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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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Danae Rivers, photo courtesy of Penn State

How Penn State's Danae Rivers Broke The Indoor 1000m Standard

January 31, 2019

One of the rare and special moments in track & field is when a record is broken. In our sport, records exist on a variety of levels - from the PR of a young high schooler to a global record set by an accomplished world-class athlete. Some never-before attained performances can be unplanned, spontaneous occurrences - like Kendra Harrison's 2016 world-record clocking of 12.20 in the women's 100 meter hurdles or Anita Wlodarczyk's gold medal-winning world-record hammer throw of 82.29 meters at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Other records are achieved only after the most careful preparation: event and venue selection, thoughtful assembly of the field, agreement on pacing and opening tempo [or in the case of vertical jumps: event entry and jump count],

Earlier this month, on a blustery winter day in State College, Pennsylvania, a new collegiate record was set in the women's indoor 1000 meter run by talented Penn State middle distance athlete Danae Rivers. Her record performance was not an unexpected surprise; it was the product of the convergence of several essential ingredients: a young, gifted, hungry, and properly-trained athlete performing in the right meet on her home track over a carefully-selected off-race distance in a competition that included the best mix of competitors and featured a precision-like teammate as the early pacer.

Having had some time to reflect on River's collegiate record performance, Penn State University Head Coach John Gondak can now provide insight on how it all came together. "I've been watching Danae practice and compete for the last 3½ years and she really had an impressive fall cross country season while earning All-Big Ten honors," offers the Nittany Lions head coach. "I've just noticed a difference in her approach to things this year. She's very methodical; she's very passionate; she's very focused on what she wants to do." Yet even the observant head coach was caught off guard by Rivers' break-through indoor performance earlier this month. "Watching her training and what she was doing, I thought she was capable of running around 2:40 to 2:41. And when the race set up going through the 600 in about 1:37 and for Danae to close in 60 point off of that was even above and beyond what I would have anticipated. So I was very happy and excited for her. It was a fun performance to watch."

In the weeks before the Nittany Lion Challenge when Gondak thought his middle distance star was ready for a strong indoor opener, his discussions with Rivers vaguely targeted a powerful performance, not a specific goal or clocking. "I didn't really present it in a way that we talked about 'Let's go try to break the record.' With Danae, it was more 'Hey, we're going to try to set this up to break the school record or to see where our fitness is.' To be quite honest, there never was a discussion about breaking a collegiate record. I actually didn't even think about it until the night before when I took a look to see what the record actually was. Again it wasn't something that we circled on the calendar as the date we were going to try to run under 2:40."

In constructing this indoor opener for Rivers, it was determined that the best opportunity would be at the Nittany Lion Challenge - Penn State's opening home indoor meet - in a familiar, friendly setting with a carefully-selected 8-athlete field that included Central Park Track Club athlete Olga Kosichencko, and Point Park University's spunky Anna Shields, As Coach Gondak would say, it would be an opportunity for Danae Rivers to "run fast." "To be honest, the field just sort of fell into place," admits Gondak. "The athlete from Point Park [Shields] was coming over to race in the 1000 and I thought that race would be a good off event for Danae to start with. I knew that Shields was very aggressive with her running. And with the athlete from the Central Park Track Club [Olga Kosichenko], I thought that this could turn out to be a nice little race here. So let's get it set up and see where everybody is."

PSU's Grace Trucilla proved to be the final piece of the puzzle: Rivers' Penn State training partner would set the race tempo in the early going. "The discussion with Grace was just try to run 32's and get it to 1:36 at 600," explains Gondak of his conversation with his pacer. "And if Anna goes by, then she's ready to take it, then you can step off as you have done your job."

With all of the race day ingredients in place, Danae Rivers exuded certain calmness. "Danae is very even-keeled," adds Gondak. "She likes to know why we're doing things. She is pretty much open to whatever we discuss." And as for the 1000 meter distance? "She was excited about doing an event she had never done before."

