Teammates Pushing Each Other To The Top

Shalane Flanagan will attempt to win her fifth U.S. cross country title on Saturday....

...standing in her way will be her new teammate, former Iowa St. standout Lisa Koll. Photos: PhotoRun.net

Flanagan, Koll will be aiming for podium spots at Saturday’s USA Cross Country Championships.

Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved . Used with permission.

If there’s one thing you can tell from talking with 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Shalane Flanagan, it’s that she is excited, excited to toe the line on Saturday at the USA Cross Country Championships in San Diego’s Mission Bay Park.

Flanagan, 29, will be going for her third national cross country title in four years, having won the 2008 and 2010 8K contests.

But it’s not just the thought of adding another national title that is making her giddy.  It’s the fact that this time she has a teammate right alongside her that will make it extra special.  A teammate who could very well beat her.

Ever since Lisa Koll began training with Flanagan and coach Jerry Schumacher’s Portland, Ore., based team in September of last year, the two have hit it off.

“Lisa has been such a gift to me, personally, because I think we have been able to push ourselves to a level that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” Flanagan said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.  ”She’s a great person and a great friend. I think we have a really nice future here together, and are going to make lots of teams.”

Koll has stepped right in and found her niche learning from Flanagan, who was part of the USA team that took home the bronze medal at last year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

Training 100 to 110 miles a week, the duo have been pushing each other with their eyes set on finishing atop the podium, which would qualify them for the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, on March 20.

“I’m excited to go out and test where I’m at and try to make that U.S. team,” said the 23 year-old Koll.  ”I’ve never been on a U.S. [national] team before, so this is pretty exciting for me. If I get to be part of the world team, that will be pretty special.”

Flanagan can share with Koll a little bit about what it’s like being on a national team.

“Looking back to the whole year, [earning the bronze medal and being on the team] was definitely one of the highlights,” said Flanagan.  ”As professional athletes, we get to share a lot of team experiences like that.  I’ve always treasured my experiences in college, being part of a cross country team and so to have that opportunity last year, to do well, to have Magda [Lewy-Boulet] on the team and it meaning so much to her, we all came together and had a great effort.  I am looking forward to that kind of special moment again this year.”

Coming off a tremendous outdoor track season where she won two NCAA outdoor titles and ran 31:18.07 for 10,000m, Koll has been able to build a strong base prior to racing cross country this year, something she was never able to do in college.

“A lot of the reason why I never saw as much success in cross country as I did in track was because I just didn’t have the opportunity to be running fast yet in cross country. I did a lot of base training in cross country that I think prepared me to run really well in track, but a lot of the time I wasn’t really sharp in cross.”

But as much as the younger, less experienced Koll is learning from Flanagan, Flanagan is learning the same amount from Koll.

“Some days I feel like Lisa is more experienced at this kind of work than I am,” said Flanagan, laughing.  ”I call her the metronome.  She is very skilled at what she does. And so I think it is an equal partnership, I don’t know how much mentoring goes on to be honest.”

After a pause, Flanagan added, “More like I kind of annoy her and am a mom at times, telling her to hydrate and take ice baths and stuff like that.”

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