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Overcoming The Flu, John Nunn Race Walks His Way To Third Olympic Games

By Ken Stone | Feb. 21, 2016, 3:13 p.m. (ET)

SANTEE, Calif. — Overcoming the flu and temperatures rising to the low 70s, John Nunn qualified for his third Olympic team when he won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for 50K Race Walk on Sunday.

Nunn, who is from nearby Bonsall, California, finished in 4 hours, 3 minutes, 21 seconds.

“Last night I was in a fetal position, crying,” said Nunn, a 2004 and 2012 U.S. Olympian. “Laid in bed all yesterday. I couldn’t fathom the idea of how I would do this.”

But his 11-year-old daughter, Ella, wearing orange Team Nunn T-shirt like dozens of others, said she knew he would compete.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It means another super-exciting experience (in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympic Games). I don’t know if I could be happier.”

With the help of his brother, who fetched medicine checked for legality, Nunn got through the night at a nearby hotel. But he didn’t shake his illness until two hours after the 7:22 a.m. start, he said.

Nunn, 38, defended his 2012 Olympic Trials title on the same 1.25-kilometer, 40-lap course. As many as three U.S. walkers could have qualified for the Olympic team Sunday, but Nunn was the only one coming into the race with a time below the “A” standard of 4:06, and no other walkers surpassed that mark in Santee.

Nick Christie, 24, of next-door city El Cajon, walked step-for-step with Nunn for more than half the race, briefly took a lead, and then fell off the pace for the Olympic qualifying mark. He finished second at 4:22:31.

Christie, 24, coached by two-time U.S. Olympian Tim Seaman, said the last 10K of the 31.1-mile race was painful.

“I was just crawling. My body shut down,” he said.

At 38K, Nunn “demolished me” and eventually lapped him twice.

Although Christie fell short of the qualifying standard this weekend, he said he would have a “real good shot” at making the U.S. team in the 20K walk and would also try again to break the 50K qualifying mark at a world team event in early May in Rome. The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the men’s and women’s 20-kilometer race walk will be held June 30 in Salem, Oregon, one day before the track and field trials begin in nearby Eugene, Oregon.

A former high school hurdler and pole vaulter, Christie took up the walk in 2011, he said. He was runner-up to Nunn in the 2014 and 2015 U.S. 50K championships.

Third at the trials was Michael Giuseppe Mannozzi, 29, of Toronto, but a 12-time U.S. champion at various distances. He clocked 4:31:47.

Although women don’t contest the 50K at the Games, Erin Taylor-Talcott, 37, of Oswego, New York, was the first female finisher in 4:44:26. The women’s race was a USA Track and Field national championship.

Jonathan Matthews of Helena, Montana, at 59 became the oldest man ever to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in track and field events, finishing in 5:03:26 — and seventh out of 15 entrants.

Dave McGovern, 50, of Locust Valley, New York, became the first man to compete in eight Olympic Trials, stretching back to 1988.

Nunn, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, broke down in tears during a postrace interview as he thanked “the generals” who made it possible for him to chase his Olympic dream.

He said making this team was more like a job, requiting him to buy a $2,000 altitude tent for sleeping at night — which caused nightmares until he lowered the elevation setting.

“It’s all been worth it,” he said. “I’m grateful.”

Ken Stone is a San Diego-based freelance writer and founder/editor ofmasterstrack.com. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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John Nunn