Only three athletes make the U.S. Olympic track and field team in each event.
They're selected at the Olympic trials in a simple process: The first three finishers in each event get the spot.
Once the trials finish, all the focus is on those athletes. Talk centers around medal contention and training techniques.
But there are many more world-class athletes who do not make it, so many more whose dreams of going to the Summer Games in London this month were dashed in seconds or minutes. For many, the end of the trials does not mark the end of competition. It simply means they have to wait another four years to try again.
Pleasantville High School graduate Nia Ali and Ocean City alumna Renee Tomlin didn't make the U.S. team in Eugene, Ore., but they don't think their first Olympic trials will be their last.
And the two already have races scheduled for this week. On Wednesday, Ali, 23, leaves for Spain and Tomlin, 23, goes to Belgium.
"This is new territory for me," said Tomlin, who has never raced internationally, on Monday. "I've never raced past this time frame (of the year). I feel like there is going to be more room for improvement in the next two to three weeks."
Athletes might be expected to have one of two reactions to missing out on the Olympics: extreme disappointment and a lack of further motivation, or, like Ali and Tomlin, hungrier than they already were to succeed.
Ali, who was an NCAA Division I champion for the University of Southern California in 2011, made it to the June 23 Olympic trials final in the 100-meter hurdles. She finished the quick race in eighth place in 13.02 seconds. She was happy to have gotten that far but also devastated by what she then saw.
Ali looked at the scoreboard and saw the top three times were all within her reach. She's previously hit the low 12.8- or high 12.7-seconds mark, and winner Dawn Harper's 12.73 also happened to be Ali's personal best.
"I was gutted completely. I was so torn," Ali said Monday on the phone from California. "I was gutted to know I had the time in me. I just didn't put it together. I was in one gear. I just didn't have it in the final."
Ali had a tough time watching the rest of the trials, which ended Sunday, but she stuck it out. She watched her training partners and hung out with family and her management team to get through the heartache of missing the national team.
But one thing Ali knows is that she will be back in four years. She intends to train and compete until the next 2016 Summer Games.
"Even though it's four years away, I'm totally motivated," said Ali, who was the 2006 Press Co-Track Athlete of the Year as a senior for the Greyhounds. "You would have thought it would have torn me in the opposite direction, but it made me get a feeling I have never had before and I never want to feel that again."
Tomlin's Olympic hopes ended Friday in the semifinal round of the 1,500 run. She finished 15th in a race in which the top 12 advanced to the final.
But Tomlin, who ended her record-setting career at the University of Georgetown last year, said she was happy with how she ran and plans to use this race to move her career forward. The trials was her first taste of competition beyond the collegiate ranks.
"To be honest, it was possible to make the finals, but if I made it, it would have been a big surprise even to myself," Tomlin said. "I am happy and hungry for the next one."
Tomlin said she headed to Oregon with the mentality that she had nothing to lose. She entered the 1,500 seeded 23rd and finished 15th in the country.
In addition, she got to see training partner Julie Culley, a 2004 Rutgers University graduate, win the 5,000.
"It's probably one of the coolest things I've ever done," Tomlin said. "You might not realize right away in the moment because you're there for business. But afterward you think back on the whole thing. It's really pretty cool to be out there with some of the best in the country, if not the world, to be competing and be right there."
Neither Ali nor Tomlin made the national team this time, but four years doesn't seem that far away.
"I got a taste for it," Tomlin said. "You never know what's going to happen, but if I am still loving it and having a lot of fun, I am definitely going to continue."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj: