As everyone who follows my coaching style knows, I hate Trial Days. If you are one of the favorites then nothing real good can happen, only something bad. If you qualify on, it’s no big deal because you were supposed to. If you don’t qualify on, it’s a disaster. I often use the phrase, “live to run again,” when giving instructions to my athletes at trials.
Today (Wednesday, August 14) was a Trials Day.
On most of Shannon’s trials days at global championships in the past I have been quite nervous – usually indicated by me not talking much (so only Malinda really knows that I am nervous). Interestingly, neither Malinda or I were as nervous as usual today. Last night I was super tired from all the walking we’ve been doing and the less than six hours of sleep we’ve been getting. Upon waking this morning, I was more tired than nervous.
There’s also something to be said about the 5000 trials being less stressful than 1500 trials. In the 5000, Shannon could control more variables and there would be more time to deal with problems during the race (getting boxed in, not the pace desired, etc.). I really felt like Shannon should cruise to the 5000 final….and she did.
After a super slow first 800, the pace picked up in such a way that with about six laps to go, it was apparent who the top five would be because there was a sizeable gap back to sixth place. That’s when I started yelling to Shannon that she was clear. In high school, I told Shannon she was never to look back in a race except in a trials race when it was okay to look back to check your position. I think she may still employ this strategy. Over the last lap she checked behind her several times and definitely jogged in the last half lap when she knew she was going to place in the top five and qualify on.
In the end, the times were very slow in Shannon’s heat 1. That led to all the time qualifiers coming from heat 2, where ten out of the eleven runners qualified for the final.
After the race we met up with Shannon, her parents, coach, and boyfriend and went to the Nike House with them for some food and relaxation. With the trials behind us, there was no need to talk track. Instead, we could focus on swapping Russia travel stories. But unspoken throughout the afternoon was the fact that Shannon’s in a great spot. It should be an exciting 5000 meter final and with her speed, if she can hang around with the leaders until it’s time to kick…..well, you just never know.
For the fifth time, Malinda and I are off to an international destination to watch a global track & field championship. In 2008 it was Beijing, 2009 it was Berlin, 2011 it was Daegu, 2012 it was London, and now in 2013 it’s Moscow. Thanks to good timing, Shannon Rowbury and I both arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral fifteen years ago, in the fall of 1998. The next four years were filled with fun times as I experienced coaching a state champion. The last five years have been equally fun, traveling the world to cheer for her at the Olympics and the World Championships. Each year has been slightly different.
2008 – Everything was brand new to us (and Shannon) in 2008 and it all happened so fast. In May she was chasing the Olympic A standard. By July she was the US Olympic Trials champion and the owner of a new 1500 PR of 4:00. By August, we were in the Bird’s Nest cheering her on to a seventh place finish.
2009 – Things were different in Berlin for the 2009 World Championships. Shannon was one of the favorites and the expectations and pressure were a lot higher. We rode an emotional rollercoaster watching her fall in the first round and move on only because of a successful protest. Then in the final, she was in the front pack, then someone fell and Shannon dropped back and crossed the line fourth. But there was a protest and after an hour of nervous waiting the winner was disqualified and Shannon was a World Championship bronze medalist.
2011 – Unbeknown to most, Shannon was battling an Achilles injury for much of the 2011 season. It took everything she had to kick by Christin Wurth-Thomas by one-hundredth of a second to get the third and final qualifying spot for the Daegu World Championships. Her parents didn’t make the trip to South Korea, so we were Shannon’s surrogate family on that trip and were there to cheer her up when she failed to qualify for the final.
2012 – We were fortunate to be able to buy Olympic tickets through Shannon and USATF back in December of 2010 because it’s become almost impossible for the average person to buy Olympic tickets, even if you’re willing to pay scalpers’ prices. Watching the women’s 1500 in London, I have to admit, was frustrating because so many of the top contenders were shrouded in doping allegations. Shannon placed sixth but we couldn’t help but feel she was probably much higher among the clean athletes.
2013 – Shannon is competing in a different event. At the US Championships she came in fourth in the 1500, which was not good enough to qualify. She came back the very next day and tenaciously ran the 5000 and qualified for the World Championships in a new event!
I know that I am lucky and blessed to be going on these trips to cheer for Shannon. First and foremost, I am lucky to have a wife who despite the moniker “Track Widow,” doesn’t leave me alone every summer. She is willing to go with me on all these trips, which is a good thing because I don’t know if I am adventurous enough to go alone. Five out of the last six summers our summer vacation was to an international locale for a track meet. The one summer we didn’t travel to another continent, we drove halfway across the country to Iowa and then back via Eugene to watch track meets!
