Shalane Flanagan: “I want to inspire young people”

By Jörg Wenig
Shalane Flanagan was a surprise bronze medalist in the 10,000m. ©
Shalane Flanagan was a surprise bronze medalist in the 10,000m. ©

Shalane Flanagan achieved the greatest success of her career at the Olympic Games in Beijing. The 27-year-old American won the bronze medal in the 10,000m in front of 90,000 in the Olympic stadium in the Chinese capital. It was only the second medal for an American woman in a long-distance track race at the Olympics; Lynn Jennings won the bronze in the 10,000m in 1992 in Barcelona.

Shalane Flanagan’s time of 30:22.22 in her tremendous contest with Africa’s best women distance runners set not only a U.S. but also a North American record. She had set the previous American record of 30:34.49 earlier this year. Flanagan now stands 13th on the women’s all-time list for the distance. After her triumphant run Flanagan looked back on the race.

What were your expectations going into the race?

Shalane Flanagan: Whenever I stand on the start line, I want to win—gold, silver or bronze, I always want to be there, up front. I was so focused on my race and gave everything that when I first crossed the line I didn’t know I was third. If I had known that earlier, I would have probably gone crazy. But I was so happy about the way I ran so strongly in the race.

Has it really dawned on you that you’ve won the bronze?

Shalane: I always believed I could do it, so I can take it in to some extent. But I won’t really believe it until I have the medal hanging round my neck!
[The medal ceremony didn’t take place until the following day.]

There was a period in the race when you were running some way behind the leading group of five. Did you still think you could get a medal then?

Shalane: In the final I never thought about medals at all. I simply ran my own race, did my best and tried to stay calm. I was always hoping I could reel in one or two of them.

Did you know you were on course for a record?

Shalane: No, because I wasn’t looking at the split times. I knew we were running very fast, but I was just concentrating on doing my best.

Whom do you have to thank for your success today?

Shalane: My coach [John Cook], because he prepared me well and told me that this was a race like any other so I didn’t get too worked up about it. I had complete confidence in my training.

What does this success mean for you?

Shalane: It’s an honor for me and for the U.S. team to have won an Olympic medal. Deena Kastor was an inspiration for me, she showed in Athens what was possible. I hope that I, in turn, can now inspire others—above all, of course, young people. I want to show by my performance that anything is possible.

The 5,000m has so far been your favorite distance. Does the result today change that?

Shalane: I’m not so sure about that, but I really do prefer the shorter distances.