber said of his first attempt. "My legs were still tired. I hadn't adjusted to the time zone yet. I finally got adjusted and rested from the travel."

A loaded field Saturday helped Gruber, he said. The winner was world-record-holder Hicham El Guerrouj of Morroco, who won it in 3:29.18, the fastest time in the world this year.

"It was a phenomenal field," Gruber said. "I was in last place until the last 700 meters. In the last 700 meters, I decided not to worry about the clock and just try to catch and pass as many guys as I could. I ran really fast and still finished 10th, so that tells you how good the field was."

He had until Aug. 9 to meet the standard. Saturday's performance gave Gruber some sense of closure and took a bit of the pressure off the rest of his tour of Europe, he said.

Gruber plans to run the 800 in a meet Tuesday in Liege and race again Saturday in Zurich, Switzerland, or in a triangular meet with Germany and France in Munich, Germany.

"It was very open-ended after the trials," Gruber said, "a to-be-continued type thing. It was surreal, an odd feeling to be second, but it was like, 'That's nice, but it doesn't do a lot of good since I didn't have the A time.' Yesterday was the culmination of everything."

Since getting his qualifying time, Gruber has heard from dozens of friends and family members via phone and Internet.

"I've heard from a lot of people I don't really know," Gruber said with a laugh. "And I've gotten tons of e-mails. It's fun sharing with people."

Gruber will be the first former Jayhawk to compete in track at the Olympic Games since pole vaulter Scott Huffman and sprinter Pierre Lisk at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Gruber's first 1,500 Olympic race is scheduled for 11:35 a.m. Lawrence time on August 20. The semifinal round will be held at 1:50 p.m. on Aug. 22. The finals will be at 3:40 p.m. on Aug. 24.

After that?

"The sky's the limit, I feel like," he said. "I plan to stay in Lawrence the next couple of years and work with (coach) Doug Clark and the KU team. Today I realized I improved my PR (personal record) by 5 seconds -- 5.068 seconds. A lot of that's just getting older, refining my training methods. Yeah, I really feel the sky's the limit."

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