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Gabriele Anderson is running happy

Photo by Robert Williams/FOCUS1 / 2
Photo by Robert Williams/FOCUS2 / 2

To little argument, Gabriele Anderson is Perham's most inspiring contemporary sports star.

Gabe arrived for our interview in bright pink Brooks running shoes from her sponsor and a T-shirt that read 'Run Happy.'

From a talented high school career in Perham, to an improving college career at the University of Minnesota, to turning professional, all culminating in a dramatic fourth place finish at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., this summer, Anderson has kept a smile on her face in good times and during stressful situations.

"It's fun," she said. "I'm part of an Olympic sport."

Anderson was a main headline at the Olympic Trials in June, after qualifying for the finals, being disqualified from a fellow racer's petition, and then reinstated after a lengthy deliberation.

She missed a spot on the Olympic 1500-meter team by one place.

That has not hampered her enjoyment of watching the 2012 Games.

"It's definitely different for me watching this year knowing how close I was, but I am still very excited to cheer for team U.S.A."

A whirlwind of emotions ran from Eugene all the way back to Perham during the Trials causing an online hashtag ruckus on Twitter of #reinstategabe, led mostly by Perham Coach Jeff Morris and the cross country teams and quickly spreading well past the regional area to the point it was noticed by USA Track & Field, according to Anderson.

"I really appreciated the support," she said. "It was a hard thing to go through. You imagine things going wrong and how you're going to handle it."

From far away here at home, Anderson seemed calm and collected in the interviews she did on a national stage. There were a couple of big reasons why she was able to portray a confident and easy-going demeanor in the face of such drama.

"My coach and fiancé helped a lot with the petition process. They made me feel like it would get overturned."

Anderson holds bittersweet memories of the events in Eugene but in the course of running happy, she is ready to move past that experience and on to better things in the future.

"My perspective is someone made a bad call after my race. I was wrongly disqualified and reinstated that day. It was unfortunate because of the high stage it was on. As much as I tried to maintain calmness and stay on track, it's a really tough thing to handle when you're just trying to make the Olympics."

Showing up to the Trials is not a hop off the plane and get to the track mentality. It takes weeks and months of preparation, both physically and mentally to show up ready to race.

"The hardest parts are the days and weeks leading up to the event. That's all you're thinking about."

Throw in unexpected controversy and it is not always easy to run happy.

"I'm really trying to get over it. I will never forget it. It's just running and I'm not going to take it personally. It's a competitive event. The week in Eugene, it's definitely intense and took a few weeks to recover from when I got home."

With the Trials ending July 1, Anderson took exactly one week at home in Minnesota, before jetting to Europe July 8 to continue racing from her home base in Belgium, just outside of Brussels.

While in Europe, she trained and traveled to and from Brussels starting with a race in Belgium, then on to Italy, Monaco and Ireland.

What sounds like a vacation of places to go and see is nothing of the sort. It is all business.

"I wish I could have seen a little bit more," Anderson laughed.

"My performance was really good. It's tough to know what to expect coming off the Trials. You just, take a deep breath, kind of. I was disappointed I didn't make the team, and you kind of have to pick yourself back up.

"Finally, I just said, 'You're still in shape; you still have races.' I wanted to go there and have some fun because the Trials are so intense and you do feel a lot of pressure."

Anderson ran a variety of races to kick into August, from a very low-key first race in Belgium to a crescendo in Italy.

"Some of the races I ran were on a big stage."

Accompanying the mentality to continue performing on the international stage was the quest to hit the Olympic 'A' standard time in the 1500, which she failed to do in Eugene.

"I had been chasing the 'A' standard. I knew I was capable of running it; it just didn't happen for me."

It happened at the only 1500m race Anderson ran.

"That was the race I was trying to gear up for and came away with a personal best."

News of the finish of that race reached all the way across Europe, the Atlantic Ocean and cheers echoed off the Continental Divide as news of her performance hit her fans back in Minnesota.

Her time of 4:04.84 clipped the 'A' standard, brought her a victory in Lignano, Italy and clocked in at a time, which made her the fastest female Minnesotan ever in the 1500.

She followed that up with personal bests: a third place finish in an 800m race in Belgium and an eighth place finish in a 3000m race in Monaco, which made her the second fastest Minnesota female at that distance in a time of 8:43.52.

"It was definitely a good showing for me. It's been a good year. I raised my game in the Olympic year and that's what you're trying to do."

Appreciation for the level she has attained, of which few do, is not lost on Anderson.

"This is beyond what I thought I was capable of doing with my running," she said.

"Going and running at (college), I improved when I was there; got better at the end and made pro running a possibility. To be at the top and competing at these spots, it's a pretty good thing when the only bad thing you can think about is not making the Olympics," Anderson laughed.

The racing season will quiet come the end of September and preparations for the coming years leading up to the 2016 Games will start up in 2013.

The World Championships in 2013 could provide an interesting trip further east as the setting will be in Moscow.

A top-three finish in the 1500-meters at the United States Championships will punch a ticket to Russia.

It will be a unique year for the United States team as the usual top three who advance will turn to four as current World Champion Jenny Simpson has already earned a spot allowing four Americans to qualify.

Those U.S. Championships will be held in Iowa at Drake University.

"It will feel more like a home track to me," said Anderson.

2014 will be an off year for track and field in which Anderson will attempt to boost her rankings in the U.S. and World.

"I'll run a lot of different events. See what I can do on the world stage. You get to do whatever you want that year."

As 2015 approaches, another World Championships will be at hand and the next Olympic Games will begin creeping into Anderson's thought process.

"If you can put the training in and see some results you don't want to put limits on yourself. I will have a lot different strategy going into the next Olympic Trials."

During the remainder of 2012, contract negotiations with Brooks, her current sponsor, will become a priority.

Continuing to stay current with her fans via her Facebook fan page and Twitter, along with thoughts on a personal website will provide more things to do off the track.

"It isn't easy for some people to make money running. It's your responsibility to run well and have a good presence. You can definitely increase your value staying in contact with your fans and performing well.

"Some athletes choose to stay away from social media and some embrace it. I'm somewhere in between."

Anderson speaks and performs like she is pleased to be there, like how she runs in the 1500-meter pack, in between, before bursting with a kick in the final 100 meters toward finishing first.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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