Monday, May 5, 2008

My Favorite Olympian

In the fall of 2003, I kept seeing the same name appear in the newspaper headlines of the local sport sections: Shalane Flanagan. Who is she? And why is she receiving more press than any member of our football team? Is she really that good? Being a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I pondered these questions from time to time. Toward the end of the semester I had a final paper due for my feature writing class. It was a good opportunity to find out about this mystery wonder woman, I thought. So I did. Before I wrote my lengthy profile, I talked with Flanagan, her parents, her coach, her teammates, and some competitors. I discovered she really was that good. A few days after I interviewed Shalane, she won her second national collegiate cross-country title. In retrospect, she may have been the best athlete I went to school with, which included Taylor Coppenrath, Ronald Curry, Ivory Latta, David Noel, and Julius Peppers. The reason she was such a mystery was twofold: she ran cross-country; and she was probably one of the most humble, down-to-earth star athletes I’ve ever met. Though she did tell me back then, “My goal is to be a name as common here eventually like Marion Jones, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, and Julius Peppers. I want to be known as someone like that.”

It seems she has done everything in her power since then to manifest that goal. Yesterday, Flanagan broke the U.S. women’s 10,000-meter record by 17 seconds with a time of 30 minutes and 34.49 seconds. It was the fastest time in the world this year and the fastest ever in North America. Not bad for her first 10k race. Normally, she runs shorter distances. She holds the American record for 3,000 and 5,000 meters. She had planned to run in the latter competition at the Beijing Games this summer. Being so good creates good dilemmas. "Initially, I planned to run the 5k in the (Olympic) trials and that still may be," Flanagan told reporters after her dramatic win. "I really enjoy the 5k, but every lap is hard. The 10k is very hard, too. I want to sit down and examine what my best chances for a medal are. I have no idea what I’m going to do. It may be a last-minute decision."

Whatever she decides, I’ll be rooting for her.


Steve said...

I ran my first 10K this weekend as a novice runner in 59 minutes. So, I can really appreciate that awesome time! The men's winner in my race ran it in 31:12. So, she beat him too. Impressive!

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