The second way in which I am quite lucky is to have been Shannon’s high school coach. It’s pretty rare to coach someone who goes on to compete in college. It’s rarer still to coach someone who goes on to compete at the national level. And rarer still to coach someone who goes on to compete at an international championship. Well, not only has Shannon competed for Team USA at an international championship, she’s done it five times! Since football season is just about to begin, to put this in football terms, not only did the kid I coach play in college, get drafted by an NFL team, and earn a starting job for an NFL team – they’re a five-time All-Pro player, to boot!
Over the last eleven years going back to 2003, there have been nine global championships (either an Olympics or a World Championships). The only years without one were 2006 and 2010. I looked up the roster of US distance runners over this time span (see chart: US Distance Teams_2003 to 2013). During this period there were 321 slots on the USA team in the men’s and women’s 800, 1500, 5000, 10,000, 3000 steeplechase, and marathon. Those spots were filled by 156 different people. Out of those 156 people, 16 in particular have been the dominant distance runners of this era, qualifying for USA teams five or more times. That’s the company that Shannon is in.
The most dominant USA distance runner of this era is Shalane Flanagan. She has qualified for every US team since the 2004 Athens Olympics, a string of eight straight global championships. Right behind her with seven is 800 meter runner Khadevis Robinson. There are seven runners tied with six global championships: Nick Symmonds, Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano, Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenheim, Jenny Simpson, and Jen Rhines. Of those, Symmonds, Lagat, Manzano, Rupp, and Simpson have a current streak of making six straight USA national teams. There seven more runners tied with five global championships during this era: Abdi Abdirahman, Matt Tengenkamp, Hazel Clark, Kara Goucher, Deena Kastor, Alice Schmidt and Shannon. Out of these, only Shannon has a current streak going with five straight teams made. Of note, if my chart went back further it would be seen that Abdirahman has qualified for seven national teams, including four Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012).
My list is somewhat skewed because while the Olympic Marathon is quite glamorous, the World Championships Marathon is not seen as a must-try-to-make team. The top USA marathon runners will often forego the World Championships Marathon in favor of competing at a big city fall marathon like Chicago or New York. Thus, names like Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi appear less on my chart than they would if the World Championships Marathon was more highly regarded.
In any case, these sixteen runners, who I consider the dominant USA distance runners of this era, have earned twelve out of the fourteen medals won by distance runners since 2003. Lagat is the only one with multiple medals, winning the gold in the 1500 and 5000 in 2007 in Osaka, a silver (5000) and bronze (1500) in 2009 in Berlin, and a silver (5000) in 2011 in Daegu. Those with one medal in their collection are: Kastor (bronze, 2004 marathon), Goucher (bronze, 2007 10,000), Flanagan (bronze, 2008 10,000), Simpson (gold, 2011 1500), Rupp (silver, 2012 10,000), Manzano (silver, 2012 10,000), and Shannon (bronze, 2009 1500). The only two medalists who aren’t among this “dominant fraternity of this era” are Meb (silver; 2004 marathon) and Matt Centrowitz (bronze, 2011 1500).
What does all that mean? I don’t know but it was a fun chart to make instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, which was packing.
You’d think that after five trips we’d have this packing thing down. But, no. The last couple days have been filled with laundry and picking out what to bring with an occasional break to check letsrun or study Ken Nakamura’s World Championship stats on the women’s 5000. I think we’re ready now, though.
USA flag? Check!
Go Shannon banner? Check!
Talk to you from Moscow! Время разговора для вас из Москвы
Andy and I have been going to the USA Track and Field Championships to watch Shannon compete since 2008. At the five meets we’ve transformed from rookies to experienced spectators. Andy loves track, he lives and breathes it and from him I’ve transformed into a knowledgeable track geek, more informed than the many less dedicated fans that fill the stands around us. For this sixth meet in 2013 we stayed home; did nothing to help fill the vacant backstretch in Iowa.
In 2008 everything was exciting and new. Alone in the stands waiting for Shannon’s race I was a bundle of nerves. Andy’s return before Shannon’s final didn’t really help. I don’t think I really relaxed until she had won the race. The race spectating nerves have subsided, but only a little. Nervous anticipation, screaming with the crowd, and celebrating; every year we’ve been there to be a part of it.
We both wanted to be there in person again this year to support Shannon, and to enjoy the meet in a way that’s not possible on TV, but we just couldn’t swing it. Other obligations were going to make the travel expensive, complicated and on a very tight schedule. Our prior experience in Des Moines didn’t help. We stayed home, made plans instead to go to Russia if Shannon made the US team.
When we started traveling to international track meets to cheer on our favorite runner I was thrilled. It was a way to get Andy out of the US and travel! However, after trips to Beijing, Berlin, Daegu and London I now just want to go camping in the desert…. and Moscow has never been on my list. I love Andy and am extremely fond of Shannon, so it was with some guilt and conflicted emotions that I admitted that I really wanted Shannon to qualify for the US team, but also really didn’t want to go to Russia. I reminded myself that I should enjoy this while it lasts, because no athletic career lasts forever.
At home in San Francisco, busy at work on Thursday I missed Shannon’s preliminary round; a first for me. Andy sent me an email message summing up the race, and I watched it later on the computer and felt confident about her chance of making the team.
The day of her final I was at an out of town event. Andy made plans to watch the race at his parents’ house, where they have cable. On the way back I used my cell phone to call Andy, eager to hear him confirm that she had made the team. Instead, over the noise of the car on my cheap phone I heard that it was the worst possible scenario as far as us making travel plans. Shannon had finished fourth, but the woman who finished third lacked a required time standard. Shannon might get to the World Championships, but we might not know until mid-July, depending on her competitor’s ability to obtain a qualifying time standard by the deadline.
I hung up and discussed with the friend I was with the complexities of the situation, both for Shannon, and for my own plans. After a short time I remembered the 5000. Would Shannon run that race? She had entered it as part of her back up plan. I called Andy back. He told me that a lot of good women were entered in the race and he didn’t know if she would run it or not.
Sunday morning Andy and I were hanging around the house, getting ready for the Pamakid’s Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run kick-off picnic at a very leisurely pace, when we decided we should go to Andy’s work, where they have cable, to watch the 5000. We picked up the pace, and made it with enough time for him to get the TV on and find the right channel. Not much later the womens’ 5000 began. The start list on the TV screen was a mess, it included the names of women who had scratched, and flashed two pages of information very quickly. It didn’t answer our question about whether Shannon was running or not. We scanned the starting line and didn’t see her. I figured Shannon must have decided not to run it. I couldn’t really blame her; terrible weather for distance races, physical and mental exhaustion from the 1500, not the event she’s been training for. Oh well.
Midway through the race, with no butterflies in my stomach for a change, Andy said something to the effect of, “Is that Shannon there, in the middle of the pack with sunglasses on?” Sure enough, there she was, in the race and well positioned. So much for the lack of nerves, suddenly I was on the edge of my seat. As the race neared the end the top six runners stretched out. Shannon wasn’t racing for first, but she wasn’t out of it either. She could still make the team. I began yelling at her through the TV. She was just as unlikely to hear me as she would be if I were in the stands in Iowa – but I felt a bit sillier. The camera began to focus on the top two runners. The race for third was obscured. I yelled loud. The camera cut away to the victor and Andy and I were left to wonder, did we just see Shannon take third? We thought so, but not without some doubt.
The internet! Andy rushed up to his office. I followed him trying to connect my iPod to the network. Then I ran back to the TV and arrived just in time to see Shannon’s name listed in third. I ran back upstairs to tell Andy. And then back downstairs hoping there would be an interview. Success with the internet! Since I wasn’t there to hug Shannon on her victory lap, I sent a Facebook message instead. I sent a text message to my colleagues that I will be going to Russia for vacation this year. Excited and happy Andy and I collected ourselves and headed off to the Western States picnic.
I’m suddenly thrilled to be going to Russia, thrilled for Shannon and impressed with her guts and determination.
You never know what is going to happen in sports. A five point deficit with 28.2 seconds left in a basketball game usually means you will lose the game. But not always. Trailing by three goals with ten minutes left in a hockey game is usually an insurmountable deficit. But not always. Not if you’re tenacious. It’s the unpredictable nature of competition that draws so many of us to sports in the first place.
At the 2013 USA Championships, the women’s 1500 meters was predicted to be a tightly contested race but most experts figured the three runners who would place in the top three and qualify for the World Championships in Moscow were Treniere Moser, Mary Cain, and Shannon Rowbury. But that’s why they run the race. In the USA spots on national teams are earned on the track, not on paper. If this race were run ten times, there might be ten different outcomes. But the only outcome that matters is what happened on the track at Drake Stadium on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
The pace was extremely slow – 85 seconds for the first 400, 2:40 at 800 meters. I have result sheets with splits faster than that from some of our high school meets this season. It was over ninety degrees Fahrenheit. It was windy. The humidity was high. No one wanted to lead the race and that led to a lot of pushing and shoving and a bunched up group of twelve runners. The race would come down to who could run the fastest last 400. For Shannon, this probably wasn’t the ideal scenario, but she had to deal with it. Cain, Moser, and Shannon pulled away from the rest of the field with 200 to go, but over the last 100 Cory McGee, a junior from the University of Florida, kicked by Shannon to get third place. Shannon found herself in unfamiliar territory – fourth place.
The bad news was that this meant Shannon was not guaranteed a spot on the team for the World Championships. She would have to wait to see if McGee achieved the B standard (4:09.00). Having another athlete’s performance determine your fate is not a situation any athlete wants to be in. The good news was that Shannon’s 2013 USA Championships did not have to be over. The next day was the 5000 meter final, in which she was entered. It’s not her primary event. It’s 12.5 laps. Her legs would be tired from two 1500 meter races (the preliminary round and the final) she had already run this week. It would still be hot, windy, and humid. But if Shannon wanted to clinch a spot to Moscow, this was her way to do it.
The situation reminded me of another Sacred Heart Cathedral track & field athlete – Christina Young. Christina was in the class of 2004, two years behind Shannon. They were teammates in the 2002 season. When Christina was senior, her primary event was the long jump. At our WCAL Trials meet, however, she had a bad day, jumping 15-4 (15 feet, 4 inches) well less than her season best of 16-5. She finished thirteenth and failed to qualify for the final. As I said at our awards banquet in 2004, “all Christina had left was the triple jump, which was not her best event…but it was about to be.”
Some background on Christina’s triple jumping. In late April of her senior year Christina would often jump less than 30 feet in the triple jump. As of April 27 her best mark was 30-11. She improved to 31-10.5 at a meet against Valley Christian. That next weekend she missed a meet in Carmel. At that meet in Carmel, Christina’s teammate, just out from the basketball team, jumped 34-7 in the triple jump to become the team leader in that event. At our next dual meet Christina had a one foot PR, improving to 32-10. Then at WCAL Trials, with her back against the wall as she had already failed to qualify for the final in the long jump, she placed fourth with yet another PR of 33-1. Then on May 15, she had the meet of her life. She not only set a new PR of 35-5.75 (that’s a 2 foot, 4 inch PR). She took first to become the WCAL Champion…in her off event! Over the last 18 days of the season she improved 4.5 feet. I’ll never forget Christina. She was versatile and she was tenacious. When the long jump didn’t go well, she didn’t let it bring her down. She set her sights on the triple jump. Not only did she PR in the triple jump, she became the league champion.
When I went to bed Saturday night, I didn’t know if Shannon would be running the 5000 or not. From the interviews I’ve seen, she may not have known herself. But Shannon, like Christina, is a fighter. She wanted to be on the team to Moscow so she had to put the disappointment of the 1500 behind her and take her best shot in the 5000.
The early pace of the 5000 was modest, which was good for Shannon. With about a mile to go, Shannon was well positioned. The others in contention were Jenny Simpson, Molly Huddle, Amy Hastings, Kim Conley, Abby D’Agostino, Chelsea Reilly, and Shannon. Hastings, tired from the 10,000 on Thursday, would drop out. Six runners remained. With a lap to go, all six were still in it. Conley led with a lap to go. On the backstretch Huddle would take the lead from Conley and a few meters later Simpson would take the lead from Huddle. Simpson and Huddle would battle to the line for the top two places. Meanwhile with 300 to go Shannon was in sixth place and slowly losing ground on the others. With 200 to go, Shannon started moving up on D’Agostino and it looked like she might have a shot at fourth. Suddenly Reilly started to tie up in the last 100 and Conley surged by her. But Shannon, who later said she was thinking about Moscow and her late grandmother, Nonie, kicked it into another gear in the last half lap and passed Reilly and Conley to get third place!
I’ve been privileged to witness some amazing kicks by Shannon over the last fifteen years. Her kick to get third place by one hundredth of a second at the 2011 USA Championships stands out. And her kick at the 2013 USA Championships, again to get third place but this time in her “off event” showed Shannon’s tenaciousness.
Athletes that are tenacious, don’t make excuses when things don’t go the way they want. They don’t let a disappointing performance get them down. They can comeback from disappointment in their main event. They fight for a spot or a championship no matter how the odds are stacked against them. By being tenacious and not giving up, these athletes sometimes shock everyone with a performance that earns a lot of people’s respect. That’s tenaciousness. That’s Christina Young and Shannon Rowbury.
In November 2012 there was a sad announcement that after fifteen years, John Dye, founder of the website DyeStat.com, announced that the website would no longer be updated. However, a few weeks later RunnerSpace stepped up and bought DyeStat. After three months of prep work, the new DyeStat website was re-launched on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
DyeStat.com, when overseen by John Dye, was a major source of information, statistics, and pictures of high school track and field, and cross country. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s DyeStat.com averaged two million views per month. When I first started coaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) in 1998, there was very little information about high school running on the internet. I remember checking Dan Cruz’s cross country website which pretty much consisted of just a weekly Central Coast Section ranking. I was thrilled to see his entry one day that had my SHC girls team were ranked number four. As I expanded my interest to include more than just my local section, to encompass the whole state of California, I found California Prep Track & Field. Then, as Shannon Rowbury got faster and faster, I expanded my interest to the national level and that led me to DyeStat.com.
Dye started with a weekly newsletter in 1996 that covered high school track & field in western Maryland. Dye’s interest stemmed from the participation of his children Derek (high jump) and Natalie (pole vault). Dye started collecting results so that he could create rankings and see where his kids ranked not just against the competition in Maryland but across the whole country. In 1997 DyeStat.com became the first national high school track & field website, featuring top 100 rankings in all events for the whole country.
Dye also went to big meets where he posted results and race re-caps, while his wife Donna took pictures not of the athletes in action but the sidelines – the spectators, coaches, and families. Donna’s section of the website, Donna on the Side, was a favorite place to see pictures and one of my favorite photos is one that Donna took of Shannon Rowbury and me after Shannon’s last high school race – it was both a joyous (Shannon had just won the state championship) and a sad (this was the end of our time together at SHC) occasion. One picture down and to the right of Shannon and me is 2012 800 meter Olympian Duane Solomon and his high school coach.
Around 2004, DyeStat.com added regional coverage and the California Prep Track & Field website that I visited for California high school information became part of the DyeStat family, as DyeStatCal.com. This led to an even larger internet presence, and interest in DyeStatCal surged to its peak during the years 2004-2008. The message boards were filled with discussions about top runners and teams. I excitedly checked DyeStatCal daily for the latest rankings and results. On occasion the SHC team was featured on the front page of DyeStatCal after strong performances.
DyeStat created a new level of interest in cross country and track & field among the participants themselves, especially distance runners. I truly believe that the recent resurgence in American distance running can be partially traced to DyeStat. In 2000, three years after DyeStat became a website, three of the greatest prep runners in history were seniors. Before the internet and DyeStat, each of these three may have run fast against their local competition and been satisfied at that. But thanks to DyeStat, the kid in Virgina who would break four minutes in the mile knew that the kid in Michigan was throwing down some fast times in the two mile. And both of them knew that the kid who lived at altitude in California was right on their heels. When these three future American distance stars faced off at the 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships they already knew all about one another. Perhaps they were motivated by the others’ success, which drove each of them to be better. The end result: Alan Webb, Dathan Ritzenheim, and Ryan Hall led American distance running into a new era – an era that has seen Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, and Galen Rupp medal in the 10,000 meters and Shannon Rowbury, Jenny Barringer, Matthew Centrowitz, and Leo Manzano medal in 1500 meters at the Olympics and World Championships between 2007-2012.
Other than Shannon and Leo, I don’t personally know any of the other successful American runners. But I do feel like know them. These great runners grew up before my eyes, starting when I first read about them on DyeStat. Thank you John Dye, for promoting the sport. You played a big role in the resurgence in American distance running and it was just plain fun to go to your website and read stories.
2013 is a different year and different era than 1997. Websites are no longer new and hip. Today it’s all about smartphones, apps, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s hard to know what sort of influence the RunnerSpace’s DyeStat will have on high school track and field and cross country but I am glad that it’s going to be around. Thank you John Dye for starting this and thank you RunnerSpace for taking the baton and continuing onward.
Keep calm and carry on. You hear that a lot here in London. I believe the track & field distance race equivalent is “Keep Calm and Kick”.
The women’s 1500 meter final will take place Friday at 8:55pm London time (12:55pm on the west coast). Shannon Rowbury will be running in her second Olympic final and she’ll be looking to improve on her seventh place finish from Beijing (which as of now is the highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history).
Shannon gave us some anxious moments during the qualifying races. On Monday in the first round she finished seventh and we had to sit through the next two heats to see if her time would qualify to the next round. As the Brits like to say, Shannon’s 4:06.03 was the “fastest loser” and she moved on to the semi-final. On Wednesday, Shannon was well positioned throughout the race and inspired by her teammate Leo Manzano’s patient race tactics (more on that in a later post) hung out patiently around seventh place for most of the race. Only the top five would automatically qualify for the final and with 100 meters to go Shannon still had some work to do to move into the top five. She surged down the final homestretch passing two runners to secure the fifth and final automatic qualifying spot by one tenth of a second (4:05.47 to 4:05.57). The times in the second semi-final heat were much faster and it turns out that that one tenth of a second was huge because it was the difference between making the final and being eliminated (as all the time qualifiers came from the second heat).
In many ways, the stress is off. The goal in these first two races was simply to qualify on and Shannon has done that. She’s in the final along with eleven other women – the best female 1500 meter runners in the world. Previous championship meet credentials, PR’s, and season bests are immaterial. Everyone will line up even at the starting line and attempt to run three and three quarter laps around the track and get to the finish line first.
The final is simple and straightforward. You go for it. You leave it all out there. In most of the other distance finals that I’ve seen at these Olympic Games, the top finishers have been very patient early in the race, letting others set the pace and deal with the pushing and shoving that occurs in the middle of the pack of races of this nature. Then at some point later in the race, there comes a moment when it’s time to make your play for the medal. A moment when it is time to put four years of training and dreaming to work.
It is an honor and a privilege to be in London sitting in my hotel room and preparing to watch someone I know and care about run in an Olympic final in less than twenty-four hours time. What a wild journey cheering on Shannon Rowbury has been.
For Shannon, it’s time to Keep Calm and KICK!
For me, it’s time to Keep Calm and wave my banner!
Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC), a Catholic school in San Francisco founded over 150 years ago and with a current enrollment of 1,257 students, can make a claim that very few other schools around the country can make. SHC has two alumni going to the 2012 London Olympics in track & field – Tina Kefalas, class of 1995 in the marathon for Greece, and Shannon Rowbury, class of 2002 in the 1500 meters for the USA. Even more amazing is the fact that the school does not have a home track.
As the current head cross country and track & field coach I can say that I’ve never seen not having a home track as a detriment to our program. The kids in our program are blessed because there is a lot of variety in their training schedule. It isn’t meet out at the track after school every day at 3:30. In fact, I think the time the kids spend taking the bus together to practice is part of their experience that makes being on the SHC track & field team special and unique. It also helps weed out who is really dedicated to the sport. It takes a great deal of commitment to get yourself to practice off-campus via public transportation day after day.
Kefalas was the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters when she graduated from SHC in 1995. She was the first runner in school history to qualify for the cross country state meet. She remembers going on a road trip to Colorado Springs with her coach, Mr. Denis Mohun (also a graduate of the school in 1979) and some other runners from the team. “It was the turning point for me. My first two years I was playing volleyball and track and after that trip, I finally decided to run cross country,” recalls Keflas. She also is proud to have won the school’s Vincent Contrero Award for excellence in both academics and athletics.
In the fall of 1998, SHC hired a new coach to head both the cross country and track & field
program. That person was me. I had the good timing to arrive at SHC the same season as a freshman who would change my life, a freshman named Shannon Rowbury.
Rowbury would go on to win two state championships and seven section champions during her SHC career. She was nationally ranked in the 800, 1600, 3200 meters and cross country and supplanted Kefalas as the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters.
One of my fondest times during Rowbury’s high school career was her whole senior year of track & field. We both knew that this was the eighth and final season together at SHC. We took time to really soak it all up and enjoy the ride. She set numerous meet records, would sign autographs at meets, and together we would be interviewed for both television and newspaper articles. It was just a lot of fun and we made a point to have fun and enjoy every moment of it.
John Scudder (class of 1972), has been around SHC for thirty-two years and he recalls both students fondly. “I remember Tina and Shannon well. During Tina’s time at SHC, I was the Dean of Students; she was a model student who never found it necessary to take a trip to the Dean’s office. While Shannon attended SHC, I was the Principal. She too was active at school well beyond athletics. It is amazing to think she was so successful on the track, while all the time focusing on her work in the classroom,” said Scudder. Now serving the school as President, Scudder said, “I am so proud of their accomplishments. I know I speak for the entire SHC community in wishing Tina and Shannon the best of luck during the upcoming competition. Go Irish!”
After high school, Keflas went on to run at the University of Southern California. She then moved to Greece, where she continued to run at a high level. In 2008, in her first 3000 steeplechase of the season she ran 9:55.96, less than one second off the Olympic “B” standard, which would have been enough to qualify to represent Greece at the Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately she was injured in her second race and that ended her season and thus her 2008 Olympic dreams. Kefalas then decided to run the 2010 Athens Marathon, which also happened to be the 2500th anniversary of the historic run by the messenger Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. that gave the marathon race distance its name. She completed the marathon in two hours, 40 minutes, and 36 seconds, well under the Olympic “B” standard but unfortunately before the qualifying period for the 2012 Olympic marathon began. Kefalas would need to run another marathon closer to the Olympics in sub-2:43 to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. On April 22, 2012 at the Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands she ran 2:41:00 to stamp her ticket to London.
Rowbury competed for Duke University after high school and since college has been a professional runner, sponsored by Nike. Her breakthrough season was 2008, when she lowered her 1500 meter personal record from 4:12.31 to 4:00.33. She qualified for the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing and has also represented the USA at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. She’s finished in the top three at the US Championships in the 1500 each of the last five years, has been ranked as high third as in the world (2009), and is the eighth fastest women’s 1500 meter runner in US history.
