- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

She called it probably the biggest disappointment of her life. Another athlete would have packed up and gone home after the race Carrie Tollefson had in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials in July.

But Tollefson did not relent. With the advice of her trusted coach and her own perseverance, the Minnesota native came back six days later in the 1,500 meters, winning an event where few people figured she had even the slightest chance of making top three.

As difficult a week as that was in Sacramento, Calif., two months ago, Tollefson had no idea how trying life would be for the next three weeks.

Tollefson was in town last weekend as an honorary guest of the Kentlands/Lakelands 5K in Gaithersburg, where she spent several days addressing groups of people of all ages.

“If I wouldn’t have pushed through my adversity, I wouldn’t have been able to call myself an Olympian today, and I know if I can do it, so can those kids and even those awesome 80-year-old ladies that seemed like they were still in their 20s,” Tollefson said. “Being active is one thing, and being positive is another.”

Her first adversity was dealing with a sixth-place finish in the 5,000, a race in which Tollefson was favored and an event in which she had an Olympic qualifying time. She ran some 20 seconds slower in that race than she did earlier in the year, when she became the ninth-fastest American woman ever in the event.

The next adversity was trying to nail an Olympic standard in the 1,500, which at the time of her victory (a personal best 4:08.32) in the trials, she did not have.

What followed was a wacky series of events beginning with a flight to Europe to find some competitive races. She had from July19 to Aug.9 to run faster than 4:07.15. Her first race was at the Norwich Union International meet in Birmingham, England, on July25, where she was fourth in 4:13.67.

“I raced in Belgium at the USA vs. Commonwealth first,” Tollefson said. “This race was my first since the trials, so it was sort of a shakeout. My departure date was delayed due to storms, so my trip over to Europe wasn’t very easy.”

Next was the Norwich Union British Grand Prix in London, where she was eighth in 4:10.45, on July30. The following day at the KBC Night of Athletics in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, she won in 4:06.30, surpassing the Olympic “B” standard.

Her Olympic berth still was not secured. If either Jen Toomey or Amy Rudolph had surpassed the Olympic “A” standard of 4:05.80, Tollefson would have been out of luck.

“After [Heuden-Zolder], I had two days off, went to Leige, Belgium, attempting another race, but I was really flat so I stepped off with 800 to go since I wasn’t going to get the standard,” Tollefson explained. “I thought I should save the legs. Then off to Zurich [Aug. 6], where the American girls had to start behind the field and that is where Suzy [Favor Hamilton], Jen, and Amy and I all had our last race off.

“Suzy walked off at 1,000 meters, I finished first out of the Americans with 4:06.13 and Jen and Amy ended their quest [for the Olympic standard]. We were all quite burnt out by then.”

Shortly after, Tollefson was named to the U.S. Olympic team. She finished ninth in the Olympic 1,500-meter semifinals but did not advance to the finals. However, her dream of going to the Olympics was accomplished.

Tollefson is as poised and elegant a speaker as she is an Olympic athlete. Of her audiences in Gaithersburg, she said, “They were thrilled to hear of my adventures this summer, but I think they all wanted to hear that I was a little kid once, just like them, and I dared to dream and set my goals high. I tried to tell everyone I spoke with, no matter what age, it is important to dream and to keep your head high when times are tough.”

Tollefson grew up in Dawson, Minn., a town of 1,600 some 27 years ago. She had no idea at age 12, when she ran her first road race because her sister was on the cross country team and she was encouraged to run, too, what the future held.

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