EUGENE, Ore. -- Six-figure shoe contracts surely help. Agents and other support personnel are nice. University scholarships and big-name coaches are the norm.
But at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Team Trials, talent is the currency that trumps everything else. Friday at Hayward Field, three of the five high school athletes competing advanced beyond the initial round and kept their dreams alive.
Shelbi Vaughan and Aldrich Bailey, seniors from the same Dallas suburb, both made impressive Trials debuts. Vaughan threw 193-9 and qualified for the finals of the women's discus with the fourth-longest throw.
"It was my first time ever throwing in the rain," Vaughan said.
And yet, she was unfazed, even after a first-attempt foul. Her second throw traveled 183-3 and her fourth throw clinched her advancement to the finals.
"It's really exciting to be able to throw with the best of the best," said Vaughan, of Mansfield, Texas' Legacy High School. "My goal coming in was to make the finals and we'll see where it goes from there."
Timberview High School is in the same school district as Legacy, and Bailey gave his hometown a second reason to celebrate when he ran 45.59 to advance in the men's 400 meters.
Bailey ran in Lane 8 and therefore couldn't see the other competitors for most of the race, but his confidence and leg speed were enough to move him through to Saturday's semifinal round.
Bailey did not mince words when asked whether he was satisfied to enjoy being at the Trials and watch previous Olympic champions such as Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt up close.
"I came here to make the Olympic team," Bailey said.
He believes he can run faster than his lifetime best of 45.19, if he has to, in order to advance even further to the finals.
"That'd be nice if we both made it to the finals from the same town," Bailey said, referring to Vaughan.
In the women's 800 meters, three more preps were scattered over four heats. Neptune (N.J.) senior Ajee Wilson ran with the savvy of a pro in her heat, leading it off the final curve and running comfortably to second place in 2:03.63. She will run in a semifinal Saturday.
"The first lap I felt comfortable. I just wanted to make sure I got in a good space," Wilson said. "I was feeling good, so I thought I might as well go (to the lead)."
Wilson got into competitive races with elite athletes several times already this year, including running in the New Balance Grand Prix and Millrose Games indoors and the adidas Grand Prix outdoors earlier this month. Those experiences are paying off.
"Definitely, it's taught me to be a better racer and to be prepared for whatever is going on in the race," she said.
Mary Cain of Bronxville (N.Y.), who recently turned 16, ran 2:04.11 in her heat and didn't have enough of a kick to advance. "I really tried to pick it up and tried to pass some people, but I just couldn't do it," she said.
It was Cain's first time racing pros or collegians. "No matter what, this has been a lot of fun. Not every 16-year-old gets to do this," she said. "No. 1 (thing), I wanted to have fun. I was (ranked) 31st of 32 people here, so I was like 'Hey, you got here. This is cool. It's a dream come true.'"
Cain and Wilson greeted each other before the event started with a hug. Cain said she told Wilson "to go out there and rock it." Wilson topped Cain in the New Balance Nationals Indoor 800 this past March, but Cain finished ahead of Wilson in winning the Penn Relays mile in April.
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Amy Weissenbach finished in 2:06.46 in the second heat. She was caught up behind two runners who got tangled up and nearly fell to the track, but managed to place fifth out of eight.
Weissenbach spent some time Thursday evening in a hotel room with Joanna Hayes, one of Harvard-Westlake's assistant coaches and a competitor in the women's 100-meter hurdles. (Hayes is the 2004 Olympic champion).
"I just said to her, 'Let's go Amy, have fun and run fast.'" Hayes said. "At this point that's all you can do. You don't want to over-coach. Yesterday, I told her enjoy yourself and let's have a good time tomorrow and run as fast as you can. This is a whole new world (for her)."