Kefalas will race in the women’s marathon in London, which is Sunday, August 5. She said that her goal is to break 2:40.
Rowbury will race in the women’s 1500 meters in London. The first round race is Monday, August 6, the semi-final race is Wednesday, August 8, and the final is Friday, August 10. In an interview after the Olympic Trials, Rowbury stated that her goal is to “get on the podium,” which means placing in the top three to earn one of the coveted Olympic medals.
As you watch the 2012 London Olympics, almost every athlete you see will have some sort of backstory. They competed in high school, they had a high school coach, at some point making the Olympics became, first a dream, and then reality. But when you’re watching the track & field portion of the Olympics, remember that two of the athletes attended the same Catholic school in downtown San Francisco. The one without a home track.
Shannon Rowbury became a two-time Olympian with her second place finish in the 1500 meters on July 1 at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. In 2008, Shannon was the US Olympic Trials champion and went on to place seventh at the Beijing Olympic Games. That seventh place finish is the highest finish by an American woman in the 1500 meters in Olympic history. This is Shannon’s fourth consecutive national team qualification. In addition to these two Olympic team berths, she was also a member of Team USA for the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. At the 2009 World Championships she earned the bronze medal in the 1500.
The three qualifiers for the London Olympics were Shannon (4:05.11), the number one ranked runner in the world in 2011 Morgan Uceny (4:04.59), and the 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson (4:05.17). The fact that all the experts were saying that these three were the clear favorites to qualify, didn’t make my race day morning have any less butterflies.
After two laps that were led by Treniere Moser and Brenda Martinez, the big three made their way to the front of the pack. With 500 meters to go there began to be some separation between these three and the chase pack. In reality, the drama of who was going to make the team was gone. The three battled it over the last lap before the final order was settled.
After screaming our heads off from the stands during the race, we hustled down to the fence to give Shannon a hug as she took the traditional Hayward Field victory lap. After the meet we headed to the Wild Duck Café. Tamalpan Mike Fanelli insisted on buying us a pitcher that we drank while watching NBC’s west coast broadcast of the meet (it was almost as exciting watching Shannon qualify for the Olympics this second time). Another highlight was taking a picture with Dave Frank, a coaching friend who used to coach at St. Francis and run for the Aggies. He now coaches in Portland and was the head coach at Cathedral Catholic when one Galen Rupp attended school there. I feel that Dave and I share some common emotions. Then we headed for some coffee and dessert. Finally Shannon finished her Olympic processing so we met up with her, her parents, her boyfriend (Pablo) and others in her core support group to raise a glass of champagne in celebration.
We got back to our hotel room just shortly before midnight. I was still pretty excited and couldn’t pull myself away from the computer to go to sleep. I read every e-mail, text, and Facebook comment. I re-lived the race and conversations with people at the meet. I watched a FloTrack interview where Shannon even gave me a shout out.
When I woke up this morning, I checked to make sure this wasn’t all a dream. Nope, it wasn’t. It all really happened. Shannon Rowbury is now a two-time Olympian! Congratulations!
Four years ago today, Shannon Rowbury qualified for her first Olympic Team by winning the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And yet here we are again. Same place (Eugene, Oregon). Same butterflies.
Yes, I’ve got some butterflies flying around in my stomach this morning but not nearly the swarm that Shannon probably has. Her first round race last Thursday and her semi-final race last Friday both went very well. She has looked smooth, in control, and FAST in both races. She won her heat on Thursday in 4:16.17 and won her heat on Friday in 4:09.96. I’m not surprised that she looked good in those races but it was still nice to see.
There has been some controversy in the women’s 1500 over the last two days. None of it has involved Shannon. After Friday’s semi-final the twelve women who qualified for the final were announced. However, late Friday night we read on a message board that Gabrielle Anderson, who took second place in Shannon’s heat, had been disqualified for illegal contact with another runner. It was rumored that the disqualification was due to a protest by Amy Mortimer. By Saturday morning the list of entrants for the 1500 final had been changed. Anderson was out and as a result Alice Schmidt moved into the final qualifying spot. Mortimer was not added to the field.
There was also a lot of energy on social media suggesting that Anderson would protest her disqualification and sure enough she did. By mid-day on Saturday, Anderson had been reinstated into the Friday results and back into the entry list for the final (“un-disqualified” if you will). Schmidt was back to being a “did not qualify.” However this changed again a few hours later. When we got to the track a friend informed us that Schmidt was back in the final and that there would be thirteen women in the final instead of twelve.
