Still chasing their dreams

By Ed Odeven
April 29, 2005

(Published in the Arizona Daily Sun)

There aren’t many jobs with monumental emotional peaks and valleys once every four years. Olympians, like presidential candidates, have vastly different experiences and job-related pressures every fourth year than most of us.

This week, I visited three first-time Olympians — Gary Reed, a middle-distance runner from British Columbia, Canada; Aurelia (nee Trywianska) Kollasch, a hurdler from Poland; and Anthony Famiglietti, a steeplechaser from New York — to hear their thoughts on the subject. All three have been training in recent weeks at the Center for High Altitude Training at Northern Arizona University.

Now, eight months after the 2004 Athens Olympics, each has a different mind-set about what they experienced on the world’s biggest stage and what they’re facing as they strive to return to the pinnacle of their sport in 2008 in Beijing.

“I had heard of post-Olympic depression,” Reed said, describing his mood immediately following his departure from Athens last August.

Then he experienced it.

“I had no motivation for about six weeks,” said the 23-year-old who advanced to the semifinals of the 800-meter race in Athens. “I just wanted to be a couch potato. It was a weird feeling.”

How weird? From Aug. 29, the day the Olympics ended, until mid-October, he didn’t train. Reed needed a break. Or as he stated: “I needed to come down. Now I feel great.”

Reed, who arrived in Flagstaff in mid-April with his PacificSport National Endurance Centre teammates, described the experience of preparing for the Olympics as a pressure cooker.

“It’s something you can’t explain,” he said. “I felt like I was carrying the world on my back for months.”

And now? Reed is rested and relaxed — he hasn’t raced since the Olympics.

He returns to competition this weekend, traveling to Philadelphia for the prestigious Penn Relays. He’ll join PacificSport teammate Ray Ardill and two other national team members in the 4×400. It’s the first step in qualifying for the 2005 IAAF World Championships, which take place in August in Helsinki, Finland.

“I expect to keep getting better, to keep climbing the ladder,” said Reed, who’s ranked No. 28 in the 800 in the latest IAAF world rankings. “I hope to reach my full potential in 2008.”

Kollasch, meanwhile, is in the midst of her first training camp in Flagstaff since 2002, the year she and her husband, her trainer/coach Korey Kollasch, decided to put their future ambitions on hold (she was a Ph.D student at the time) and focus only on the Olympics.

Success quickly followed. Kollasch, a three-time national champ, placed fifth in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2003 World Championships. A year later, she earned a ticket to Athens.

“When I was 11 years old, I started this adventure in track and field,” Kollasch said. “When it finally came, it was a dream come true. Just making the Olympic team and representing Poland was the biggest accomplishment of all.”

Her Olympic experience, however, was bittersweet: She missed qualifying for the semifinals by one-thousandth of a second.

“I felt unfulfilled … just because I made it only through the first round,” Kollasch said.

And while thousands of Olympians stayed in Athens for the entire two-plus weeks of festivities, Kollasch didn’t have that luxury. Polish Track and Field Team officials opted to send a number of athletes to Greece midway through the Olympiad — based on when their events took place.

As a result, Kollasch was in Athens for only five days.

“When people are talking about the Olympic experience, I didn’t experience that much, just because I wasn’t part of the Opening Ceremonies or the Closing Ceremonies,” she admitted with a hint of regret in her voice.

After a few post-Olympic meets, Kollasch, 29, took a month off from training. It was a necessary period of rest and recuperation, her husband said.

“It goes in four-year cycles, that’s for sure,” she added. “But with me, it’s different because we started right in the middle.”

Yes, but that doesn’t mean Kollasch doesn’t look at the calendar and count down the days between now and the start of the Beijing Olympics.

“I have to remotivate myself,” she said, revealing what she told herself after returning to Poland from Athens. “I have to refocus. I have to start working out again and start running again.”

Up next: The Kollasches travel to Brazil for two IAAF Grand Prix races and a low-key national meet in May. Then they’ll go to Europe to prepare for the World Championships.

Famiglietti was zooming along in the first round of the 3,000-meter steeplechase last August, alternating between second and third place near the end of the first lap.

Then he hit a hurdle.

The knee of his trail leg smacked it, briefly numbing the leg in the process. He didn’t quit — “It was my Olympic race,” he said. “I couldn’t stop there, so I had to finish. And I’m glad that I did.” — even though he dropped to last place (13th). He picked up speed, regained his form and placed eighth.

“I felt like I had unfinished business. I really didn’t fulfill my whole potential,” said Famiglietti, who spoke to first-grade students at St. Mary’s Old Preschool and patrons at Pay-N-Take Downtown Market this week about his Olympic experiences.

In the days after the Olympics, Famiglietti’s disappointment dissipated, thanks to kind-hearted Greeks he met — they instantly recognized his mohawk.

“They came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we saw your race. We saw you fall,'” Famiglietti said. “In broken English they would say that I had great courage and they said I embodied the spirit of the Olympics. They said it was inspirational.

“Even though I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do,” he continued, “I still had a positive effect on people. And for a Greek person to say that to me while I’m standing at the Acropolis, limping around trying to look at the sites, that was like the ultimate.

“How do you get any better than that?”

That positive experience stuck with him. After relocating from Tennessee, where he attended college, to Manhattan in the winter, Famiglietti, 26, remains passionate about his future in the sport. These days, when he’s home, he runs in Central Park every day. He races in the steeple next weekend at the Jesse Owens Classic in Columbus, Ohio, the first step in getting ready for worlds (he’s already qualified).

The road to Beijing is three years away, but for Famiglietti, Kollasch and Reed, it’s not an impossible dream. After all, Famiglietti said, “Making the Olympic team is one of the hardest things to do in the world.”

Each of them already knows what it’ll take to do it again.