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Hasay_Jordan-Houston17.JPGJordan Hasay, photo by PhotoRun.net

Has Talented Distance Star Finally Found Her Event?

An essential ingredient for the success of any athlete who aspires to compete at the highest levels of international track & field is talent. Some - a very few - might be able to achieve on talent alone. But for the vast majority, success requires that God-given talent be joined by a thoughtfully-assembled training regimen, an unwavering work ethic, savvy coaching, an ever-present support system - and a pursuit for excellence in a carefully-selected event that is right for the athlete.

No one doubts the natural talent Oregon Project athlete Jordan Hasay brings to her craft as a distance runner. Since her prep days where she first tasted success, through her undergraduate years at the University of Oregon, and now in her post-collegiate career as a professional, Hasay has been a dedicated athlete who has been wisely coached. The California native became a household word throughout the track community at the 2008 Olympic Trials where the high school junior ran 4:14.50 in the semi-finals of the 1500 meters to break the national high school record and advance to the final where the emerging prep star finished 10th.

Hasay's early success at the '08 Trials - combined with the silver medal she won in the World Youth 1500m the prior year - may well have been both a blessing and a curse. While track & field's newest darling was gaining valuable experience and a sampling of elite level success early on, those very achievements were also building widespread, elevated expectations for her future performance.

At the University of Oregon, Hasay fit right into the school's sophisticated track & field program. During her years as a Duck, her body of work was impressive: 18 All-American honors; senior leader on the Oregon women's NCAA championship cross country team; and a major contributor on the Lady Ducks' indoor squads that won 4 consecutive NCAA team crowns. "When I was there," explains Hasay, "we always won indoors." As a sophomore, the pony-tailed distance star pulled off a tough indoor double at the NCAA championships, winning both the mile and the 3000. They would be her only individual national collegiate championships. The diminutive Hasay would push on to ultimately compile 3 top-three finishes at the NCAA cross country championships. "I was so close so many times," laments Hasay. "It was upsetting that I never got the individual title. But then for Oregon to win the team title my senior year, that just sort of erased the negative emotion that I had." In addition to her two indoor victories, Hasay captured 5 more individual medals at NCAA track & field championships. Yet there were those who were inclined to view her collegiate career as somewhat lacking. Why? While the collegiate career of Jordan Hasay was excellent by nearly every metric, she didn't dominate as many expected.

In June of 2013, Hasay left the collegiate ranks with much hardware - and the honor of being named the 2013 track & field scholar/athlete of the year - to launch her professional career under the watchful eye of Alberto Salazar. As is the case for a good many post-collegiate athletes, the professional pathway has provided Hasay with some successes as well as some bumps along the way. As a newly-minted pro - and continuing the distance evolution which began at Oregon as the young athlete ultimately moved from the 1500 meters up to the 5,000 - Salazar's new protégé immediately stepped up to the 10,000 meters. At the 2013 USATF outdoors - her first race wearing the Oregon Project vest - Hasay finished 2nd in the 10,000, ultimately qualified for the USA world team in that event, and later placed 12th in the Moscow 10K final.

The following year, the Nike athlete chipped her 10,000 meter PR mark down to 31:39.67 and her 4:07.70 in Glasgow that summer lowered her 1500m personal best. 2015 began on a hopeful note for Hasay as she ran 9:44.69 to capture the 2-mile silver at the USATF Indoor Championships - the highlight of a year otherwise marred by injury.

A lackluster performance in the 2016 Olympic Trials 10,000 meters - where her 32:43.43 placed her 9th - prompted the crestfallen athlete to huddle with her coach to contemplate the next move. It was a consultation that was a long time coming.

"I had a very bad injury in 2015 that took out most of my year," Hasay reveals. "I came back in 2016 and I did OK in the indoor season and OK in the outdoor season. But at the Trials, I just didn't perform as well as we hoped. Obviously, everyone hopes to make the Olympic team. But I still just wasn't finding my legs under me in the 5K and the 10K." With Salazar's help, Hasay sought some answers, perhaps a new direction. "After the Trials, we kind of sat down and made the decision. We were sort of actually just up in the air, to be honest. By September, I felt like I was just running." Jointly, Hasay and her coach came up with a plan - a reboot to the roads, an attempt to test Hasay's considerable talent on a new surface in a new environment.

