When the gun was raised to start the men’s 1500m at the 2009 Stanford Invitational, the usual suspects towed the line—Chris Solinsky, Ian Dobson, and Evan Jager. But the looming question was identifying the guy in the green uniform lined up with the aforementioned athletes?
The runner in green, Baylor’s Chris Gowell, finished the race with a second-place finish behind Austin Abbott, running a personal best 3:41.85, officially serving notice that he had arrived in America.
Baylor will never be the same.
Gowell, a new-comer this year, is helping turn things around for Baylor ’s middle distance program. Already ranked as one of the top United Kingdom 800m runners before coming to Baylor, Gowell is now pursuing the 1500m, while at the same time raising the profile of Baylor men’s track and field program better known for Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner and the 4×400 meter relay.
Bringing experience, drive and a thunderous kick, Gowell is leading another British invasion, hoping to do for Baylor middle distance what the Beatles did for pop music, make it rock.
The Gowell effect was felt immediately: The Baylor squad swept the sprint medley relay and distance medley relay at Texas Relays with the 23-year old running definitive legs to secure victory for a squad with plans of improving on its’ fifth place team finish at the 2009 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas.
PreRaceJitters had the opportunity to talk with Chris about his background, his current training and racing at Baylor University, as well as his goals for the future.
PRJ: Growing up as kid in Great Britain, how did you develop yourself into the runner that you are today?
CG: I have always been involved in sport as a kid, and initially more passionately through golf. By the age of 16, I had achieved a handicap of 3, until my first coach, Ann Hill, spotted me at a running meet. I loved running the first time I tried it and she and my family were always very supportive in my progress.
She always maintained a high work ethic in her methods, which harvested the attitude in me to always aim to the top and not mediocrity. Probably the reason why I am rarely happy with my races, as it can always be better. She sadly passed when I was 21 but I would say that it was her initial guidance and mentoring that kept me on the track and out of trouble and certainly shaped who I am today. I have been blessed to have such great guidance throughout my athletic career.
PRJ: How did you get to Baylor University and how has your acclimation to the U.S. collegiate running system been so far?
CG: Despite having a great coach in Daryl Maynard in Wales, I felt that working and training full time was too physically taxing to make the most out of what I am capable of doing. It is well documented that the USA collegiate system produces many successful athletes and I felt the best way to maximize my education and athletics would be to pursue an American college, although I never thought it would actually happen.
I sent an e-mail to Baylor with a brief resume and I was surprised to receive a response. The moment I came to visit Baylor, I knew it was the place I wanted to be. Baylor was the only university I pursued. Its reputation speaks for itself, but what people do not see is the family-like environment behind the scenes. Everyone is friendly and I have made many friends. I just hope it is not because they like my accent!
The American collegiate running system is very competitive, chiefly the reason why America produces so many great athletes. The biggest benefit I have had is the training environment; the physio and treatment facilities are far advanced to what I have ever witnessed. There are few excuses for not competing well with such an environment.
PRJ: From most people looking in from the outside, the 400 meters is the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning Baylor. With that, what inspired you to join their program, as an up-and-coming middle distance runner?
CG: I talked to Coach Harbour and Coach Capron expressing how I had intentions of moving up to the mile and they reciprocated. I really liked their intentions for me and with Coach Harbour running as fast as he has, he is obviously very knowledgeable.
They also expressed a desire to raise Baylor’s middle distance reputation/profile, and I really wanted to be a part of that. Things have gone well so far with the DMR victory at Texas relays. I could not be happier with my training and training methods thus far, and I’m excited for the season to see what I can do.
PRJ: After enrolling in Baylor in January, you finished fifth overall in the men’s 800 meters, at the 2009 NCAA Indoor National Championships clocking a time of 1:48.78, earning your first-ever All-America honor. What did that feel like?
CG: It felt great but I obviously wanted to win as I was in great shape. It was a very competitive race; there is no place for minor mistakes in such a great field. To achieve an All American honors, so to speak, is a great achievement and I was very proud. For my first collegiate indoor season, I felt I raced very consistently, which bodes well for the imminent outdoor season.
PRJ: In your seasonal debut 1500m race at the 2009 Stanford Invitational, you ran 3:41.85, placing second in a stacked heat and in doing so recorded the second fastest time in school history behind your coach Todd Harbour. How did that race unfold for you?
CG: I was very excited to have a chance to race a quick 1500 as training has suggested I was ready. I am very pleased with the time and I am looking forward to go quicker, it’s a great feeling to have started a new event at the age of 23. As for Coach Harbour’s record, the sky would have to be the limit on that one; that is a very fast time but anything is possible.
PRJ: Are you having fun so far? You were a member of both the Sprint Medley Relay and Distance Medley Relay that won Texas Relays titles. How exciting was it to anchor the Distance Medley Relay to victory, as that race came down to a three-team race over the final laps?
CG: That was a great meet and the most enjoyable, but that’s easy to say since we did so well. To win the DMR was great as we were underdogs, and it’s nice to put Baylor distance on the Map. It is an up and coming team as Zwede [Hewitt], Zac [Flowers] and James [Gilreath] are so young with so much talent and potential. They are coming along well and we will improve. I’m not so young at 23, but I would like to think I could still improve.
We were going for the national record in the SMR, but unfortunately the wind was a little strong. I think it’s very achievable though.
PRJ: Are you going to run any more 1500s or focus primarily on the 800m for the remainder of this season? What are your long-term goals in the sport?
CG: This is a decision Coach Harbour and I are yet to make. We will see how the 800 pans out first, as I would not like to rule that out just yet, but I am excited for the 1500 for sure. However it is important not to rush the progression.
My future is unknown. I am happy I am giving myself the best possibility to become world class while at Baylor, and if I am by the end of my time here, then why change a winning formula? But I am only thinking short term at this stage.
PRJ: What will your training be like with the Michael Johnson Classic coming up this weekend, Drake Relays the following week and the Big 12 Conference meet less than a month away?
CG: Everything is geared toward regionals and nationals so we are not easing down greatly but certainly giving ourselves the best chance to run quick in each race.
PRJ: How do you prepare yourself mentally for your races?
CG: I am a fairly relaxed athlete; I take things as they come and try not to let things bother me, as over the years I have realized that a pre-race routine is difficult to uphold given the many different racing venues we go to. Music is my biggest preparation, but other than that I see or notice few obstacles in running quick.
PRJ: What are your goals for the remainder of the 2009 collegiate outdoor track season and this summer?
CG: To get myself in the National final, and from there I believe I have as good as chance as anyone to win. I would like to get below 3:39 for the 1500 and 1:46 for 800.
PRJ: Who are your role models? Who or what inspires you?
CG: Being part of such a successful team of both athletes and coaches is a great motivator to train hard and achieve. But I am also very self-motivated and self-driven in terms training. I rarely get unmotivated in my training, which is a good thing as at times things can get tough.
PRJ: What are your hobbies and interests other than running?
CG: I love to golf; unfortunately I have not had a chance since I have been in America. I enjoy reading and writing, it is good to pen thoughts.
PRJ: Chris, thanks for your time and good luck with your season.
Cheryl Lowe is a writer and contributor for PreRaceJitters.