JASON PYRAH WAS greeted by a party and a celebration when he returned to his Provo apartment Monday night. There was a banner - 1996 OLYMPIAN, GO FOR THE GOLD - and about 30 friends who gathered to congratulate Pyrah on making the Olympic team in the 1,500-meter run at last week's U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
"Hey, you're an Olympian," they told him.The trouble was, it wasn't true. Not yet anyway. And it had been weighing heavily on Pyrah's mind ever since his race on Sunday.
For Pyrah, there is still unfinished business to take care of, and it has robbed him of some of the joy that should be his after his performance at the trials.
Sure, Pyrah has already survived a pressure-packed week of racing at the Olympic trials in Atlanta. He won his qualifying heat. He won his semifinal heat. He placed third in Sunday's final to grab one of the three Olympic berths.
But it wasn't enough. Pyrah still needs an Olympic qualifying time to actually run in the Olympic Games. Now that he's beaten most of America's top milers, he has to go out and beat the clock. Pyrah's fastest time of the season, 3:38.66, which came at the Mt SAC Relays in May, left him just short of the qualifying mark of 3:38.00. His career best is 3:38.22, set in 1994.
So the quest for an Olympic berth is not finished, and there isn't much time. Pyrah has until July 16 to produce a qualifying mark or he stays home and surrenders his berth to the next highest trials finisher who has a qualifying mark. Only three Americans have met the standard in the 1,500 since Jan. 1995 - Paul McMullen (first at the trials), Brian Hyde (fifth) and Eric Holman (13th). Both Pyrah and runnerup Jim Sorensen need qualifying times.
Pyrah was hoping for a fast race at the trials to get his qualifier, but it didn't happen. It was a plodding, tactical race in which no one wanted to expend energy pushing the pace from the front and risk being overtaken in the stretch run. The strategy played into the hands of the kickers. Pyrah found himself in the unenviable role of leading after the first lap. He decided not to push the pace himself because he believed he had the kick to place in the top three off a slow pace and his first priority was a top-three finish. He was right, as it turned out. But he didn't get his qualifying mark. The top three finishers were timed in 3:43 to 3:44 - the equivalent of a four-minute mile.
Two hours after the race, while dining with his parents, it started to sink in. Pyrah's Olympic trials weren't finished yet.
"There's still an uneasiness there that I've got to go do this," says Pyrah.
The trick is finding a race that will be fast enough to push him to a qualifying mark. Pyrah has sought help from his Utah-based agent, Bob Wood, who has been on the phone almost nonstop this week. He's called meet officials in Belgium, Switzerland, Norway and France. He even has sought the help of Olan Cassell, executive director of USA Track and Field.
"You don't think I wake up every morning thinking about this?" says Wood. "I feel responsible for getting him in the best race I can."
In essence, Pyrah faces what every college graduate faces when he enters the job market. To get a job requires experience, but to get experience requires a job. To get a fast time, requires a fast race, but to get a fast race requires a fast time. The qualifying mark for 1,500 meters races on the Grand Prix circuit in Europe is 3:37.73. Wood is having to do some fast talking.
"I'm scrambling," says Wood. "I'm calling out every favor I can. I'm pulling out all stops. I'm groveling."
So Pyrah, tired and sore after running three races in six days, will pack his bags again and resume his Olympic pursuit, with the Olympics just 23 days away. This time it will be a race against time, not other runners. Somehow he must find another half-second. Otherwise, he will end up like Ken Martin, who was third in the Olympic trials 10,000 in 1992, but never competed in the Olympics because he failed to meet the qualifying standard.
"I'm not an Olympian until I run 3:38.00," says Pyrah. "I've got two weeks to do it."