Rocky Point's Melissa Salerno qualifies for semifinals

Rocky Point runner Melissa Salerno during practice at Rocky Point runner Melissa Salerno during practice at Rocky Point High School. (March 24, 2004) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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EUGENE, Ore. -- Melissa Salerno advanced, but Kyle Merber is out.

The Long Islanders had completely divergent results in their first-round 1,500-meter assignments Thursday, the fifth day of the USA Olympic track and field trials at Hayward Stadium.

It was a very good day for Salerno, the Rocky Point product and Fordham graduate. A long shot coming in, she moved on to the women's 1,500-meter semifinals with a time of 4:16.50. That was more than four seconds slower than her previous best but easily good enough in the strategically paced event to place 18th among 24 qualifiers into Friday's semifinals.

Merber, the Columbia star from Dix Hills and graduate of Half Hollow Hills West, had no such luck in the men's 1,500. He wound up 10th in the 10-man third heat in 3:45.87 and was 29th in the field of 30.

Salerno ran up with the leaders much of the way and was able to power home in qualifying position.

"My goal was just top six, no matter what number I was. Nothing else counted," Salerno said. "With 600 meters [left], I was ready for a move, and just brought it home as hard as I could.

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"I wanted to move earlier, but Alice [Schmidt] kept telling me, 'Wait, wait; easy, easy.' She's a veteran, so I listened to her. Coming off [a quadriceps strain], it was nice to have that sharpness again.

"Basically, I knew I had nothing to lose. So I just went for it."

The fastest women's qualifier was Morgan Uceny, the world's top-ranked 1,500 runner in 2011, who ran 4:14.07. Gabriele Anderson was timed in 4:14.22 and Katherine Mackey in 4:14.28. Salerno was faster than Jennifer Simpson, the 2011 world champion, who qualified in 4:16.70.

Physically drained after a long, tough collegiate campaign, Merber had no get-up-and-go around the final lap.

"I'm just fried," Merber said. "It's been a long year and I didn't survive it too well, and certainly the last month. I thought I'd be able to rebound after a tough NCAA meet, but I guess not."

He'd failed to qualify for the NCAA final three weeks ago despite a previous 3:35.85 performance that some track and field stats keepers called the U.S. collegiate 1,500 record. He did it May 14 at Swarthmore's Last Chance Meet in Pennsylvania.

To some other numbers-crunchers, however, he's not the collegiate record-holder at all, simply the fastest U.S. citizen in a race representing his school before the traditional end of the collegiate season at the NCAA Championships.

They list a pack of collegians who ran faster in previous years who either were not U.S. citizens or competing much later in the season, often well into the international summer campaign.

Merber won't let himself be drawn into the debate, saying, "I've just got to take a couple days off and get some rest."

Fastest of the men's qualifiers were Jordan McNamara (3:40.76), Will Leer (3:40.79) and 2008 Olympian Leonel Manzano (3:40.91.)

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Despite this setback, Merber's immediate travel plans are set. He will represent the United States at the NACAC (North American, Central American and Caribbean) Championships July 6-8 in Guanajuato, Mexico.

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