Morgan Uceny strikes back: “I just need to get on the podium”

Lightning does strike twice. Just ask Morgan Uceny. But after a run of bad luck, the US middle-distance ace is back on her feet, living in England and has her eyes firmly on the podium… and her opponents.

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Luck. It’s either with you, or it’s not. And if luck has eluded any athlete recently it’s US middle-distance runner Morgan Uceny.

At each of the past two major global championships Uceny has gone into the competition as a strong favourite for a 1500m medal, only to find herself tripping at pivotal moments.

At the 2011 World Championship final in Daegu, she went into the race as one of the pre-event favourites. The US champion had claimed impressive Diamond League wins in Lausanne and Birmingham and went into the race in the form of her life. 

With a little over 500m to go of a slow final, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri tripped in front of her and with nowhere to go, Uceny also crashed to the floor. She wound up the season as world number one but with a deep sense of regret about what happened in South Korea.

Almost 12 months on the American suffered the same fate in the Olympic final. Poised in prime position to strike with a little under 400m remaining, the Indiana-born athlete’s trailing foot appeared to catch Ethiopia’s Abebe Aregawi. Morgan tumbled agonisingly to the ground. Disaster.

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But some four months on from the crushing disappointment in London, Uceny is back on her feet amid some major changes.

She’s left her training base in San Diego, California and now lives and trains in Loughborough in the English Midlands. She made the switch to join her coach Terrence Mahon, the recently appointed UKA Endurance coach.

“You just have to take it in your stride,” says Uceny, 27, from inside a Loughborough coffee shop.

“When I tripped at the worlds I was competing at my first major championship, I was just happy to be there so it didn’t have the same effect on me [as the Olympics]. I also continued running afterwards and still had a really good season [Morgan went on to win in Brussels with the quickest women’s 1500m time in the world in 2011].

“Whereas at the Olympics I wasn’t just happy to be there, I was there to medal. It hurt that much more.”

What made her London experience even tougher was she had no immediate chance to rectify the problem. She was battling a foot problem going into the Games and the fall triggered a back injury, which meant she had to call a premature end on her season.

“I had no time to redeem myself,” she says “I’m still hurting now a little bit. Thankfully, I’m now back running again [although one session a day is on the bike], the pain is definitely not as bad as when I was injured. Luckily, I’ve got a lot of years left in the sport.”

After enduring two terrible pieces of bad luck in her two most important races, does she plan to re-assess the way she runs?

“At first I said to Terrence, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ But he said, ‘there is nothing you could have done.’ I had put myself in the perfect position: there was nothing else I could have done.

“I think I am going to be aware of other people more, aware when they are coming on my shoulder, but I’ll not necessarily change the way I run tactically.”

Morgan does have an interesting take on female middle-distance running generally, and believes it is physically more taxing than the men’s field.

“I think women are not as good racers as men,” she says. “You don’t see men fall as often as women, or trip each other up. It is true. You can’t deny it, although I’m not sure why?

“I just need to get on the podium,” she says. “I’ve had my goals for several years and I just need to make it happen.”