Track star strives for Olympic gold

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Thomas Feeney
Observer contributor
April 23, 2008

Photo by REUTERS
Joggers run past the newly built “bird’s nest” stadium in Beijing.

Olympic dreams are becoming more of a reality for Villanova track-star Michael Kerrigan, but the runner’s journey to get there hasn’t been an easy one, nor is it complete.

Kerrigan is a fifth-year senior from Stroudsburg, Penn. Who, after a successful campaign last spring, decided to go back to Villanova for one more year, racing down his dreams of becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete.

Things heated up for Kerrigan at Swarthmore College’s “Last Chance Meet,” where he broke the four-minute-mile mark, clocking in at three minutes and 59.6 seconds.

At that moment, a culmination of four years of intense training and countless miles were turned into glory, and Kerrigan’s future in the sport became much brighter.

“Swarthmore was special in the sense that all my teammates and family were there, and to break four and everything means something special in the sport,” said Kerrigan.

Kerrigan continued his success two weeks after Swarthmore at the NCAA Regional meet, running 3:46.44 (roughly equivalent to a 4:01 mile) in the 1500 meter preliminary race. He followed that up with a third place finish, running 3:42:.41 (3:57 mile) in the finals and qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

Kerrigan’s ability to run well at big meets has translated into successful racing and training this season, and he hopes it will continue into his final season of collegiate track.

“We have about two weeks until Penn Relays, which is always a big deal here, and I’d really like to win a relay before I go,” said Kerrigan. “We got second in the Distance Medley Relay and fifth in the 4×800 meters last year, so my teammates and I are anxious to improve those places.”

After Penn, Kerrigan will switch gears and concentrate on his Olympic goals.

“The focus will be on getting the Olympic trials standard, which is 3:39.0,” Kerrigan said. “I wouldn’t say that is a hard and fast goal, but getting to the Olympic Trials is, so I would say definitely under 3:40 would be ideal.”

While the twilight of Kerrigan’s senior year was successful, there were stretches throughout his collegiate career when things weren’t so glorious. Kerrigan had his share of rough patches, but his character allowed him to push through those hard times.

“Everyone has barriers or low moments in college, myself included, but if you can stay focused and weather the storms, you usually find that those times are a lot harder than the training or the races,” said Kerrigan.

That perseverance and dedication is what Marcus O’Sullivan, head coach of Villanova track, admires about Kerrigan.

When he came to Villanova as a freshman, Kerrigan believed in O’Sullivan’s system, and four years later transformed himself into an elite runner.

“Michael had choices, he could have gone to Notre Dame or Villanova, and he chose Villanova,” said O’Sullivan. “He has been on board since day one.”

As Kerrigan has made his strides, teammate and fellow senior Bobby Curtis has made his own story. Curtis won the Swarthmore meet in three minutes and 57.2 seconds, and is a more popular name in track circles.

While both athletes are fierce competitors, the two teammates hold no rivalry or grudges between them on the track or in training, said Kerrigan.

“Coming in as a freshman I knew about Curtis and the older guys because of the success they had already experienced, but I didn’t even know who Kerrigan was before I got here,” said sophomore teammate Dan Lewis. “But from day one it was clear that Mike was the leader around here.”

Lewis says that Kerrigan has taught him to control his emotions and let the bad races roll, and believes Kerrigan is Olympic-caliber because of his resiliency and leadership.

“Indoors last year his first race was a 4:30 mile, and then he ends up breaking four, that’s pretty unbelievable,” Lewis said. “His outdoor season was like a storybook for him.”

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