The decision to explore a longer distance on a different surface was not an impulsive one. It was an experiment supported by the current realities of American distance success at global championships. "We looked at how well Galen and the U.S. women did in the Olympic marathon and compared that with how [U.S. athletes have recently performed] in the 5K and the 10K. It's not that we didn't do well," clarifies Hasay. The talented distance runner and Salazar talked about the cold, hard facts of what it currently takes to win a medal in the women's 10,000 meters at a global championship. "Alberto was candid with me. He told me even if the new year would be perfect for me in the way that we would hope in the 10,000, it may still not be enough for me to earn a medal at a major championship. He went on to add that he didn't think I was too young to start looking at the marathon possibly," adds the Nike athlete, noting the longer road event offers many top flight opportunities for competitions against the world's best. "The marathon is not held only at these world championships. You have these major marathons that you can do - Boston, Chicago, New York. That can provide some excitement." The 25-year old looks at this new chapter with enthusiasm as well as relief. "I was ready for a change in my track & field career. I wasn't really excited about making a team, competing for the next year in the 5K and 10K. Right now, I was just not even competitive enough to make the team. So what do we do?" she asks rhetorically. "We started to experiment."

Together, the young athlete and her coach - a former decorated 2:08 marathoner - developed a plan. "Instead of just doing more 5K's and 10K's, this fall we decided try to a 10 mile race. And if that goes well, we'd try the half, and then do a marathon in the spring," explains Hasay. The road experiment started with a familiar distance. "I ended up opening with the 5K USATF Championships." In the midst of half marathon training and without the sharpening that would normally precede a national championship road race, Hasay finished 3rd in 15:48. The encouraging performance in Rhode Island was an upbeat start to a continuing fall of conditioning foreign to the young athlete. "The training had longer tempo runs and longer long runs, up to 20 miles - things I had never done before."

Adapting well to the new training regimen, Hasay headed to Minnesota on Twin Cities weekend to toe the line for the USATF 10 mile championships. With ideal windless weather and temperatures in the mid-40's, Hasay went out with the leaders. Outdueling Tuliamuk - the new USATF 5K champion just the month before - over the final half mile, Hasay charged home for the win in an impressive 52:49, leaving Tuliamuk, Sara Hall, Gwen Jorgensen, and Natosha Rogers in her wake. The triumph was just what the doctor ordered: Hasay's first national title at any distance and on any surface as a professional.

With renewed confidence, Hasay kicked off the new year with the Houston Half Marathon - a winter road battle that always draws a top flight international field. Despite hot and humid weather, Hasay ran a heady race - starting controlled and finishing strong to capture 4th, just two seconds behind third place finisher Kenya's Mary Wacera. Her 68:40 makes Hasay the 6th fastest American female half marathon performer of all time and is the fastest time ever run on the Houston course by an American woman, eclipsing the previous U.S. best of 69:40 set by Shalane Flanagan in 2010. Of no less importance was Hasay's continued improvement in pace: in her October 10 mile championship win under perfect conditions, Hasay averaged just under 5:17 per mile; yet 3 months later in steamy Houston, Hasay raced at 5:14/mile pace over a longer distance. Was she encouraged by her inaugural half? "Definitely," she declares. "But to be honest, I was upset with the performance. I was hoping for faster. I am still kind of working on having that final kick you have to have over the half marathon race distance. We were racing into the wind and I had caught Mary at the 9 mile mark and she was kind of struggling because she had gone out with the rabbits. And I had chosen not to go out with that pace. My plan was to run 5:10 for as long as I could. I had a couple of slower miles in there because it was a little bit windy and I was constantly missing the bottles. I was hoping for closer to 68 minutes. Honestly, I can't be disappointed. But on the right course, and if I take my race out harder, I think I can run closer to what I endeavored to do. This race is showing that I am getting closer to what I've shown I can do in workouts."

The new road racer was all smiles as she detailed her coach's reaction to her Houston success. "Alberto said, 'I think you just needed a different sport right now, kind of a rejuvenation. Welcome to the sport of road racing,'" laughed Hasay.

Hasay's recent road success prompts dreamy forecasting as she resumes her training for Boston's Patriots' Day race. Doubling a road racer's half marathon best and adding 10 minutes can often serve as a rough approximation of an athlete's potential clocking at the marathon distance. That calculation suggests a possible 2:27 Beantown time for Hasay - a mark that would likely be good enough for her to be selected as one of 3 American women to comprise the USA marathon trio which will compete at August's world championships in London.

For over a decade, Jordan Hasay has competed at every ascending level - youth, junior, collegiate, and professional - at the very pinnacle of our sport. The multiple benefits of her recent rejuvenation are quite evident. "I've been a little bit discouraged on the track during the past few years with not been able to perform as I had hoped. And that gets frustrating after a while. Obviously, I love running so I put in the training that has kept me in the race. But in the higher level of competition in which I am competing - the tops in the world - racing can be hard," confesses the reborn road racer. There can be little doubt that the road racing experiment has invigorated Jordan Hasay. "It is exciting that I can be out there competing with the best. Everyone who is competing is very good and it helps me to get the best out of myself," offers Hasay with obvious enthusiasm. "That's the most exciting thing for me - that I am able to be out there competing and be in the mix rather than just being back there in the pack."

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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