- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

Since Gabe Jennings’ career took a dramatic nosedive after the 2000 Olympics, he has run all over the world trying to find himself.

And two weeks ago, Jennings re-emerged into the forefront of the U.S. running scene with a second-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. championships in Indianapolis — just a stride behind U.S. record-holder Bernard Lagat.

At 27, Jennings knows his 3:39.42 finish is far from competitive on the world stage but could jump-start his quest for the 2008 Olympics.

“I am trying to get funding for next year,” Jennings said last week at Stanford University, where he trains. “I am trying to be circumspect. I feel there aren’t people willing to take a risk on a comeback kid. Three-thirty-nine is not that fast yet, and I’m getting old. But by the end of the summer, my stock will go up.”

His stock hasn’t been up since the summer of 2000, when he made a bold move at the U.S. Olympic trials with 600 meters left in the 1,500-meter final and won in 3:35. It was short-lived. Just weeks later, he failed to advance out of the Olympic semifinals.

“The Olympics are too commercialized,” he said. “I dreamed since age 5 to make it to the Olympics. But all the support you’ve had [to get there] was no longer there. You have no access to your coach and family. You feel alienated. I had a really bad Olympic experience.”

A year later, Jennings crashed again in the opening round of the 1,500 meters at the world championships in Edmonton.

Then, in a few moments he would love to take back, the then-22-year-old told reporters he could be the best in the world.

“I’m on the same plane as these guys,’ he said. “I see fear in their eyes. I own [world record-holder] Hicham El Guerrouj. In two years, I’ll be whipping all their butts.”

Internally, Jennings was thinking differently.

“I saw that [Guerrouj] was running nine seconds faster than me — 3:25, 3:26 — and I was training so hard in 2000, and I wasn’t even in medal contention,” he said last week. “Everybody’s on drugs, and I was limited in my ability.”

In addition to running, Jennings’ life was in turmoil.

“The thing people don’t understand is that as driven as I was in track, my whole life wasn’t driven like that,” Jennings said. “School, relationships. I can’t do justice to the story without telling the rest of the story. I was a music major, but I had an epiphany to study math. I got railed in math, humbled. I had tremendous dissatisfaction as a person. I felt inadequate. I needed to grow as a person.

“Call it depression — I just could not run. I’d run for five minutes and end up walking. I had just signed a contract with Nike. This went on for two to three months. Just couldn’t do it. That’s when I started biking. I liked it. Each day I was getting from A to B.”

In 2003, the ever-eccentric Jennings took a 6,000-mile bicycle trek from his parent’s home in Mendocino, Calif., to Brazil to look for a capoeira mestre in hopes that the ancient African martial art was the answer to his training struggles. The trip, complete with nine muggings and a face-to-face meeting with a truck, nearly ended in his death from hepatitis but no resolution to his running career.

“Running goals were meaningless,” said Jennings, who finally finished his Stanford degree five majors later. “I had to get back to the place where I loved to run. It wasn’t until the trip to Kenya in 2003-2004 that I enjoyed the training. I wasn’t very fast, but I loved the running again.”

Since then, Jennings has hooked up with Running USA and coach Terrence Mahon, who also works with his role models, Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. Jennings’ distance training produced a 2-hour, 19-minute marathon in December at Cal International in Sacramento.

“I can’t express how it feels to get the edge back,” he said. “I started to feel the hunger again with the marathon, then at Eugene [Prefontaine meet] and at nationals. Second was good but not a celebration until I medal in 2008. Extreme is what people have labeled me. But I have high standards, not just in running. In school, I always tried to go beyond the grade itself. In running, to go beyond the finish line.

“I glorified my own victories. That was my first mistake. I was not satisfied. When I win that medal, it won’t be an end-all, there is still much life to live.”

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