Stronger, Fitter, Faster
Provided by IAAF
Aussie steeplechase ace Genevieve LaCaze has banished her injury woes to find herself in the form of her life – perfect timing for a double assault at the Rio Olympics.
Rewind the clock four years and Genevieve LaCaze found herself going through one of the more bizarre Olympic qualifying procedures.
In 2012 the University of Florida student finished her collegiate career on a bittersweet note. She won steeplechase silver at the NCAA championships in 9:50.25, shaving more than five seconds off her previous PB, but failed to hit the Olympic qualifying standard.
“I had no idea what the next step was. I knew I had just missed out on getting a qualifier for the Olympics and I was really down thinking ‘where to from here?’,” recalls LaCaze.
Luckily, her agents at the time hadn’t given up on her Olympic dream. They encouraged her to have one last shot at hitting the standard in a race they helped organise especially for her. She hopped on a plane from Des Moines, Iowa, to Indianapolis, Indiana, and, less than 48 hours after the NCAA final, knocked a further 9 seconds off her PB to hit the Olympic A standard. One problem: she was a day too late.
Athletics Australia initially declined her bid for selection, but the publicity it attracted led to a wave of public pressure.
“I just did radio interviews, newspaper interviews, TV interviews – they took me to a live studio to wake me up with the Today Show and I was like ‘what is going on?’,” LaCaze remembers. “Within the next 24 hours it had got that huge that the public had pretty much overruled what the [selection] criteria said.”
LaCaze was on the plane to London. She describes her first Olympic experience as “spectacular”. She’d spent the previous four years living and studying in the US and had hardly seen her family during that time.
“My parents got a divorce when I left for college, so my family was kind of all over the place,” she explains. “But for the Olympics everyone decided to all go together, get a house together, go watch Genevieve.
“I’ve got three brothers, everyone came. My grandma came. My aunty came. My cousins came. It was just perfect. I raced on my birthday! It was just… nothing could be more special.”
She clocked another PB in her heat, but her “inexperience showed” as she finished ninth and failed to advance to the final. Yet “those 3 weeks were the most special to this day that I think I’ll ever go through”.
LaCaze broke her ankle during this freak fall at the 2013 Birmingham Diamond League
The long road to this year’s Games saw LaCaze endure a different type of tumult, namely injuries. It started with a broke ankle, sustained at the penultimate water jump at the 2013 Birmingham Diamond League. From there she found herself caught in a “vicious cycle”, she was “always rushing to qualify for the next championships”, never giving her body enough time to recover.
She finished fifth at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 – and made headlines for hijacking Kylie Minogue’s performance at the closing ceremony – but again wasn’t fully satisfied with her performance on the track.
Something needed to change. LaCaze sat down with her coach, Nic Bideau, and told herself: “If I ever want to be anywhere in the next few years, I just can’t keep getting injured and starting fresh every year”.
Still nursing “a little niggle” in 2015, the year proved a vital stepping-stone in her approach for this Olympic year.
“I really just kept the ball rolling through to 2016,” she explains. “My coach and I have worked really carefully on mastering my week so there is enough rest but also quality to improve and it’s showing now in all facettes of my running.”
She isn’t lying when she says “I’m getting stronger and fitter and faster”. LaCaze has set 10 PBs across four distances this season alone. At a meet in Finland in June she clocked a 2:04.05 PB for the 800m barely an hour after running in the 3k steeplechase.
Compared to her race against time to qualify for London 2012, LaCaze’s preparation has been a lot more structured this year. With the steeplechase Olympic standard already under her belt and a second place finish at the Australian Championships in March, she had time to achieve another ambition: hitting the standard and qualifying for the 5000m.
“It’s a bonus, but I’m not losing sleep over it,” she says. “It is after the steeple. So I can still put all of my efforts into the steeple and maybe come back a few days later and run the 5.
“That’s the thing about the steeple and I love it for that reason. The 5000m seems so dominated by the Africans, the world record nearly got broken in Rome – 14:12 or 14:11 or what it was – it’s absolutely insane.
“It’s impressive to watch, but at the same time it’s incredibly hard for you to grasp that you’ll ever be able to compete on a world stage. Whereas the steeple is dominated by all countries.”
She’s right. The global top 20 features athletes from seven different countries, five continents.
“Everyone is improving in it. It puts it more into perspective for myself rather than just think it’s the impossible.”
However, even with her 9:23.19 PB (which is over 14 seconds faster than her last Olympic outing) and the Olympic final in Rio looking a strong possibility, LaCaze is still focused on longer-term ambitions.
“This is obviously going very well and I’m very lucky to have those times this year, but I still think with the consistent training that I’ve pulled together, next year I’ll really see it.”
And with world championships in London – her main training base during the Australian winter – and the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast on home soil in 2018, LaCaze might have timed things just about right this time round.