Interview with Suzy Favor Hamilton
by Peter Gambaccini

Suzy Favor Hamilton (right) leads the 1,500m at the 2004 USA Indoor Championships. She would finish third.
(All photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Favor Hamilton was one of the professional athletes who served as a team captain at December's Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. Above she poses with high school national champion Katelyn Kaltenbach.
Favor Hamilton on her way to a win at the 2002 Falmouth Mile.

Three-time Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton, whose 1,500-meter best of 3:57.40 puts her second on all-time U.S. list behind Mary Slaney, is scheduled to make her 2004 outdoor track racing debut in the 1,500 at the Prefontaine Classic on June 19 in Eugene. Favor Hamilton has broken 4:00 in the 1,500 a total of five times; her PR came in a victory in Oslo in 2000. A nine-time NCAA champion at the University of Wisconsin, and a winner of three USA outdoor and three USA indoor titles, she has run 1:58.10 for 800 meters, 4:22.93 in the mile, 8:46.16 for 3,000, and 15:06.48 in the 5,000. She was fifth in the 4K race at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships. Favor Hamilton was second in the 1,500 to Regina Jacobs in the 2003 USA Outdoor Championships.

This winter, in what is for her now a rare indoor track appearance, she placed third behind Jen Toomey and Amy Rudolph in the 1,500 at the 2004 USA Indoor Championships. Favor Hamilton, who will be 36 at the time of the Athens Olympics, appeared to be in contention for a medal, even a gold one, at the top of the stretch in the 1,500 at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney when she collapsed to the track — a collapse originally attributed to dehydration but which she later acknowledged was exacerbated by a panic attack.

For more than a decade, Favor Hamilton has had a long competitive rivalry with Regina Jacobs, as the two women raced on a decidedly higher level than the rest of America's 1,500-meter runners. After having tested positive for the steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), Jacobs' participation in the Athens Olympics appears unlikely. Favor Hamilton discussed this and other matters while in New York (with her mother, Rachel) as a spokesperson for Viactiv Calcium Chews in conjunction with National Osteoporosis Prevention Month. What are your spring plans in terms of racing? When are you expecting to start?
Suzy Favor Hamilton:
I'm expecting to start racing at [the Prefontaine Classic], and obviously the Olympic Trials, and something between Pre and the Trials. I'm not quite sure which race it's going to be. I'm pretty much gearing up for the Olympics and then staying over in Europe and doing part of the circuit.

FW: Is it unlikely you'll be running in Europe before the Olympics?

FW: There has been some hot track activity already this season. Does your feeling about starting late have a lot to do with the fact that the whole track calendar [including the Olympic Trials in July] is later this year?
It does. I gear up for the Olympics and the European season, not for right now. I just want to have my peak when it really counts.

FW: But you did decide to do the USA Indoor Championships. Why was that?
My training was going well. I absolutely did no speed, and when I say no speed, I mean none. I didn't even step on a track. But I just thought 'I'm in good shape, let's just give it a try.' Actually, I probably would have run better if I would have run cross country, because I was in much better endurance shape. Running indoors, you need some speed. I just thought 'Maybe my talent will get me through this.'

FW: Have you started speed work yet?
Yeah, I have started my speed, so each month, it gets more and more intense. Speed is 200s, 400s; that's what I think of when I say speed.

FW: Did you spend the entire winter in Wisconsin or did you go to Malibu [Los Angeles]?
I spent some time in LA and some in Wisconsin. My husband is from [Malibu]. We get to see his family. It works out really nicely.

FW: In 2003, didn't you go to Albuquerque for a little while?
I did. My [physical] therapist from Ireland [Gerard Hartmann] was there helping Paula Radcliffe train, so we went over there to see him and also do a little bit of training. I was only there about two weeks.

FW: What's your attitude about altitude training for a middle distance runner like yourself?
I think it's great. It's definitely harder to get the speed work in. But during the winter season, when you don't have to concentrate on that, I think it's great. Obviously, it's difficult. You have to leave home and all the comforts of home. But I do recommend it for the American runners.

FW: It was a calf strain that kept you out of the 2003 World Championships, right?
Yes, the lower calf of my right leg. It was very unfortunate. I actually was kind of training through it, but it got to the point where it just wasn't going to work. So two weeks before the Championships, we flew to Ireland. My therapist helped me, he actually cured my injury, but he said if I were to run the Championships, I would take a huge risk at maybe doing some damage to my achilles. He said it's just not worth it, with the Olympic year next year. I could have run, but the smart thing to do was not run.

FW: You've been on the running scene for a long time. Do you have a feeling that this is the year that really counts, that this is your last Olympic shot?
Oh yeah, definitely for an Olympic experience, I'm totally realistic about that. But something I've definitely learned in my career is never say never. I still have World Championships ahead of me, but for Olympic experience, I think this is probably my best shot.

FW: So you think you'll continue to compete for at least a couple of years?
Yeah, definitely.

FW: We don't want to rehash Sydney in 2000 too much, but do you have any lingering sense that there was a golden opportunity there, as it were, that you missed?
I don't have that sense that I should have had it. I know because of circumstances, it was impossible, considering what I had gone through, having an injury a month before the Olympics, and actually trying to compete in the Olympics probably wasn't the wisest [decision]. But I made it farther than I thought I could with the injury. And I'm wiser now. If I was injured like that, I wouldn't compete.

