College soph, West Catholic PA grad Nicole Leach misses finals with 56.10 after 55.95Q in 1st round

2006 IAAF World Junior Champs photo courtesy of Victor Sailer,

In Tuesday's semis (9:40 pm Osaka time - 8:40 am Philly), Nicole Leach finished 6th in the 2nd of three heats in 56.10 and did not advance to the finals of her first 400 hurdles on the world stage. In the first round on Monday morning (Osaka time - Sunday evening Philly time) Nicole Leach had run 55.95 for 4th in the 1st of five heats of the 400 hurdle, an auto advance.


Photo by Victor Sailer, from the Semis


No one doubted that under the guidance of Jeanette Bolden, Bob Kersee and Jackie Jorner Kersey, that 2005 West Catholic grad Nicole Leach would some day reach the international stage. Some were surprised by the speed with which she accomplished the goal. But not Leach.


2006 IAAF World Junior Champs photo courtesy of Victor Sailer, 


After winning NCAA's in her specialty, the 400 hurdles, Leach said that is when making the world team became a real possibility. Her 54.32 was a PR and won her her first NCAA title. She followed that with the come-from-behind 2nd place at the USATF Championships, running 54.49, and clinching her spot on the team. Leach then tuned up for the World champs in Osaka, Japan with a 3rd in the Pan-American Games in Brazil. Leach is seeded 7th in the 400 Hurdles. Her first race is Monday, August 27 at 10:50 AM (9:50 PM Eastern time Sunday the 26th). The Semis are Tuesday at 9:40 PM (8:40 AM Eastern), with the finals set for Thursday the 30th at 8:25 PM (7:25 AM Eastern). As background, Leach's high school PR was 57.25, which was the all-time PA best until it was broken this past summer by Methacton junior Ryann Krais at 57.20.

Don Rich talked with Nicole between USATF and Pan-Am, and asked about her college choice decision process, rapid development, NCAA and USATF races, and her expectations for Osaka.


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LINK: Nicole's Diary from Osaka on the UCLA Bruins web site


PTXC: Did you ever think you'd reach this level, this quickly?

Leach: No, not at all.  I'm still kind of in a state of denial. I haven't grasped all that's going on right now.

PTXC: Take me through how you went from 57-low in high school to the NCAA champ and a member of Team USA and almost three seconds faster?

Leach: A lot of it is off the track stuff, like weights, because I never did anything like that in high school. So that made a big difference. And then just technical. I didn't really have good form, and now I do have that. And being around people who are good at hurdling. And the whole atmosphere of being around great athletes.

2006 IAAF World Junior Champs photo courtesy of Victor Sailer,

PTXC: Was that the environment you were looking for, or was it a bit intimidating at first?

Leach: Oh no, it was exactly what I wanted. It was never intimidating. But when I first got there I had soooo much to learn. I was already running well, but I had a lot of things I was doing wrong... even to this day. When I got here, it was 'wow'. If anything, it was good. It wasn't intimidating at all. It's not like it was being forced on me.

PTXC: You obviously have found a perfect match athletically at UCLA. What did you do in your college search that made that a reality?

One thing I did was I didn't go to a college because somebody else was there or because of what someone else told me. I visited my top few choices and chose off of my own beliefs as to what I thought the coaches could do. And I definitely looked at the university for a post-collegiate career... what athletes who went to the school did well after college. I know that a college coach wants to wins NCs, and I want to win NCs as a team as well, but I need to know how the program is going to help me individually; not how much I'm going to better their program. That's how I narrowed my schools down.

PTXC: Did you go into NCAA's expecting  to win?

Leach: Yeah, only because of how I did last year in getting 4th, and the ones ahead of me being seniors. So when I got to the race, it wasn't like it was expected, but I wanted to, and I knew I had a great chance of doing it, so it was more like 'get the job done.'

PTXC: What were your race strategies for each of the three rounds at USATF Champs?

Leach: The plan was for me to just executive my race, which I actually didn't do at all well during the rounds. Once I got in the middle of the race and started making mistakes I was "just get to the finals... and take care of that first." The point was to get on my steps.

PTXC: How about the finals?

Leach: My race in general wasn't that clean. But the finals, that was more of my race than it was in the rounds. I was taking too many steps too early. Not focusing on what I had to do... focused more on my competitors.

PTXC: Did your coach tell you to expect to see (4-time US champ, 2000 Olympian, 2003 World Silver Medalist) Sandra Glover coming back to you over the finals few hurdles?

Yeah, my coach actually drew the race up exactly how it happened. Going into the race, I knew I had a good chance of making this team. It never really hit me that you could make the if you took care of business. When it happened, though, I first realized what I just did.

PTXC: Are you more a steps hurdler, or rhythm?

Leach: It's definitely steps. There is a rhythm too, but I try to do  15 steps over two and three.

With 16-year-olds in the USATF 800 finals (Chanelle Price) and you on the US team in the 400 hurdles, what happened to respect for your elders?

Leach: (laughs) You can't limit your possibilities. Don't go into the race assuming that because I'm running with people older than me that I could lose this race. It's made it easier for me running my races against college people. For me I didn't really have the option of whether I could train with younger athletes. I just see myself as one of the girls.

When did making the US team become a real possibility in your mind?

Leach: I guess after NC's. But going into this year, I knew that I was training for the World Team. And I knew it was just my natural progression I should be able to run 54's or better. It was always there that I had a good chance of making this team, but it became more clear after NC's when I posted that time. (a PR of 54.32)

Were you just happy to make the team, or do you have some goals for Pan-Ams and the World Championships?

I am definitely happy and pleased with making the world team. I just want to go in and give it my all. It's not like I have a goal to win, but I'm not going to not try to win.