BOOTHBAY, Maine — Lauren Forgues is candid about why she turned to racewalking as an avenue to athletic success as a youngster growing up along the coast of Maine.
“It was pretty much the only thing I was good at,” said Forgues.
Little did she know at the time how good she might be at it, as the now 24-year-old Forgues will vie Sunday morning for a chance to represent the United States in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Forgues has the fifth-fastest qualifying time in the Trials’ women’s 20-kilometer race walk, which will be contested at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
No U.S. women’s racewalker has achieved the Olympic “A” standard of 1:33:30, meaning only the Trials winner will advance to the Olympics, which begin in London in late July.
While her teammate at the San Diego-based Champions International training center, two-time defending national champion Maria Michta, is considered a favorite in the race, Forgues believes an Olympic berth is within reach.
“We’re all so close together that it’s really going to be a crapshoot,” said Forgues, whose qualifying time and personal best for the 20K is 1 hour, 37 minutes, 41 seconds set in 2011. “Maybe I can figure it out who’s going to win with about a kilometer to go.”
Forgues has made one of the longer intracontinental treks possible in her quest for a career as a world-class racewalker, having been born in Eastport — the easternmost city in the continental United States — and now living and training full time since last fall in Imperial Beach, Calif., the most southwestern city on the West Coast.
Forgues moved with her family to Boothbay when she was 4 and first took up racewalking at age 8.
She became a three-time state champion in the 1,600-meter racewalk before graduating from Boothbay Region High School in 2006. She attended the University of Maine for two years before transferring academically to the online University of Phoenix to have more flexibility to pursue her racewalking career while continuing to study for a degree in business management.
A winner of numerous championships in the junior ranks, Forgues qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 20-kilometer racewalk in her first year on the senior circuit but was bothered by a knee injury and did not finish the race.
“In ’08 I was just there for the experience,” she said. “I was happy to qualify for the trials and I had no expectations, I just wanted to have fun.
“But there weren’t that many women competing at this level back then, so I wanted to be the next newcomer for 2012.”
After battling injuries throughout 2008 and 2009, Forgues placed third at the 2010 national championships at 20 kilometers, an effort that signaled to her that “I was getting to the next level of racewalker that I wanted to be.”
She already has established personal marks in the mile, 3-kilometer and 5-kilometer distances this year, with her mile standard of 6:48.57 coming while winning the Millrose Games at the New York Armory in February during her first race as a representative of the prestigious New York Athletic Club.
“This has been pretty much the best year I’ve had so far,” said Forgues, who has been coached full time by two-time U.S. Olympian Tim Seaman since relocating to southern California last September. “I’ve had great training, and I know I can walk fast because that’s what the training says.”
The 5-foot, 110-pound Forgues has had mixed results in her most recent 20K races heading into the Olympic Trials. She finished third among Americans in 1:39:13 at the World Race Walking Cup Trials in Eugene on April 1 and struggled to a 1:44:31 finish at the IAAF World Race Walk Cup at Saransk, Russia, in May.
In between, she posted her best time of the year in the event on April 22 with a 1:38:04 clocking at the Naumberg (Germany) International Race Walk Meeting.
“I haven’t raced that well this year at 20K,” said Forgues. “In Germany I wanted that to be a good race for me but my legs weren’t willing to listen to my brain, and I haven’t had another chance to run in good conditions — the World Cup race in Eugene was rainy and cold, and in Russia it was hot.
“I’m expecting to finally have perfect conditions this week, because at 7:30 in the morning in Eugene at this time of year it’s usually pretty nice.”
Part of a deep Olympic Trials field that also includes Michta, Teresa Vaill, Miranda Melville and Erin Gray, Forgues anticipates a tactical race as the competitors make their 50 laps around the historic Hayward Field track.
“Whoever races the smartest race Sunday is probably going to win,” said Forgues. “We’re all fast, and we’re all ready to go.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she added. “But I do know that I’m really going to fight for that spot.”