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Originally published Sunday, April 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Runner Lauren Matthews launches her Olympic bid from her home course — Green Lake

This morning in Boston, the nation's most famous female marathon runners, like Olympic medalists Deena Kastor (2004 bronze) and Joan Benoit...

Special to The Seattle Times

Olympics calendar

Today: U.S. Olympic trials, women's marathon, Boston

Today: Last day, U.S. Olympic trials, canoe/kayak flatwater, Oklahoma City

Friday: U.S. Olympic trials, canoe/kayak slalom, Charlotte, N.C.

Aug. 8-24: Summer Games in Beijing

2008 Olympics Video Coverage at NBC Olympics.com!

This morning in Boston, the nation's most famous female marathon runners, like Olympic medalists Deena Kastor (2004 bronze) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (1984 gold) step to the start line for the women's Olympic marathon trials.

Lauren Matthews, along with five other Seattle-area runners, will be in the field of 162 for the event, the day before the Boston Marathon. The top three finishers make the U.S. Olympic team for Beijing.

Matthews doesn't have a prayer. But she has a story.

Everyone else in the race ran her required qualifying time of 2 hours, 47 minutes or better at a known marathon, like Chicago or Eugene or Sacramento, to make it to Boston.

Not Matthews. Her qualifying race? The Green Lake Marathon.

You know the lake. Just not the marathon.

"It's the less well-known marathon," Matthews admits.

Green Lake is where Seattle comes to exercise — walking, jogging, inline skating. But when did it become a qualifier for the Olympic marathon trials?

The answer: Around 10 a.m. March 16, when Matthews, paced by a handful of running friends and assisted by about 35 volunteers, including a cadre of front-running bicyclists ringing bells to clear joggers — ran a time of 2:45:55 to make the field and a dream come true. She was the Olympic trials' final qualifier.

Talk about a home-course advantage. Green Lake is where Matthews and a tight knit group of elite women runners have been training for years. Four of her pacers — Gwen Greiner, Vanessa Hunter, Susan Empey and Caryn Heffernan — had already made the trials, all running personal bests to do it. They're friends. Matthews had tried to qualify five times since 2006 but was hounded by injuries and bad luck.

But it just wouldn't be right for one of them to not make it to Boston. Especially Matthews, who grew up there.

"Sometimes you can get a group of women and it can be catty and competitive," Hunter said. "It's not like that at all. Not even a bit."

So they and others decided to help. They made a qualifier for her. The Green Lake Marathon consisted of nine times around the lake plus one more mile for 26.2 miles.

Tom Cotner is the distance coach for Club Northwest and coach to nine trials participants, including Alyson Deckert of Seattle and Marlene Farrell of Leavenworth. Cotner is an official measurer of race courses and certified the Green Lake course. He also had to get the event sanctioned by USA Track & Field. Runners wore numbers. Fifteen volunteers held stopwatches at the finish. Several staffed the one water station. Cotner's wife, former elite runner Helen Sherk, arrived early to sweep water from a big mud puddle.

"If it seems a little bit funny and eccentric, it is," Cotner said. "Because why would anyone go through all the trouble of a marathon for a handful of people?"

Matthews' husband, Joel Grossbard, held the finish-line tape.

"It was a really inspiring thing to watch," Hunter said. "She was just so relaxed."

While the marathon was advertised for anyone who wanted to qualify, Matthews was the only one to make the attempt. Rules required at least three people had to start the race. No T-shirts. No awards.

"I've never heard of anything like it," Hunter said. "I thought it was quite funny."

Two friends stuck with Matthews for the first 15 miles, then handed her off to others.

"They were keeping track of splits," Matthews said. "At Green Lake, there are markers every quarter-mile. You could actually tell pretty quickly if you were on or off pace."

She was on all the way.

"I had just so many dreams and nightmares and visions of qualifying and not qualifying," said Matthews, 28, who does psychological research for the University of Washington and is a full-time master's student. "I was ready to wake up and have it be not real."

Now Matthews gets to toe the line with some close friends alongside the nation's best marathoners. Nine times around Green Lake, one thrill of a lifetime.

"I'm happy just to start the race," she said. "I'll try not to stare too much."

Suiting up

Olympic silver-medal swimmer Tara Kirk, from Bremerton, knows how to make a splash. At last week's Olympic media summit, where Beijing hopefuls were interviewed by hundreds of journalists over four days in Chicago, Kirk made some memorable observations. On Speedo's new ultrathin LZR swimsuit, credited with helping break records, Kirk said the suit revealed a little too much. And she wasn't talking only about a mole on her hip.

"We have had a few comments in the locker room about the suits showing some, um, I'll call it 'side boob,' " Kirk said. "I can't believe I just said that on a microphone."

The Stanford graduate and Rhodes scholar finalist is engaged to Greg Sell, a Stanford doctorate candidate. Kirk showed her engagement ring, explaining how the diamond was traced back to Canada, not Africa.

"You don't want to look at your ring and see an oppressive regime," she said to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Notes

• The Seattle Storm's Swin Cash, along with 10 other members of the USA Basketball women's national team, get a sneak preview of Olympic hoops venue Wukesong Arena when playing in this week's Good Luck Beijing Tournament. In an opening preliminary-round game Saturday, Australia beat the U.S. women 74-60. Former Storm coach Anne Donovan coaches this team, which includes Stanford star Candice Wiggins and three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie, who missed the entire 2007 WNBA season to give birth to a daughter and led the U.S. team with 17 points Saturday.

"I thought we did a lot of good things tonight with the execution of our offense and also on defense," Leslie said.

Just 12 of the 29 players on the national-team roster make the Olympic team. The U.S. faces Cuba today.

• Ridgefield's Melissa Simmons has earned a berth at wrestling's Olympic trials by winning the women's college national championship at 158.5 lbs. The trials are set for June 13-15 in Las Vegas.

Meri-Jo Borzilleri: merijoborz@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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