By Doug Gorman
Lovejoy High School and University of Missouri graduate Derrick Peterson will get to enjoy the Olympic experience first hand when the torch is lit next month in Athens, Greece to begin the summer games.
Peterson, who graduated from the University of Missouri in 2000, qualified for this year's Olympics by finishing third late Monday night in the 800 meters at the Olympic trials in Sacramento, Calif.
The former high school and college standout set a personal best in the 800-meter qualifier, completing the race in a time of 1:45.08.
The Lovejoy graduate used plenty of drama to earn an invitation to the world's biggest track and field party.
At the half-way point of the race, Peterson was fifth. With a little more than 120-meters remaining, he dropped to sixth. A big kick down the stretch helped Peterson make up ground and secure the third and final spot.
He joins fellow 800-meter athletes Jonathan Johnson, who won the race, and Khadevis Robinson, who took second, as members of the United States' Olympic team.
Peterson was ecstatic after qualifying for the United States' Olympic team.
"This was the most nerve-racking race of my life," he said. "I started the race a little more aggressive than I usually do. I was the most comfortable when I crossed the finish line and always stayed poised on it until the end of the race."
This was Peterson's second chance to make the Olympics. In 2000, he also earned a spot at the Olympics, but came up short, failing to advance to the 800-meter finals by just one-hundredth of a second.
Finally qualifying for the Olympics helped Peterson chase away those bad memories from 2000.
"Coming into the 2000 trials, I was expected to win the finals," Peterson said. "For a long time that semifinals haunted me, but once I started to run again and get into the groove, I was confident that I could come back and get into the Olympics in ?O4."
Since graduating from Missouri almost four years ago with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Peterson has served as a volunteer assistant coach at Missouri while continuing his own running career with a team sponsored by Adidas.
During his college career, Peterson won several Big-12 Conference honors, eight Big-12 championships and six All-American honors.
The highlight of his career was a NCAA outdoor championship in the 800-meters in 1999.
Peterson earned a scholarship to the University of Missouri after enjoying a stellar career at Lovejoy under the direction of Richard Westbrook.
As a high school runner, Peterson, won the state championship in the 1,600 and the 3,200. He was also named the state track and field athlete of the year. In cross country, he finished second at the state meet.
Bob Brannon, who serves as Athletic Director for the Clayton County School System, was Peterson's Principal at Lovejoy and said the talented athlete was just as dedicated to his studies as his athletic career.
"Derrick was a hard worker in and out of the classroom. He ran both track and cross country and excelled in both. He was never a discipline problem, if all of our students were like Derrick, we wouldn't have the need for assistant principals."