Kate Van Buskirk won a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the women’s 1,500m, her first international Games medal. We caught up with her to ask a few questions about the race, her success and what comes next.
Did you have a race plan going into the final?
My plan was to maintain contact through the race, never letting myself get too far from the leaders so that I could cover moves as they happened.
I didn’t expect to find myself in the lead for the first lap but, once this happened, I intentionally slowed the pace to urge my competitors to take over and pick up the tempo. It was a bit windy on the homestretch and, given my size, runners are often happy to just tuck in behind and have me act as a wind block. I didn’t want to let this happen.
Once the Kenyans took over the lead, I found myself riding the rail on the inside of lane one. I knew I was boxed, but I never let it freak me out: I think that this composure was the key to my medal. Had I panicked and spent the entire race trying to find a way out, I would have spent unnecessary energy and likely would not have been able to muster the finishing kick that I needed to medal.
How does the medal change your approach to international competition?
A medal is a tremendous honour and an incredible confidence booster. It also solidifies what I already believed: that I have the ability to compete with the best 1,500m runners in the world.
Last year at the world championships I came within one position of making the final at my first major international meet. I far outperformed my rank, and raced stronger and smarter than I ever had up to that point.I walked away from that semi-final feeling pleased with my performance, but also hungry for more. I knew a year ago that I was close to being ready to compete with the best and this medal gives me the boost to run with guts and confidence in future championships.
That being said, I always try to maintain modesty and appreciation for the fact that anything is possible in championship races and this medal by no means guarantees anything. My competitors are fierce, strong and capable, and I need to work even harder now to repeat or improve on this performance.
Were you worried at all being stuck in the pack on the final lap?
As I said, I was aware of being boxed in but I didn’t let it distract me from the race. I knew that a hole usually opens at some point in the final lap and I just had to be prepared to jump when the opportunity presented itself. Like any success, this medal was the combination of a lot of hard work and strong execution but undoubtedly also a degree of luck. The last 300 metres played out very well for me and I was fortunate to have an opening in the final stretch that got me out of the pack and into medal contention.
What’s the biggest difference from this season to last?
Last season was my first big breakthrough at the senior level and was therefore both hugely exciting and a big learning curve. This year, I’ve been able to build on the success from 2013 and practice a lot of things that I was learning first-hand last year. I’m also receiving federal carding (funding) for the first time in my life and am therefore able to devote more of my time to training and recovery, and less to working.
Any more track races this season?
I’m still solidifying my overseas racing plans for the rest of the summer, but I know that I’ll end my season with the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City in mid-September. I’ve never done this race before, but have always wanted to. Road miles are a ton of fun, so it will be a nice way to cap off the racing season.
This piece has been edited for length and clarity.