Last year at this time I was in Sarasota, Florida doing some running with two of the three young American distance runners being coached by longtime Nike advisor John Cook. This was nominally in preparation for a Running Times article that appeared in the June issue, but it was also the highlight of my running last year (and there wasn’t much to pick from) because I not only got to participate in some challenging workouts, but had a lot of fun bantering about various subjects and watching the flavorful dynamic between Cook, Shannon Rowbury, and then-top ranked U.S. miler Erin Donohue. (Flanagan, the third member of the trio, skipped the Florida training bout in order to prepare for and race the U.S. Cross-Country Championship; the other two were getting ready for the U.S. Indoor National Track & Field Champs.)
As things played out, all three women made the Olympic Team–Rowbury and Donohue in the 1,500 meters and Flanagan in both the 5,000 and the 10,000. Before the Olympic Trials in June, Flanagan had added the U.S. 10,000-meter record (30:34.49) to her resume, which already included national marks in the outdoor 5,000 (14:44.80) and indoor 3.000 (8:33.25); Rowbury, meanwhile, in her first post-collegiate year, grew into a phenomenal force, becoming the fifth-fastest American (4:00.33) over 1,500 meters (and the third fastest to never be caught doping) and notching the highest-ever finish by an American woman in that event at the Olympics, where she took seventh.
“Team Cook” enjoyed a sterling moment in Beijing when Flanagan grabbed a bronze medal in the 10,000, smashing the American record again in the process. Shalane is now almost half a minute faster than the next woman on the list, an astounding margin of supremacy.
Still more shocking to most, however, was the news earlier this week that Flanagan was dropping her coach and going, for the time being, with her husband Steve, like Flanagan a former UNC-Chapel Hill trackster. In reality this wasn’t a huge surprise; some athletes prefer the independence of a distance-coaching relationship (Cook spends almost all of his time in West Florida; Flanagan and her husband are based in North Carolina) while others require or want a more consistently face-to-face arrangement. In the interview below she discusses the termination of her relationship with Cook; maybe this comes from having talked to the various figures involved, but I genuinely don’t perceive any rancor afoot. Shalane just doesn’t play word games, and when she says she doesn’t see eye to eye with someone on a personal level it does not mean–as it might with others–that she dislikes him.
In any case, Flanagan did not seem distracted tonight at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games, where, racing before her hometown fans (she’s actually from Marblehead), she demolished Marla Runyan’s U.S. indoor 5K record by 20 seconds with a time of 14:47.62–losing the race by 5/1000ths of a second to Ethiopian Sentayehu Ejigu in the process.
That Flanagan is this race-fit in the winter of a post-Olympic year strongly suggests that the 27-year-old’s potential has yet to fully blossom. That’s a scary thought, and I of course am waiting for her to quit this silly world-class track stuff and move up to the marathon so she can break that American record as well.