Molly Ludlow Has Been 4th In The Country 3 Times, And It's More Than Fine

Molly Ludlow has been fourth at three U.S. championships and two consecutive Olympic Trials in the women's 800m (though she did compete at last year's world championships as an injury replacement for Ajee' Wilson). This year's fourth-place finish was particularly brutal, as she finished 0.04 seconds out of third and was positioned to make the team before losing ground to a crash with 100 meters to go.

Ludlow was a Division I soccer player before knee injuries forced her to switch to track, but it's clear she's still a sick athlete.

Watch the crash:

Montano falls right in front of Ludlow, who then somehow laterally cuts into lane three to perfectly split Montano and Brenda Martinez while running at full speed. The move more resembled an NBA player slashing between two defenders in mid-air than a mid-distance runner furiously kicking. The extraordinary effort to stay on her feet cost her a meter or so, and that was enough for Chrishuna Williams to beat her by 0.04 seconds for the third Olympic spot. Ludlow jumped from the inside of lane two to the inside of lane three; lanes are more than a meter wide; at sub-2:00 800m pace, it takes about 0.14 to 0.15 seconds to run a meter.

A week later, Ludlow ran 1:57.68 in Monaco on Friday night while the distance Olympians were convalescing from their celebrations. Here's that race: 

Just six American women have ever run 800 meters faster than her 1:57.68 performance. Here are their global championship résumés:

Jearl Miles Clark: Sixth in the 2004 Olympic 800m final, 1993-95-97 400m world championship medalist, 92-96-2000 Olympic 4x400m medalist
Mary Decker Slaney: Swept 1500m/3K at 1983 Worlds; made 1984 and 1996 Olympics
Kim Gallagher: Silver and bronze medals in the 800m at 1984 and 1988 Olympics
Meredith Valmon: 1992 and 1996 Olympian, fifth at Worlds in 1993
Alysia Montano: Fourth-fifth-fourth behind numerous dopers at 2011-13 world championships/Olympics
Ajee' Wilson: 2012 world junior champion, American junior record, sixth at 2013 Worlds, 2016 Olympian

In other words, that type of fitness from an American woman has always translated to Olympic berths and global excellence. 1:57 fitness combined with Ludlow's kinesthetic excellence would probably bode really well at a major championship. But she has to get there first, and with Montano and Martinez crashing out of the same race, the Trials represented perhaps her best chance ever at finishing in the top three. Ludlow knew that, and her pain was evident after the race when she wrote on Instragram that

"What happened yesterday is something I can't understand or answer to, nor is it something I deserved. I have no words to describe what it feels like to stand on the starting line in an uncomfortable environment feeling a sense of complete control. Never have I ever felt such confidence in any moment I can remember in my 10 years of running track...Call it terrible luck. I can call it being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately yesterday's Olympic Trials final cuts so deep that I am having trouble believing there is a silver lining at the end of all this. It has left me searching for answers and coming up with nothing but endless tears and a knot in my stomach."

Ten days after writing that, she ran 1:57. One of the best things about running is that you're always as good your best day, but your worst day can always be a fluke. After Monaco, Ludlow said, "I came out here with vengeance from the Trials last week. I was just so pissed off, to say the least, and discouraged. I've been waiting for this… I'm proving to myself that I have it in me. Whatever I put my mind to, I can do." 

In other words: that runner tonight was the real me. Not the woman who got fourth a week ago.

Olympic season means treacly bullshit redemption narratives, which almost never have the permission of the actual participants--please ignore them. Ludlow would rather make the Olympics than be able to spin a tale about how disappointment drove her a new PR. 

The Trials disappointment didn't fuel her success; Ludlow was in 1:57 shape all along. When it comes to "redemption," perhaps the smartest thing anyone has ever said comes from another Molly. Eight months after her viral fourth-place-finish debacle last summer in Beijing, Molly Huddle was quick to point out the experience was not a net positive, even though she's run incredibly well since: "I had a hard time finding something constructive with it. I'm not really able to turn that experience into a motivator. It's better to just move on."

Not everyone's moving on will involve making the Olympics. Lauren Fleshman--who made three world championships and was the best American 5K runner of her generation, but never made an Olympic team--said it best. In an interview this year, Fleshman said that "My biggest fear was not making the Olympics for a long time. And I didn't make the Olympics and everything's fine. In fact, it's more than fine. You don't always get what you want. More athletes don't get what they want than get what they want."

For now, Ludlow will have to accept that running 1:57 is fine. In fact, it's more than fine.

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