Noticeably absent from the start lists at this week’s U.S. Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa is 25-year-old Jackie Areson, who last spring made an immediate splash in her first season as a professional with a 15:14.31 clocking to win the 5,000m at the Oxy High Performance Meet, easily under the Olympic A-standard of 15:20. Areson’s early-season momentum stopped short, however, as the former University of Tennessee standout failed to advance to the 5,000m final at the Olympic Trials last June.
So far this season, Areson has run 15:27 in the 5,000m at the Oxy meet (well under the automatic qualifying mark for the U.S. Championships) and clocked 4:16.75 in the 1,500m on May 31 in Pennsylvania, where she finished over two seconds ahead of U.S. 5,000m Olympian and reigning national champion Julie Culley.
So why won’t Areson be on the starting line of the women’s 5,000m final in Des Moines on Sunday afternoon?
Areson is in Spain, where tonight she will race the 5,000m in Bilbao in an effort to secure an A-standard mark for the World Championships later this summer in Moscow, where she hopes to compete for Australia.
Why the seemingly sudden change of allegiance? It seems the switch shouldn’t come as a completely unexpected surprise after all. Areson, whose mother, Mary Elizabeth, is Australian and currently lives there along with Jackie’s younger brother, James, was advised not to transfer her allegiance coming out of college. Areson, whose father is from New York, was born in Hong Kong and spent her winters in Australia before moving to the United States when she was 10 years old. She currently lives and trains in Houston, Texas, where she is coached by Steve Magness and serves as a volunteer assistant at the University of Houston.
We caught up with Areson this week to talk about how her mindset has changed since last season and why she decided to switch her allegiance from the United States to Australia.
RELATED: 5 Questions With Jackie Areson
Last season, you got off to a hot start, running a massive PR of 15:14.31 for 5,000m, but then suffered disappointment at the Olympic Trials, failing to make the final. How has that experience shaped your mindset and fueled your training over the last 12 months?
It really made me motivated to work on my weaknesses. I think sometimes people see professional athletes as machines, and that we are good at everything. But the reality is we have strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. So following the trials, I really had to step back, take a hard look, and work on the things that caused my problems. I learned that it isn’t just about being able to be in the best shape and run PR races, but be prepared for what championship racing brings.
You recently have taken the steps to switch your allegiance from the United States to Australia. What was the reasoning behind that decision and when will you be eligible to compete for Australia?
It’s really something that I’ve wanted to do since I first started this sport in middle school. When I started running, it was only a year and a half since I had moved from Hong Kong. As any young kid does, I dreamt of running in the Olympics and at that time I envisioned myself running for Australia because that’s what I was kind of raised as. Hong Kong was a British Colony and then my entire family on my mom’s side lived in Australia so we would spend winter there every year before we moved to the U.S. I obviously spent my high school and college days in the U.S. and couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunities that growing up in the U.S. gave me. It might seem like odd timing, but with my mother and brother moving back to Australia last year and thus having almost my entire family there, it really made me evaluate what I wanted to do. Honestly, almost everyone I spoke to out of college during the “going professional” process advised me against running for a “foreign” country. As a person coming right out of college, I probably let other’s judgment affect me too much. But what it came down to is that my Mom was the one who raised me and my brothers, and we were raised Australian and with them moving back, it felt like the right time for me to follow my heart. I mean, I even named my dog (Mala) after an Australian wallaby! As far as when I will be competing, I am grateful to the U.S. for allowing me to transfer my allegiance. So as soon as the paperwork goes through [Ed. note: The IAAF received all of Areson’s necessary documents this week], I am immediately able to represent Australia. My dream is to represent Australia in this year’s World Championships.
So instead of competing at this week’s U.S. Championships, you will instead be racing a 5,000 in Spain. What is your goal heading into the race in Spain?
When I decided to run for Australia, the original plan [competing at USA’s] went out the window. Obviously, without racing at USA’s the goals change, and given that I’m in peak shape, we felt that if I could get into more quality races it would really set me up for success. Above all, I also needed to get a World Championship standard, so that is one of the goals. Above all, the goal is to get in a good competitive 5K. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and have really put in some quality workouts since my last races, and just want to test things out a bit.
For most of the last year you’ve been living and training in Houston, and are a volunteer coach at the U of H. Will any of that change in conjunction with your recent decision?
No, I love the situation that I have in Houston and think Steve is without a doubt one of the best coaches in the world. We have a great setup that allows me to train at a high level and do everything I need to do to reach the next level. I have really enjoyed training with the guys on the team and Houston is for sure making me a tougher athlete. The only change will be that I will incorporate the Australian season into my plan a bit more.
Looking ahead, where do you envision the next few years shaping up heading into the 2016 Games? What will be the focus, and what do you think you’re capable of as an athlete?
I have really tried to shift the mindset to focus on the here and now and not get to caught up in expectations and worrying about the future. It has been something that has hurt me in the past. I leave the long-term planning to Steve. That being said, I have high goals and really feel like I am just on the tip of the iceberg. I feel like I have so many new places to go in training and have a lot of room for improvement, because we’ve only just begun to really press things down. I don’t like to put limits on myself, but the focus will be on the 5K, and I feel like I can eventually compete on the world level and not just be one of those to simply be happy to make it there.