This is all very bizarre but hopefully will not affect the outcome of the 1500 final. Schmidt’s status is of particular interest because she is already qualified for the Olympics in the 800 meters and she is one of five runners with the Olympic A standard of 4:06.00 or better. The others are Shannon, Morgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson, and Anna Pierce. If history is any indicator, the race will go out slow on Sunday and few if any runners will be under the 4:06 mark. If that’s the case, then the London-bound athletes will be the top three finishers who already have the A standard. You can see how Schmidt’s presence or lack of presence is significant. If Schmidt is out of the race there will only be four runners with the A standard and the battle for three spots will likely be between those four. With Schmidt in the mix there would be another legitimate contender for one of the three spots.
Those are the circumstances leading up to this afternoon’s race. It really is an honor and privilege to be so emotionally invested in such a high level race. I’m just a high school track & field coach with some great timing. I never imagined when I started my first season at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the summer of 1998 that I was about to meet a young girl who would change how closely I follow elite distance running and that fourteen years later I would have butterflies in my stomach all day in anticipation of watching her race. Go get’em Shannon!
Since 2008 Andy and I have spent pretty much all vacations, certainly all major vacations, traveling to watch our favorite Olympian compete. We’ve been to Eugene, Oregon countless times, and Des Moines, Iowa to watch the national championships; China (not just Beijing) for the Olympics; and Berlin, Germany, and Daegu, South Korea for the World Championships. We’re planning to be in London for this year’s Olympics. From all this track related travel, and because I live with the Chanman, I’ve learned a thing or two about professional athletes. This holiday season I learned a bit more by spending a week at elevation at “Fantasy Track Camp.” At some point when Shannon was planning her winter elevation training she invited Andy and I to come visit her in San Luis Potosi, we took her up on the offer.
I arrived in Mexico already knowing that professional athletes are focused individuals, that being the best in the world requires a lot more than just running – and that those things are very time consuming. I didn’t feel a need do any serious sight-seeing and expected that wouldn’t be on the agenda. Shannon has traveled the world to compete but her job is a lifestyle, one that doesn’t often include taking in the sights. I’m sure that Andy and I have seen more of every city we’ve traveled to, to watch her compete than she has. I arrived in serious need of some real down time, so it was easy to come without any expectations, with a fat book, and let the week just flow. Even so, I learned a couple of things from our week with the professionals.
Part of what I love about running is the adventure. I love exploring new places. I enjoy the beauty and challenge of a trail run. I don’t want to run in the same place too many days in a row. I want to see new things. Even though I understood that structure and routine are important for a professional athlete, I was still startled to discover how important. We ran eight times, in only three places – and one of those places while familiar was obviously not a regular part of the routine. We visited a very large park a number of times. I explored a different route with each visit. The others focused on accomplishing their specific workout goals on the flattest most convenient route. We went to a familiar although out of the way place for a long run. I enjoyed the scenery (as much as I could while searching for foot prints to make sure I didn’t get totally lost – since the backsides of everyone else were a distant memory). The others focused on their pace and how to run a course that minimized running into the wind. The hills I love to challenge myself with at home were something the group drove to avoid. We went to La Loma Altitude Training Center and I mixed in swimming. Bolota Asmerom was perfectly content, and consistently fast, running lap after lap after lap on the one mile trail woven between the pool, track and tennis courts.
This all makes sense. For me a run is a break from work, a physical challenge, a release from sitting in a chair, a reward in itself. When you’re training to win, and training involves: running, generally conditioning, strength, treatment, mental preparation, and recovery your goals and objectives are to get it done, done well, maybe with some free time left.
For the first time in my life, mystical “Double Days” make total sense. Since I first heard the term some fifteen years ago I’ve associated it with really hard core runners working to rack up the miles. But I lined that up with an ultra-marathoner or marathoner type of hard core. Tough. Really long. It turns out a few miles here, a few miles there, a few miles later in the day. All on the same one mile loop can add up to a substantial run. One that was less challenging and exhausting than those miles would have been all strung together. I might try this again.
The last thing that startled me was diet. I expected the group to be somewhat uptight about their meals. While I would say that everyone in the house paid attention to their diet, the pros ate more meat and eggs than I do. Not uptight. They’re worried about getting the right amount of protein and other nutrition; I’m worried about keeping my cholesterol low. I felt that we all want to be the appropriate weight. The pros consistently ate small portions slowly and stopped. To win they need to; There is some pressure with this profession. I struggle with that one; I’m working on it again.
I’m so glad that Shannon, Pablo Solares, Bolota, and Nick Alvarado worked us into their routine for a week. Andy enjoyed the San Francisco and track talk. It was a gracious, generous, interesting group. We had fun, really relaxed, and I will take an even deeper perspective with me to my next professional track meet to watch my favorite runners tear it up on the oval.