Have you heard the big news? Our hometown heroine, Bridget Franek, has qualified to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 27 through August 12 in London.
Bridget finished second in the 3000-meter women’s steeplechase U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Oregon on June 29. For those unfamiliar with steeplechase, the race consists of nearly two miles of running around the track, which is punctuated by 28 hurdles and seven water jumps. Franek ran it in 9:35.62, less than three seconds behind first-place finisher Emma Coburn. The top three finishers move on to compete in the Olympics.
Anyone who watched Franek play soccer or run track and cross country while attending Crestwood High School can attest to her superior athletic drive and ability. You couldn’t miss her… she was the strong one out front with the long stride, way ahead of the pack as she triumphantly crossed the finish line.
After high school graduation, Franek ran for Penn State while earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. In 2008, while she was a Penn State sophomore and still relatively new to the steeplechase, she won the Big Ten title and finished third in the NCAA meet. Success still came relatively easily.
The women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase appeared for the first time on the Olympic track in Beijing in 2008. However, when Franek competed in the Olympic Trials that year, she discovered that college-level athleticism cannot compete with professional-grade athleticism. She finished eighth in her first-round heat, not advancing to the final.
With that defeat in her rear-view mirror, Franek realized she had more work to do. After winning the NCAA steeplechase title for Penn State in 2010, she moved to Eugene, Oregon to compete for Oregon Track Club Elite under coach Mark Rowland, a former steeplechaser.
The daughter of Tom and Rosalie Franek of Hiram, her decision to leave the comforts of home and family were difficult. She was Out West on her own, now a pro athlete sponsored by Nike, adjusting to more rigorous training and a new lifestyle. She made the World Championships team for the second time after finishing second in the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The 24-year-old is now in her second year of training in Eugene, has been a member of the last two U.S. teams that competed in the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, and has been ranked No. 2 in the United States by Track & Field News for the past two years. She anticipates continuing her training in Eugene, and possibly enrolling in Oregon’s MBA program in the fall.
But right now, Franek’s prime focus is the London Olympic Games. Her blog entry from May 30 provides a peek into her mindset going forward: “So, here’s the plan: Step 1: Stay healthy. Step 2: Trust Coach and my body. Step 3: Race according to MY plan and not my competitors. Step 4: Don’t overthink things and make problems out of nothing. Step 5: HAVE FUN!! To make it this far has already been a blessing. I am doing what I love and especially now I get to enjoy the fruits of a solid (painful) fall. How about THAT for perspective! Here we go…..ready for anything!”
In a Register Guard interview just weeks before the Olympic Trials, Franek said, “…anything can happen, especially in an event like the steeplechase. You can’t count your chickens before they hatch, and all those things. But ultimately, I will go out and say my goal is not only to be at the Olympics, but to be in the Olympic final. I think that’s a fair goal for me.”
And her hometown fans will be cheering, fully confident that Bridget Franek will fulfill her Olympic goal.