Tori Polk last competed for Texas Tech four years ago. All her years worth of preparation, however, paid off Sunday.
The 28-year-old Polk earned a spot on the national team to the IAAF world championships this summer by finishing fourth in the women's long jump at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore.
Polk, from Waco, competed for Tech from 2003 through 2007. Two other Tech exes, LaToy Williams and Andrae Williams, also earned trips to the world championships Sunday, making the relay pool at the Bahamas national trials. LaToy Williams, a Tech senior this spring, ran 46.19 seconds for fifth place in the 400 meters.
Tech's Bryce Brown advanced through two rounds in his first trip to the U.S. championships, then placed eighth in the 400-meter hurdles. Brown was in position to finish seventh, leading Southern Cal's Reggie Wyatt, but tripped at the last hurdle and came across in 53.13.
One by one at Hayward Field, a generation of American track and field's best athletes slowed at the finish, pulled up lame and failed to find their fastest gear. By the time the week was over, Walter Dix was among the few who looked ready to take on the world.
Dix completed the 100-200 double Sunday, meaning he'll be the headliner on the American world team that will be missing Tyson Gay, Lolo Jones, Wallace Spearmon and other regulars.
Dix completed his sprint double by running the 200 in a wind-aided 19.95 seconds for a .03 margin over Darvis Patton. He'll head to worlds in South Korea later this summer as America's best sprinter, which puts him squarely on Jamaican world-record holder Usain Bolt's radar with the Olympics coming up next summer.
"I can't see myself losing," Dix said in a typical burst of optimism. Bolt's world record in the 200 is 19.19 seconds.
Carmelita Jeter's shot at the women's 100-200 double blew up when Shalonda Solomon accelerated past her in the last 50 meters to win with a world-best time of 22.15. This was Solomon's first win at a major meet, possible in part because defending world champion Allyson Felix sat out and focused on the 400, which she won.
This also will be the first spot on a U.S. international team for Solomon, who is a junior world champion in the 200 from 2004.
Dix and Jeter, whose second-place time of 22.23 was a personal best, were among the few big-name runners who tried multiple events at an important meet that, at times, felt more like play time or a visit to the trainer's room.
Sanya Richards-Ross, the world 400 champion, joined Felix in bypassing her main event to try something new. But Richards-Ross failed to qualify in the 200, finishing seventh. Richards-Ross wasn't the only big name to come up short at this meet.
Jones, hampered by a painful sciatic nerve, didn't make it through the semifinals of the 100 hurdles, meaning the multi-time champion and America's best-known name in that event won't join the U.S. team at worlds.
"Maybe this is motivation to go into next year," Jones said. "I'm just disappointed and speechless that I couldn't recover and get things under control."
Jennifer Suhr had her five-year streak of national titles snapped in the pole vault. Battling injuries all season, Suhr finished second to Kylie Hutson, who cleared 15 feet, 3 inches.
Hyleas Fountain, America's best at the heptathlon, was fighting through food poisoning and a number of other maladies on her way to sixth.
And that was just on Sunday.
Earlier in the week, Gay pulled out of the 100 with an injury; Spearmon, a multiple world medalist at 200 meters, didn't get out of qualifying; former Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner finished second in the 400, where the defending champion, LaShawn Merritt, was still sitting out a doping ban; defending Olympic decathlon champion Bryan Clay pulled out with a calf injury; and former world champion Brad Walker didn't clear a height in the pole vault.
"That's the world of track and field for you," said sprinter Shawn Crawford, a former Olympic medalist who also didn't make the team. "The same faces can't dominate every time. There's always going to be a changing of the guard. I feel like the best people made this team."
Indeed, there was plenty of room for new blood, and plenty of people there to capitalize.
In the day's best race, Jeshua Anderson dove across the line to beat Bershawn Jackson by .009 seconds in the 400 hurdles and add the national championship to his three NCAA crowns. After the dive, Anderson stayed on the ground, in apparent pain. Moments later, it didn't feel so bad.
"I was just praying," he said. "I looked up at the scoreboard and my name was up there. That was a big moment for me."
Kellie Wells won the 100 hurdles in a world-best 12.50 seconds, beating the year's best mark that she already owned and edging Danielle Carruthers and Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper.
In one of the few events that went to form, Adam Nelson, Christian Cantwell and Reese Hoffa went 1-2-3 in the shot put.
Jesse Williams cleared 7 feet, 9Â¼ inches in the high jump to set a Hayward Field record. Defending world champion Brittney Reese jumped a personal-best 23 feet, 7Â¼ inches for her fourth straight long jump title and Oregon's Nick Symmonds won his fourth straight men's 800 championship.
It's sprinters, of course, who headline track teams, and with Gay on the shelf, Dix is the best America has right now. When he was winning his bronze medals at the Olympics in the 100 and 200, Dix lost to Bolt by a combined .90 seconds. But as the newly crowned American champion, that daunting fact wasn't enough to tamp down his optimistic outlook.
"I'm stronger. I'm lighter. I'm smarter," he said. "I know what I'm able to do."