SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The condition of his infant son has improved, so Mark Croghan really doesn't mind the presence of Pascal Dobert.
Dobert, a tall 26-year-old, began the 1990s at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, Md., and ended them as America's best 3,000-meter steeplechaser. At the U.S. Olympic track and field trials late Thursday night, he pulled away in the final 50 meters from Ohioan Croghan, who had dominated the event domestically for much of the last decade.
Afterward, Dobert, Croghan, and Tony Cosey, who snatched the third and final berth on the team, joined arms and took a celebratory dunk in the water jump.
This will be Croghan's third Olympics. The Ohio State graduate used to treat the U.S. trials as a life-or-death proposition, but now he knows better. His 10-month-old son Griffin was born with a congenital heart defect.
"I had some butterflies, but it wasn't do-or-die the way it used to be," said Croghan, 32. "You try [to] concentrate on the race, but you can't put him [Griffin] out of your mind completely."
Griffin recently had a heart pacemaker installed in Cleveland, and his father was encouraged that he had been let out of the intensive care unit.
"My wife said he was in a stroller in a recovery room," Croghan said. "To see him now compared to three weeks ago is a miracle. In 1996, if I hadn't won this race, I would've been really disappointed, but tonight I'm just as happy to get second as I am first."
The 5-9 Croghan, who owns 12 of the 20 fastest U.S. times ever, gives up 4 inches to Dobert, whom he dueled over the last half of Thursday's final. Dobert became a steeplechaser in 1994, when he was a red-shirt freshman in Wisconsin, and soon put a bull's-eye on Croghan's chest. Both now own three national titles.
"Besides the Kenyans and Moroccans, I'm one of the best in the world," said Dobert, who now lives in Wisconsin. "My goal is to be one of the best non-Kenyans in the world."
Led by Bernard Barmasai, Kenyans held down the first three spots and six of the top 10 in Track and Field News' 1999 world rankings. Dobert lowered his personal best to 8 minutes, 15.77 seconds, nearly 16 seconds slower than Barmasai's world record, and while he's not ready to beat the Kenyans, he can join them.
Dobert said he would leave the U.S. tomorrow for London, his normal summer training base. He spent the spring in Palo Alto, Calif., and wintered in Australia because his coach, Kim McDonald, works with some Kenyans, and Dobert trains where they do.