FW: What was the injury? Some tendinitis?
I had strained my hamstring, and because of the strain, had an avulsion fracture in my ischium bone.

FW: You have a balanced life, and your racing season is only part of it. Let's fill people in on some of the other things you do. You're pursuing your art career in a very active way, aren't you?
If you came to my home, it's everywhere, all over the house. I also have a passion for dogs. I have four dogs, two pugs and two labs. Great dogs. I also mountain bike every chance I have; I actually incorporate that into my training. I'm very much an outdoor person, very active. Art is my passion. I hope to definitely have a family down the road, too.

FW: How often do you do the mountain biking?
I crosstrain six days out of the week. Mountain biking, when the weather's nice like this, I may do three or four times a week. My other crosstraining is my stationary bike, water running, or the elliptical machine.

FW: What art medium do you work in?
Glass. I'm hoping this fall to take a class at the University of Wisconsin in some more glass — glassblowing and different techniques of working with glass. On my Web site, I sell a lot of pieces. Pretty much everything on my Web site has sold already. I'm just in the process of trying to get more of my art on the Web site.

FW: You're going into a track season and the Olympic Trials with a scene that probably isn't going to include Regina Jacobs. Let's just give you an open-ended 'What are your thoughts' question on that matter.
All I can say is it's very disappointing for the sport. What I'm doing right now is just concentrating on myself and focusing on my training and making sure I'm doing everything right. And that's all I can do. I just don't feel like talking about this issue is going to do any good. There's nothing good that can be said about it, so for me, I'm staying clear of it. I'm sure down the road, I may talk about it.

FW: But for you as an athlete, the other woman who's been running close to 4:00 or under is probably out of the picture. There really isn't anyone else who's been doing that in this country. Just as far as the races in this country and the Trials are concerned, doesn't that change things for you?
I never take anybody lightly. Just because one athlete is out, you still have to focus mainly on yourself, but again, there are a lot of great runners out there. I'm not taking them lightly.

FW: There's been a lot of attention given to Tiffany McWilliams as a young up-and-coming 1,500-meter talent. From what you've seen, what are your impressions of her capabilities?
I have complete admiration. I think that she's very gutsy. She's obviously still very young, so she needs a lot more experience in the big races. But I love her tenacity and the way she approaches a race. She has no fear. She'll just take the lead right from the start. She doesn't care who she's running against. I respect that, especially for someone so young.

FW: You were a great 800/1,500 doubler. You beat Meredith Rainey in the 800 at the NCAA Championships [in 1990] and actually qualified for the 1996 Olympics in the 800. This year, with the way the Trials schedule is set up, you could see a couple of those doublers at the Trials, possibly Jen Toomey and Nicole Teter. That makes the 1,500 deeper and more interesting, doesn't it?
Right. I myself did the [Trials] double in '96. It is incredibly tough, with all those rounds. I think the 1,500 is two rounds this time. When I was doing it in '96, it was still three rounds. That was a lot of races I had to run... If anybody could do it, those two would be the definite candidates.

FW: You're in New York for National Osteoporosis Prevention Month, for events in Bryant Park. Can you tell is about that and your involvement in it?
Viactiv [Calcium Chews] and are in this campaign called 'Share The Strength, It's Mother's Day.' It's just to make women aware of their calcium needs, and for mothers to bring their daughters and their daughters to bring their kids to become aware that they need to be talking calcium, and it's never too early to start. I myself had a [femoral] stress fracture my freshman year in college [at Wisconsin] and I attribute that to a bad diet and lack of calcium. So I can relate to why calcium is so important. The key thing to know is it's never too early. Young women, especially runners, should be taking these calcium chews in their teens. If you're not getting calcium through milk and other dairy products, this is a great substitute.

FW: What else are you doing for this campaign?
This morning we did a total of 21 TV and radio interviews all over the country, five hours' worth of interviews. I've already been in some ads in Sunday papers, my mother and myself. There are also going to be Viactiv in-store calcium displays. My mother has had some problems with osteoporosis, but she's doing good. She's taking her calcium.

FW: You've been in a spokesperson for other products. Have you gotten to the point where you're very comfortable being in the spotlight in such situations?
Oh definitely, yeah. No doubt. And I enjoy it, especially because everything I've ever endorsed is something I believe in and something that I use. Every day, I drink Met-Rx's protein shakes. I've filmed many different commercials — Pert shampoo. I've actually worked with Clairol. It's just been interesting, all the different opportunities that I've had.

FW: When the competitive running is over, do you anticipate you might want some media-related career?
It's something I've been trying to figure the last couple of years, trying to plan what the future is going to hold. It's really a hard decision. I definitely like working in the media. It's something I'm very comfortable with. I'm not sure where my life takes me after running, but it's definitely an area I would be interested in.

FW: You've been in this sport for a long time and come back from injuries often. Are there parts of getting ready to race that are harder than they used to be?
No. The only thing that's harder are the injuries. As you get older, you get more injuries. But the motivation is not a problem at all. I still love running as much as I did when I was 12 years old. I just try to take care of my body very well and have a well-balanced diet.

FW: Looking toward this Olympic year, you seem like you're kind of at peace. You're calm. You're not freaking out or anything.
Not at all. I just have a good philosophy, I just take one day at a time. And I tell you, that philosophy has really helped me a lot. Just concentrate on one day. It makes a good day.

(Interview conducted May 6, 2004, and posted May 10, 2004.)

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