August 19, 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO — Kate Grace‘s fairytale 2016 season will now include the women’s Olympic 800m final.
Thursday night, the Yale grad and Oiselle athlete ran a personal best of 1:58.79 to finish third in the final women’s 800 semifinal heat, qualifying as fastest time qualifier for the final, where Grace will be the only American. (For a recap of the women’s 800m rounds click here).
As we said in our 800m semifinal recap, if you told us at the start of the year only one American would be in the 800m final at the Olympics, we’re not sure how many names we would have given you before we said it was Grace. Prior to this year, Grace had never been top 3 at a United States championship or an NCAA championship. Her best year was 2013, where she was fourth at the USATF Nationals and ran 1:59.47 for fourth in the Paris Diamond League meet. Then in 2014, she didn’t run faster than 2:01.22, and missed all of 2015 with injury.
If Grace was going to quit the sport, it would have been after last year, but instead the dream of Rio called her. She switched coaches and packed up her car and drove from Bend, Oregon, to Sacramento, California, to train under the tutelage of coach Drew Wartenburg. She and Wartenburg drew up a list of goals for 2016 and now Kate has exceeded them all.
“We did a dream goal sheet earlier in the year. I had my a, b, c, goals and my dream goal, and I put in parentheses my dream, dream goal. On which Drew [Wartenburg] was like ‘you can’t have multiple levels of dream goals.’ But my dream, dream goal was to make the final of the Olympics,” said Grace after yesterday’s 800m semifinal.
When Kate was asked what the “dream, dream, dream” goal was, she had the obvious answer, “Medalling.”
That may seem like a long shot, but Grace has not finished lower than third in a race all year in 2016, and her rags to riches story is a testament to why the races are actually run. She said her college coach Mark Young used to tell her, “If it was all about comparing times (personal bests), we’d just hand them our times and they’d handle us the medals.”
Kate’s tendency is to save her kick for the final 100m, but coach Wartenburg told her at this level she could not do that and said to her, “Your strength is your strength. You have to start going at 300. Make a move early. Put some cards on the table at 300 to go.”
That’s what she did yesterday and she said she is thriving off the success of the other Team USA distance runners (Emma Coburn, Jenny Simpson, Evan Jager and Clayton Murphy have all medalled here) and a growing positive energy around the team. “Emma’s whole thing with ‘I believe in miracles’ is great. One of my mantras is ‘I believe,'” said Kate, referencing Emma Coburn being inspired to pursue the Olympic dream a little bit in part thanks to Al Michaels’ historic call of the 1980 Olympic hockey upset. She said that belief helped her make that move as she was thinking “If you believe in yourself you’ll make that move.”
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 16, 2016
The women’s 800m final with Caster Semenya and the intersex controversy will be one of the most watched and discussed races at the Games. Grace is focused on the task at hand, saying that Semenya is competing legally and now is not the time to discus the rules. When asked if Semenya was unbeatable, Grace showed her attention is not on Semenya. “I look at it as having three medal spots, so there are three places and three wins,” she said. “We’ve seen it in past races, and Trials, things happen. I’m looking forward to racing the final.”
Grace was asked how fast she thought the final could go and replied “I have no idea. It will be fun to find out. That’s why it’s good TV and good entertainment. I want to PR again and I’m looking to seeing how fast I can go.”
The Olympic final is an opportunity for greatness for Kate, just as the semifinal was. “I knew I’d have to PR in order to make the final… but I went in confident knowing that was possible,” she said. It’ll almost certainly take another big PR for Kate to medal in the final, but her 2016 season has shown anything is possible and sometimes Dreams do Become Reality.