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10 Years Later, Teter’s 800m Record Still Stands

She didn't expect to set it that day.

She didn’t expect to set it that day.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — When Nicole Teter stepped on the track for the 800m final of the USA Indoor Championships here at the Armory in Upper Manhattan in 2002, she was excited by the prospect of winning her first-ever national title. She was in very good shape, and her Nike Farm Team coach Frank Gagliano knew she was capable of a fast time, even though his athlete had never broken two minutes before.

“The gun went off, and she went,” Gagliano recalled in a telephone interview earlier this week.

Teter, who was 28 at the time, immediately left the rest of the field well behind, and ran the first lap in under 29 seconds. She felt strong, she said, and was just trying to run level splits and hold her form.

“I wasn’t thinking of American record fast time, but I was thinking of a fast time,” Teter said on the telephone yesterday from her home in Eugene, Ore. “And of course to win.”

On each successive lap, Teter passed Gagliano and her Farm Team clubmates who had gathered along the rail at the beginning of the backstretch. She glanced repeatedly at Gagliano who, with stopwatch in hand, was pumping his arms to encourage her to keep up the pace. Her clubmates, including Jason Lunn and Michael Stember, were screaming for her to keep going.

“From what I remember I had a rhythm going and I was just running,” Teter marveled. “Those indoor tracks are so short, I could see my teammates on the side rail with Gags just cheering me on. He was doing ‘fast arms’ to spur me on.”

Teter began to realize just how close she was running to her physical limit, but was determined to push all the way to the finish. Gagliano had only begun coaching her the preceding August, and he had her run a fall cross country season to improve her strength. That kind of endurance training was now paying off.

“I was just thinking I was hoping I can just sustain this,” she said. “I didn’t want to die. The last thing you want on a fast pace is to rig-up.”

That didn’t happen. On that day –which in exactly one month will be ten years ago–Teter clocked 1:58.71 to break Mary Slaney’s previous national indoor record of 1:58.9, a mark which had stood for over 22 years. She was stunned.

“I was somewhat speechless, and just super, super excited,” Teter said. “I remember they were playing that U2 song, ‘Beautiful Day.’ For sure at that time, it was the highlight of my career.”

Now married with two young children –Charlie, 22 months and Lucy, six months– Teter said she can hardly believe that her record has stood for nearly ten years, especially given the recent resurgence of American middle distance running. Indeed, last season was one of the best for American women in the 800m. Eight USA women broke two minutes during last summer’s outdoor season, and Alysia Montano and Maggie Vessey finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the World Championships final. Teter said she would like nothing more than to see her record broken, something which could happen at either Saturday’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, or one week later at the Millrose Games here.

“I think records are for sure meant to be broken,” she said. “By no means do I want it to stop with me. I am super-excited to see these women run. It’s super-exciting to see how well these women are doing.”

Morgan Uceny, the #1-ranked 1500m runner in the world last year, will compete in the 800m at the Millrose Games. She said she has a lot of respect for Teter’s record.

“I would say that obviously the record is tough because it has stood for ten years,” Uceny commented in an e-mail message. “I also think the recent emergence of many strong middle distance runners means the record could definitely be taken down if the right conditions arose.”

Teter’s career ended tragically at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. About 150 meters into her first-round race, she partially tore her left Achilles tendon, falling to the track in searing pain. She would not race again (after getting surgery on her Achilles she found out she was pregnant). She’s now a full-time mother but, along with husband Andy Downin, works for the Eugene Marathon where she coordinates the event’s volunteers.

“She was very, very talented,” Gagliano concluded. “You knew she was a very special person, as a person and an athlete.”