Runner Alysia Montaño on Heartbreaking Collision that Ended Olympic Dream: 'Regardless of What Happened, I Was Gonna Finish'
"I did not make the Olympic team – there is no redo," Montaño said
Millions watched on Monday as sprinter Alysia Montaño dropped to her knees and wept following a devastating collision that knocked her off her feet during the Olympic trials for the women’s 800 meter race.
“I still have this gutted feeling in my stomach where I wake up and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is real life and that’s the end of my chance at fighting for a podium spot at the Olympic Games,’ ” Montaño, 30, tells PEOPLE.
There were less than 120 meters left in the race when Montaño hooked shoes with Brenda Martinez, who was flailing after making contact with another runner. The impact knocked the six-time national champion to the ground.
When she looked up, the pack was far beyond her. Still, Montaño got back up and tried to run, only to fall to her knees again, letting out a primal wail.
“In that moment, it was really my mind, my body, my soul and my heart fighting with each other,” Montaño said at the launch of the Team U.S.A. Bootcamp Workout at 24 Hour Fitness. “I knew that when I stepped on that starting line, regardless of what happened, I was going to finish.”
The loss proved too much to bear; Montaño fell down and got back up twice before running across the finish line, only to collapse in tears.
“There were a couple times where I started to sprint and then I realized I didn’t have to sprint because the race was over, my shot was over,” she recalled. “It was something that just didn’t feel real.”
U.S. Track and Field officials reviewed the tape after the race and ruled that the contact was incidental, meaning no one would be disqualified and the results would stand. The top three finishers would be joining Team U.S.A. in Rio – Montaño would not.
“I did not make the Olympic team – there is no redo,” says Montaño, holding back tears.
Many fans hoped that the 2016 Games would be somewhat of a re-do for Montaño, who came fifth in the 2012 Olympic Games in London behind two Russian runners who have since been implicated in a widespread doping scandal.
“I was supposed to be on the podium [in 2012] and that was stolen from me,” Montaño said. “That was my chance. There isn’t going to be a rerun for what has been taken from me.”
Many track observers expect that the two athletes will be disqualified, which would bring Montaño a bronze medal, four years after the race. But Montaño says that would be a hollow victory.
“There’s no ceremony that happens, your national anthem isn’t playing, your flag isn’t being raised – that moment cannot be replaced,” she said. “Even if a medal shows up in my mailbox.”
Montaño adds that the bitterest part of missing the Rio Olympics will be losing out on the chance to show a generation of young athletes that clean runners can win.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to show younger athletes that you don’t have to succumb to the pressure of doping, that you can be the best version of yourself without it,” she says.
Now, she hopes to find another way to get her message across. “The Games may not be a possibility for me, but I hope my voice still resonates,” she adds.
There’s at least one person she knows her message will reach – her 23-month-old daughter, Linnéa.
“If my daughter told me she wanted to become a runner like me, I will have felt like I’ve done my job,” she says.
“I want to show her that it isn’t about the medals, it’s about working hard and if you do it honestly and with integrity then no one can take that from you.”