Morgan Uceny Was No Quitter – The Former World #1 Calls It A Career

by Robert Johnson
December 14, 2016

For most runners, when we catch the bug in middle school or high school, the dream is the same – to make the Olympics. Morgan Uceny accomplished that and much more.

However, now that her career is over at age 31 (US Olympian Morgan Uceny Announces Her Retirement From The Sport), it’s impossible to not wonder, “What could she have accomplished had she not fallen in the finals of both the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics?”

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That’s a reasonable question to ask since the only times Uceny ran on the world stage – at those two global championships – she was the victim of a fall.

The correct answer to that hypothetical is, “Almost certainly a medal, possibly even a gold medal.”

In 2011, Uceny ended the year as the world leader (4:00.06) and was named the World #1 by Track and Field News. Leading up to the 2011 Worlds, her results in the 1500 were as follows.

  • 3rd at Pre Classic (4:06.32)
  • 2nd at adidas Grand Prix in New York (4:08.42)
  • 1st at USATF Championships (4:03.91), where she dominated eventual world champion Jenny Simpson by 1.75 seconds.
  • 1st at Lausanne Diamond League (4:05.52)
  • 1st at Birmingham Diamond League (4:05.64)
  • 3rd at Monaco Diamond League in a new PB (4:01.51)

At Worlds in Daegu, she made the final but was taken out by a fall when Kenya’s Hellen Obiri fell directly in front of her (video) with just less than two laps to go. Uceny got back up and fought to the finish but her medal hopes were over and she ended up 9th.

How did she respond to that heartbreak? With a dominating win by .71 at the Diamond League final in Brussels in a lifetime best of 4:00.06. The race included all three of the World Championship medallists and 10 of the top 11 in the world from that year. Uceny closed the 4-flat race in Brussels in 61.3 seconds as compared to the 61.5 it took to win Worlds in a 4:05 race.

So clearly it’s perfectly reasonable for fans to ask, “What would have happened had Uceny not fallen in both 2011 and 2012?” However, what isn’t reasonable is for fans to call Morgan Uceny a quitter as some are doing today and have done ever since her fall in 2012. Please don’t do the sport a disservice and call Morgan Uceny a quitter.

Yes, a year later, at the 2012 Olympics, Uceny fell again – this time in the final lap (video) and she didn’t get up and finish the race. Why not? There was no point. When you fall in an international 1500, your medal hopes are finished. That was proven the year before. The runners are too close in talent for someone to overcome a fall at any point in the race – let alone in the last lap of a slow championship final (the winning time in London was 4:10.23, though the gold medallist, Aslı Çakır Alptekin of Turkey, has since been stripped of her medal for doping).

Don’t believe me? Well this year, Ronald Kwemoi fell in the men’s Olympic final with more than two laps remaining. He got up and finished. Where did he finish? DFL – 13th of 13th. In Doha earlier this year, Australia’s Ryan Gregson fell in the first 100 meters. He got up and finished. In what place? 12th of 12. And in 2014, Uceny fell for a third time in a major final — the U.S. outdoor championships. Uceny went down just after 800 meters, got up and finished 12th out of 12.

It’s not right to call Morgan Uceny a quitter. She proved in 2011 and many times in her career that she was a fighter.

In high school, Uceny was a 2:13 800 performer. As a freshman at Cornell, she struggled mightily. Her best time on the entire year came on a relay and it was just 2:20 or 2:21. Did she quit and throw in the towel? She wasn’t on scholarship so she easily could have done so. No, she did not. She ended up a four-time All-American with a 2:01 pb at Cornell.

In college, she barely ran the 1500 – her pb was just 4:17.18. But that didn’t stop her from putting in the work required to move up from the 800 and become world-class at 1500. And for the last four years, she fought to regain the form she displayed in 2011 but was unable to ever reclaim it (her best time after 2012 was just 4:03.94).

Morgan Uceny isn’t a global medallist but she also isn’t a quitter.

Talk about Uceny’s retirement on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: Morgan Uceny Retires

*LRC Archives: 2012 Disaster Strikes Twice As Morgan Uceny Gets Tripped Again And A Former Doper Wins Gold
*2012: MB: I am crying for Morgan Uceny.
*2011: LRC Brussels Recap: Women’s 1,500 – Morgan Uceny Emphatically Shows She’s The Best In The World

Editor’s Note: co-founder Robert Johnson was the men’s distance coach at Cornell University when Morgan Uceny competed for Cornell.

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