Marathoner Kara Goucher's Last Olympics?
The leading lady talks about letting pressure go, avenging Beijing and what comes after London
Four years ago, fresh off of her 10,000-meter bronze medal at the 2007 IAAF World Championships, Kara Goucher went to the Olympics on a mission.
“In Beijing I wanted to medal so bad,” Goucher said on Tuesday in a Google + “Hangout” video chat, in partnership with The New York Times. “I was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ Instead of enjoying the process and the experience, I just wanted to get there. I had so much anxiety: ‘Let’s just do this.’”
Goucher’s performance in 2008—ninth at 5000 meters and 10th at 10,000 meters—was a letdown, at least to her. “I feel like I kind of wasted Beijing trying to do something unrealistic and trying to live up to some expectation that I had put on myself.”
The “Hangout,” hosted by sports reporter Mary Pilon of The New York Times, was the last of three that featured U.S. Olympic Marathon athletes. Joining Pilon and Goucher were David Willey, editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine; Amy Skeen, president and CEO of Girls in the Game, a girls’ health and fitness non-profit organization in Chicago; and twin sisters Hannah and Haley Meier, high school track standouts from Grosse Pointe, MI. It can be viewed here.
This time around, Goucher firmly believes, will be another matter. “I feel totally different,” said Goucher, who's 34 and the mother of a son, Colt, who will turn 2 in September. “I feel like I’m fitter and have a better chance than I did four years ago, but I’ve completely let go of the pressure of bringing home a medal. For me, I’m ready to do my best, and if I do my best and it’s 15th, I’m going to take it and move forward.”
Some excerpts from the “Hangout”:
On training with U.S. Olympic Marathon teammate Shalane Flanagan:
“I will say that we are both extremely competitive and we both want the same things. We definitely will work together. We have different race strategies because we have different strengths, but the longer we’re in the race together the more comforting it is. At the same time, Shalane is a person trying to keep me off the podium and I’m a person trying to keep her off. So there will come that point where the comfort that she’s there is gone, and it’s time to really go after each other a little bit.”
On the 2012 Olympic Marathon course:
“Initially I think people thought, ‘Oh, it’s London, it’s going to be flat, it’s going to be fast, we’re going to rip some fast times,’ and then I think people actually saw the course or they heard about the course. It is very turn-y and a term I always use is it has lots of rhythm breakers. No one is going to go out at 2:17 pace and be able to just maintain that pace the whole time. I like this situation, because I haven’t run 2:18 or 2:19, or even 2:20.”
On her progress since the U.S. Olympic Trials, which she ran on short training because of an injury:
“In January, I was a bit of a mess. The way the race played out was in my favor and I had a lot of luck on my side that day, honestly. But since then I’ve been healthy and things have gone really well. I’m a completely different athlete than I was in January.”
On the Olympic chances of world-record holder Paula Radcliffe, who has been struggling:
“The thing you have to remember about Paula is she’s run 2:15. She doesn’t have to be in the best shape of her life. … I think if she can get herself into 2:20 shape she has a legitimate shot, and what’s funny is that’s five minutes off of her PR. So her preparation hasn’t been perfect, but it doesn’t need to be at her caliber.”
On what motivates her:
“I just always need to know how good I am. [Running] was the first thing I did that felt normal and natural to me. I just needed to know. At that point it was the seventh-grade city championship, and I just had to know if I could win it. Every goal has gotten bigger as I’ve gone along. I have these crazy dreams of winning the New York City Marathon and winning Boston and bringing a medal home and running the American record in Chicago. They’re silly, but you know what? I had a dream of winning a medal at the World Championships and that happened. I just need to know. I just need to know. If I find out I’m not as good as I hoped to be, I can live with that.”