After the torches were lit and the best athletes in the world started their competitions in the London 2012 Olympics, an Avon runner medaled in the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics in Baltimore last Saturday.
Litchfield Track Club member Molly Hamel, 14, not only placed eighth for the 15-16 age group in the 3,000-meter run (11:01.72), but she also was named All American.
"Racing in the USATF Junior Olympic Nationals was a great experience. It was bigger than any other meet I have competed in and it had a very different atmosphere," Hamel wrote in an email to Avon Patch. "I learned so much about racing when there is such a large field, and how best to handle the heat. I would like to do the Junior Olympics next year, and see if I can do even better."
She also ran a personal best time in the 1,500-meter run (4:59.86), just missing the finals by .45 seconds. She came in 13th in the semifinals. The top 12 advance to the finals, according to Litchfield Track Club coach Dave Driscoll.
The extra time to rest, however, was a perk.
“In long run it was to her advantage," Driscoll said. "She would have had to run the 1500 finals and come back next day to run the 3000.”
Hamel, a rising sophomore at , is the youngest of her siblings and the only runner in her immediate family. A longtime Irish step dancer, Hamel took a new step in her athletic career when she joined the track and cross country teams at . A year into competing in cross country and indoor and outdoor track at the high school level, she has already made All-NCCC in all three.
“We’re just happy and proud. She’s only really been running seriously for a year," her father, Mark Hamel said. "Like a puppy, she's still growing."
This is Hamel's first summer running with the Goshen-based Litchfield Track Club, which is made up of 90 athletes from kids to adults. The club, which has been around since the early '80s, draws athletes from as close as Avon, Farmington and West Hartford and as far as Stonington, Driscoll said.
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He was impressed with Hamel's performance at Avon High freshman year, particularly noting her State Open qualification in the 3200 for outdoor track.
"There's a lot of talent there and more to go," Driscoll said. "She’s got the right running attitude, good parental support."
He and Hamel's mother, Mel praise her training at Avon High, where she is coached by Al Dadario. Mel Hamel said that the welcoming and encouraging vibe of the team has motivated her daughter in the sport.
Hamel was one of eight from the Litchfield Track Club to go to Junior Olympics. For many of them, including Hamel, it was their first time, Driscoll said.
Running rosters often surge in Olympic years, Driscoll said, as kids feel inspired by the athletes and press attention rises. There were over 6,000 athletes competing in total at Junior Olympics, he said. Many on the team are looking forward to watching the upcoming track and field events on NBC.
Whether Hamel could be an Olympian some day is too soon to tell.
“It definitely was and we would joke about that. She definitely, in being at Junior Olympics, was sort of like 'I sort of want to try and compete in the Olympics.' It was kind of neat. It sort of gave her new perspective on what new opportunities were with running.”
But the Olympics were certainly on her mind.
"Running at the Junior Olympics gave me a feel of what the real Olympics would be like," Molly Hamel said. "I have been looking forward to watching the track and field events in London this summer, and seeing how the United States does in their events, particularly the long distance ones. I definitely enjoyed the Junior Olympics and making it to the Olympics is a goal I would love to reach."
In the meantime, she is preparing for the cross country season and will be going to running camp next week, her mother said.