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Elon Physical Therapy alumna Blake Russell qualifies for U.S. Olympic Team in the marathon

The disappointment of four years ago has turned into elation for Blake Russell, a 2001 graduate of Elon’s physical therapy program, who qualified for the 2008 Olympic Team following her impressive finish April 21 at the U.S. Women’s Olympic Trials in Boston.

Blake Russell G'01

Russell, 32, is the first woman to make the Olympic Team in the marathon after previously being the first alternate in 2004. She finished third in Boston (2:32:40) behind Deena Kastor and Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who also raced their way onto the Olympic Team that will compete at the Summer Games in Beijing in August.

While a physical therapy student at Elon, Russell juggled her studies with a rigorous training schedule and often could be seen running on campus. She qualified for the 2000 Olympic Track and Field Trials and finished fourth at the 2004 Olympic Trials.

At a press conference following her finish in Boston, Russell said she was still trying to comprehend landing a spot on the Olympic Team after her disappointing finish in 2004.

“Right now, I don’t really think it has sunk in,” said Russell, of Marina, Calif. “It’s something that after the disaster in 2004, my coach and I knew we had to sit down and develop a game plan to get where I am now.”

She said she has learned a lot since her performance in 2004 and used that to her advantage in Boston.

“I learned in 2004 that a lot can happen,” she said. “I told myself to relax and not panic. I knew that with three miles to go, I was feeling pretty good and I thought I had it. My race plan was to sit through 17 miles if nobody went and to go if anyone did. But when Magdalena went, and this is no disrespect to her, I just didn’t know who it was. It didn’t look like Magdalena and I didn’t (know) if I would have felt good running with her at that pace.”

Russell said she hasn’t thought much about the pollution concerns in Beijing.

“I know that I’m prepared and that the U.S. Team is working on how to prepare for these issues,” she said. “I’m actually not as concerned about pollution as I am the about the heat, and there are things we can do for that. I definitely practiced getting hydrated on my training runs. My coach has ridden with me on training runs, forcing me to drink. I used to avoid water because it would make me cramp. Out there today, I missed the first stop and luckily I didn’t panic. And on the second, I dropped my bottle, so there went another one, but I did get (water) on the third, and I did feel a boost when I got a little water in me.”

Russell grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1997 with a degree in psychology/exercise science before earning her master’s degree in physical therapy from Elon.

Russell appeared in The Magazine of Elon in 2006 after winning the 3000-meter race at the Adidas Grand Prix in Los Angeles with a time of 8:51.52 –– the third-fastest time in the world at that point in the season and a personal best for Russell. Prior to that, she won the USA 15K Championships in Jacksonville, Fla., and the 2006 USA Cross Country Championships in New York. Russell also represented the United States in the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Japan. She began her national winning streak in 2005, capturing the 20K U.S. Road Championships.

Even with her demanding training schedule, Russell has managed to work part time as a physical therapist. Said Russell, “My goal is to be one of the best American marathoners of all time.”

Jaleh Hagigh,
4/27/2008 1:04 PM