On race day, only a small handful of Penn State coaches knew the record attempt was on. The race - the first of 3 sections of the timed final of the women's 1000m - got underway without extraordinary fanfare as Rivers' teammate charged to the front to undertake her task. Finishing the first lap in 32 flat, Trucilla looked crisp and was in control with Rivers in relaxed stride just behind her followed by the aggressive Shields and Kosichencko both gamely in the hunt. When Rivers' training partner posted 2 more 32 second circuits for laps 2 and 3, a number in the audience anticipated that something special might be in the works. On the backstretch of the penultimate lap, Danae Rivers, sensing her teammate tiring, instinctively surged to the front - a move that kept the record attempt alive. Accelerating, Rivers split the 4th lap in 30.93 as her teammates circling the oval cheered her on. With more to give, Rivers turned it up as the crowd roared. With a final lap in 30.36, the 3-time All-American crossed the line in 2:38.58, followed by Shields [2:42.51] in 2nd and Kosischenko [2:47.76] in 3rd. The winning time for the multiple-time Big Ten champion took down the 2-year old indoor collegiate record for the women's 1000 meter run of 2:40.79 set by Oklahoma State athlete Kaela Edwards.

Danae Rivers is not a boastful person, simply a talented athlete dedicated to fully cultivating her vast middle distance talent. "I am usually a person that goes day by day, doing what I have to do to get through the day. There are some moments when I think about the talent that I have and the different range that I have and the the races I can run. I really am a humble person so I don't like to give myself a big head and get too far ahead in my thinking. I really like the simple side of things.

But the passage of some time has allowed the new collegiate record holder to reflect on how her unmatched performance has caused her to think differently about herself and her potential as a track & field athlete. "My coach has told me that he has seen a shift in my training and in my thought process. Just going off my freshman and my sophomore seasons, and knowing how I mentally step into racing and into my training, I didn't think it was so much that I needed a change. But I definitely needed to improve. And so, definitely I have improved in my thoughts and I've told myself that I fit in with all the other girls on the top level." The 2018 outdoor championships [where she was an NCAA finalist in the 1500m and a USATF 800m semi-finalist] definitely have opened my eyes to running against professional athletes like Ajée Wilson and Raevyn Rogers. It is a blessing and an honor to run amongst them." And reflecting on her renewed commitment to her sport, Rivers adds, "You know? It would be just cool to see what I can do."

With a couple of weeks to put Rivers' performance in perspective, Coach Gondak notes that he savors great Penn State performances through the eyes of his athletes. "For me, I get excited for the student athlete. They're the ones who put the work in; they're the ones that come to practice every day to try to be the best they can be. I always feel excited for them when they accomplish a goal that they want to have," he notes. "I'm not going to say that it was Danae's goal to break the collegiate record, but I know it's a goal of hers to run fast. She ran fast enough to do what she did. Collegiate records have been around for a long time. And for Danae to break the record by 2 seconds was a 'Wow' factor for me."

In the afterglow of Rivers' collegiate record performance, Coach Gondak acknowledges he has always been impressed by his young athlete's early-revealed talent. "Danae's been a special athlete in our program for the last 3½ years. It's rare that you find someone who has the talent and ability to be All Big Ten in cross country and also can run on your 4x4. When you have that kind of range and brains where you can be successful, the goals are always high. Danae set the bar high indoors as a freshman when she finished 3rd in the mile at the national championships. By the end of her freshman year, she was probably a little bit tired due to a big jump in her training, but she made the final outdoors in the 800."

But now the Penn State head coach senses that his protégé, who has since anchored her team's distance medley relay to a Big Ten-leading time of 11:09.85 as well as posting the collegiate-leading 800 meter clocking of 2:02.94, is cultivating another critical ingredient for success: a maturity and committed work ethic she is bringing to her craft. "Last year indoors, if you would have asked me if Danae would make the final and be All-American in the 800, I would have said, 'Absolutely not.' Her training was all over the place," admits Gondak about River's indoor struggles in 2018. "But it is just a testament to how talented she is that she goes out and gets it done. Then she comes outdoors and sets a big school record in the 1500 running 4:10. She ran against some really talented kids in the outdoor championships. I actually think her going to USA's and making the semi-final round made her think, 'I am really good at this.' I think that really re-focused her for this year." After a pause, the Nittany Lion coach adds, "Our goal is always to do the best we can. And this year, I think Dane Rivers can once again contend for All-American honors and possibly a championship." / Dave Hunter /

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.