As part of Metro's ongoing coverage leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, we're introducing readers to the athletes who will be representing the United States. Previously: swimmer Ryan Lochte, fencer Daryl Homer and gymnast Aly Raisman.
Don't blink, or you might miss Molly Huddle.
This long-distance runner, originally from Elmira, N.Y., holds a U.S. record in the 5,000 meters with a speedy 14:44.76, and has carefully crafted her spot on Team USA one pace at a time.
As a student at Notre Dame, she tied the late Ryan Shay's school record of nine career All-America honors. Though London will be her first Olympic experience, Huddle, who lives and trains in Providence, R.I., has routinely competed at the international level for the U.S. Cross Country Team. She helped the American team win bronze at 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland and nabbed her American record at the 2010 Memorial Van Damme Diamond League meet in Brussels, Belgium.
She draws on the support of her husband, Canadian middle-distance runner and former Notre Dame teammate Kurt Benninger.
Now, with her sights set on London, Huddle is preparing for the biggest race of her career, but isn't letting the hype get to her. She maintains a level-headed approach to the games, not dreaming of gold just yet, but instead focusing on finishing in the top 10 and taking it from there.
Metro caught up with Huddle in the final stretch before her Olympic debut.
Metro: What was it like to learn that you qualified for the Olympic team? Were you expecting to earn a spot to London or was it more of a surprise?
Huddle: Qualifying for the Olympic team was a dream come true. It's one of the major goals of any athlete in track and field, where the Olympics are a time to shine for the sport. The last few years, I'd been running well enough that I thought it was a very real possibility to make the team, but the Olympic trials are a high pressure situation and always full of surprises so I knew I had to be ready to run hard and not make any major mistakes tactically or take any risks.
Which events are you most focused on for the upcoming games?
I'm racing the 5,000 [meters] at the Olympics, so I will only do a few shorter races beforehand to get some speed in my legs and prepare for hopefully two hard races — the prelim and final, if all goes well in London.
Who do you think your biggest competition will be at the Olympics?
The women who made the Kenyan and Ethiopian teams are running extremely fast right now and they have been finishing in the medal positions for years. There are a few other women who are coming on strong this season from Morocco and Russia, and as the other countries complete their team selections, I'm sure a few more women will come out of the woodwork, as usually it happens during the Olympic year, when everyone lays it all on the line.
What is like to know you have a chance at winning a gold medal? Do you ever envision that moment and picture what it would be like?
I'm pretty realistic about my goals, which I think is important. I am taking the Olympics one step at a time and hoping to make the final, and from there hoping to finish in the top ten. If I were dreaming of a gold medal, it would mean I was doing some pretty nasty workouts in practice!
What is your typical training day when you are preparing for a big competition? How many hours do you spend on the track?
Typically, I run an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. When we work out, I usually do three to five miles of speed work on the track. It doesn't sound like much of a time commitment, but in between runs I fit in some light strength work or drills, appointments for chiropractor/massage or physical therapy and the all-important nap.
What is your favorite power meal before an event? How about after?
The last meal a few hours before my event is usually pretty bland, usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a power bar. Afterward, I try to have a recovery protein shake and then for dinner, it's usually late and nothing is open so "I have to" eat a burger or pizza, but I probably would have done that no matter what!
Do you have any guilty pleasure foods you like to indulge in when you're not in the midst of heavy training?
I try to eat pretty healthy when in season, but as a distance runner there is no real out of season, so I'm not overly strict with my diet. I definitely have a favorite junk food. Currently, it's donuts, which is hard to avoid with all the Dunkin' Donuts in New England!
Your husband Kurt is a runner, too. Do you two often train together? What is it like to be married to another athlete?
It's great to be married to another runner, as we have a similar training schedule and can hang out a lot during the day, and he is obviously very understanding about what it takes to train and race. We don't really run together much, as he is much faster than I am and we never really overlap in training.
Who is your biggest sports role model and why?
It's hard to narrow it down to one, as I've always admired the way the top American women distance runners like Shalane Flanagan and Deena Kastor race so consistently well and seem to compete with the best in the world without fear. My training partner, Kim Smith of New Zealand, is a front runner as well, and it's inspiring to watch, as is Sally Kipyego, who I know from college. On the world level, it's hard not to be dazzled by someone like Tirunesh Diababa who has been so dominant.
Do you have anything you'd like to say to the people of New York state who will be rooting for you at the Olympics?
Many thanks to everyone from New York and especially my home town of Elmira for the encouragement and support over the last few weeks. I hope to represent you well in London!