Kara Goucher - On Silver Medals & Silver Linings
In 2007 I ran the 10,000 meters in the World Track and Field Championships in Osaka, Japan. It was my first World Championship team and I was nervous and excited. On paper, I was only ranked 25th – easy to dismiss. But my training had been going well, and my coach and my husband wanted me to take a risk that race. If I bombed, no big deal. But if I put myself in a position to be in the top 5, and tried to hang on, something special might happen. Something special did happen.
I remember standing on the starting line – I was nervous. And intimidated. But as soon as the gun went off it was like any other race. We were running really slow, and the pack was huge. I was getting pushed out to lane 3 and decided to move to the front, sit in 3rd, and get on the rail. I couldn’t believe it when we had 3,000 meters to go and I was still holding 3rd. At that moment, two women took off and I led a pack for the third position. Jo Pavey passed me with a half mile to go and I was just hanging on. But with 200m left, my mind was made up. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard I had trained for this moment. One of us was going to medal and her life would change forever. I mustered up everything I had and passed Jo as we went around the curve, sprinting my way to the bronze. I was in shock at the end – going crazy – acting like I won. It was the first US distance track medal at a global outdoor championship since Lynn Jennings won bronze in the 10,000m at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I made history. What I had accomplished seemed impossible. That moment changed my life. I felt extremely lucky, and proud.
I first heard about the disqualification of Elvan Abeylegesse back in August of 2015. A reporter texted me that her retest was positive for a steroid. I couldn’t believe it. I cried. I called my family. I was in a dark place – going through a very public battle with my former coach at the time – and the news gave me hope. But that hope quickly unraveled into frustration when weeks went by without hearing from the IAAF or USATF about the situation.
Then, in March of this year, Abeylegesse was officially stricken from the records. Again, I learned this from the media, not a governing body or authority within the sport. The more I read, the more frustrated, confused, and unsure I became of my own situation. What was going on? But this past Saturday I received an email from the USATF with a forward from the IAAF saying that I was officially the silver medalist. They were inviting me to take my place in an award ceremony in just 14 days in London. I was totally shocked and overwhelmed. It was a very emotional afternoon.
I have had moments when I get upset. I think about the money I’ve lost out on – prize money and bonuses that day, appearance fees for years afterwards. But the real tragedy is that I never believed I could be the best in the world. I felt so lucky to have won that bronze and I hoped for another opportunity to “sneak in” and nab it again. Had I finished 2nd, with only one person standing between me and a world championship, I think I would have believed in myself more. Maybe even truly believed I was one of the best. It has been painful and frustrating at times. But mostly, this experience has been good. I believe in clean sport and I believe that we should right every wrong that we can, even 10 years after the fact. I feel so grateful that the IAAF is giving me the opportunity to have my rightful spot on that podium. I feel like our feelings and frustrations have been respected and they are doing the best they can to give us that moment back – even if it is different and not the same.
This has been a crazy journey for me. It has changed my memories of the event - made me look at a race and experience that I had remembered so fondly, and now look back at it with pain and loss. But this gives me closure. I get my medal, my moment, and I don’t have to carry around that anger anymore. I don’t want to carry it around anymore.
This experience has also been amazing. Important. Productive. It has taught me patience, to stay true to my beliefs, and to have faith in the good of others. Although there is so much that I missed out on, I get to share this most incredible moment with my husband AND son. It means so much more to me today - after all I’ve been through fighting for clean sport the last few years - than it ever could have before. My 39 year old self appreciates this so much more than me at 29. And though it took 10 years, it is paying off to follow the rules and live with integrity. I am so grateful and humbled to have this opportunity. I love my sport, and this makes me love it even more.