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Kara Goucher, Olympic marathoner, turns to trail running

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Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher always figured taking up trail running would provide a wild adventure.

Just not this wild: Encountering a mountain lion at close range on a recent run. Like close-enough-to-touch range.

Spooked, the big cat turned toward Goucher before bounding away.

Also spooked, Goucher turned and high-tailed it out of there, too.

“Hopefully,” Goucher said, “that’s the last time I see one.”

Goucher is kicking up a little dust in her newest quest — trail running. Known for her racing prowess in distances from the 1500m to the marathon, she’s taking part in her first trail marathon this weekend in Leadville, Colorado, on a route that ascends as high as 13,185 feet (4,019 meters).

“The No. 1 goal is to finish and enjoy the experience,” Goucher said in a phone interview from her home in Boulder. “But I’m competitive by nature.”

Name a distance, any long distance, and Goucher has no doubt trained for it. She had top-10 finishes in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2008 Beijing Games. Four years later in London, she wound up 11th in the marathon. She also captured a bronze medal in the 10,000m at the 2007 World Championships, only to have it upgraded to silver a decade later after a Turkish runner was disqualified for doping.

“I just kept moving up and up” in distance, said the 40-year-old Goucher, who was a seven-time All-American in track and cross country at the University of Colorado. “I feel lucky that my career has gone on this long. I’ve been able to stay healthy enough to experience all these different things.”

In January, she ran the Houston Marathon but dropped out after the 19-mile mark because of a hamstring injury. Soon after, she decided to embark on an off-the-beaten path — trail running.

“Challenging myself in a few ways and kind of facing fears,” said Goucher, who’s been logging about 80 miles a week to prepare for Leadville. “I mean, trails are scary for me.”

That’s because of the climbing, descents, rocky terrain and, of course, coming face to face with a mountain lion.

This is how the situation earlier this spring unfolded: Goucher was running in a neighborhood leading to the trailhead when she came upon what she thought was a “weird-looking dog.”

“Then I was like, ‘That’s a mountain lion!’” she said. “It happened so fast.”

She knew what to do in such a situation — stand tall, raise her arms, make eye contact — and promptly forgot.

“It all went out the window,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is turn your back.”

She sprinted to a nearby construction site while the mountain lion sprang in the other direction (“its footsteps were so powerful,” she recalled). Once her heart rate slowed, she called her husband, Adam Goucher, who picked her up and drove her to another trail.

In February, a Colorado runner near Fort Collins survived a mountain lion attack by wrestling the young animal to the ground and jamming his foot onto its neck to suffocate it to death.

“I was pretty shaken up for a couple of days but then I just got back on the horse,” Goucher said. “I haven’t really run on the trails by myself since then, but I’ve been back out plenty.”

These days, running is far from the only thing that fuels her. She and other athletes such as Alysia Montano and Allyson Felix are speaking out about the need for sponsors to support female competitors before, during and after pregnancy — that contracts shouldn’t penalize someone for starting a family.

“I just can’t thank Alysia and Allyson enough for lending their voices because you get a lot of criticism,” said Goucher, who ran the 2011 Boston Marathon 6 ½ months after her son, Colt, was born. “We’re on the right side of history on it.”

Goucher is also an advocate for clean sports (attending an anti-doping conference in London), organizes a high school girls camp and volunteers at her son’s school.

“It’s just living a little bit of a more full life,” Goucher said.

Make no mistake: She’s not closing the door on trying to make a future Olympic or world championship team.

“I don’t know if that voice will ever go away,” Goucher said. “My son was asking me the other day, ‘When are you going to retire from racing?’ I’m like, ‘Have you met me? Never!’”

VIDEO: Gabe Grunewald wins 2014 U.S. title at 3000m after cancer diagnosis

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Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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