Courtney Babcock - Interview

© Copyright - 2013 - Athletics Illustrated

Chatham, Ontario’s Courtney Babcock is a distance runner who competed in the NCAA for the Division 1 University of Michigan Wolverines. At the time she earned a full-ride scholarship, but only at the last minute. Until her final year of high school, she was more interested in basketball and swimming and parlayed excellent general fitness into running competitively at a last chance meet.

She later went onto to compete for Canada in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the 2001 and 2003 IAAF World Track and Field Championships that took place in Edmonton and Paris, respectively. Babcock also competed in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Thrice, she competed in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
She holds the Canadian 5000m and 10000m records of 14:54.98 and 31:44.74.

She is currently a mother of two boys and is coaching the University of Montana Grizzlies.

Personal bests

1500 Metres - 4:01.99         
One Mile - 4:27.68         
3000 Metres - 8:43.18         
5000 Metres - 14:54.98
5 Kilometres - 15:43    
10,000 Metres - 31:44.74         
Christopher Kelsall: You have an interesting story, having managed to develop into an Olympic-level 1500m/5000m runner, never having trained or raced much at all before University. How did you manage to get a scholarship to the University of Michigan?

Courtney Babcock: I always did a lot of sports in high school, basketball, volleyball and track but focused more on basketball at the beginning of high school. I switched schools in grade 12 and you couldn’t do two sports at the same time, so I didn’t run cross-country for my last two years of high school, I played basketball instead, but I did start getting a little more serious in running. My Dad would send me workouts for track (I was away at private school in Toronto) and I was able to be in the top five at OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations).

The next September a friend at school suggested I join the University of Toronto Track Club (UTTC) and from doing that I was able to run a 4:36 1500m indoors and get a partial scholarship to Michigan (where my Dad had gone to school and played hockey). Had I not joined UTTC, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to run indoors, improve so much with Ross Ristuccia as my coach and be able to run fast enough to get to Michigan. My freshman year I ran my first 5000m at the last chance meet and qualified for the NCAA championships and was given a full scholarship.

CK: So was your Dad also a versatile athlete? You mention that he would send you track workouts, but he was a pro hockey player.

CB: My Dad was a great all-around athlete, but very humble about it. He was amazing in that if we were interested in a certain sport he would learn as much as he could about it to help us (kids), but he never pushed us. Most importantly for me, he was an amazing mental coach, which I think was my greatest strength. I know his only regret was not playing baseball (and hockey) at Michigan when he had the chance. He was planning to train for the masters 200 and 400 before he passed away five years ago.

CK: So your first love was basketball, yes? Do you follow the professional or college game now?

CB: I love March Madness but I don’t keep up as much as I used to. I was the same year as the Fab Five so it was an exciting time for basketball at Michigan. This is the first time Michigan has been ranked #1 since then. Go Blue!

"(Alex Gardiner and Martin Goulet) pulled me from the 1500m because they thought it would affect their funding..."

CK: We are nearly into March; care to speculate the final four from today’s perspective?

CB: I know the Big Ten is really strong this year, but I haven’t paid attention past that.

CK: Do you think if you stuck with basketball you would have earned a scholarship opportunity anyway?

CB: Probably not. Maybe at a small school and only if I had stayed at High school in Chatham.

CK: Any regrets on your decision to pursue track?

CB: No.

CK: Where you there at the same time as fellow Canadians Karen Harvey, Scott MacDonald, Kevin Sullivan and Jim Finlayson?

CB: Yes, Karen and Jim and I were the same year. Kevin was a few years behind as was Scott MacDonald. And the Arnill twins were there at the same time and had some good success in college.

CK: Canada south!

CB: Having Canadians on your team always provides great camaraderie. You don’t feel so overwhelmed starting school. The biggest thing for me was post collegiately. I was on a lot of Canadian teams with Michigan Alums which created a bond and a sense of pride. I have a picture from Commonwealth Games in Australia with all UM alums (myself, Kevin Sullivan, Nate Brannen, Nick Willis, and Nicole Forrester)

CK: You are coaching at the University of Montana, how is the indoor season looking for the team?

CB: We have a really young team on both sides and they have a lot of potential. The women are looking strong and are all healthy with two girls that should finish in the top five at Conference. Two of our men just ran 4:14 as freshman and one came in with a 4:30PB so they’re looking good for the years to come.

CK: Do you participate in the recruiting?

CB: Yes.

CK: Are your kids, Ridley and Hudson showing interest in sports?

CB: Well, I’m often told that Ridley has a lot of energy so that bodes well for any kind of activity. There is some interest but my hope for them is the same that my parents hope was for us, which is that they are exposed to many different opportunities so that they are comfortable trying new things and hopefully have some confidence through knowledge and body awareness, and if they find something they love, then great!

CK: Let’s talk about your International experience. What was it like to be this last-chance-scholarship-earning, former basketball player and then your trajectory continued right into the Athens Olympics. At the time did it seem like an expected progression or were you pinching yourself?

CB: At the time, it was a natural progression. I had really good Ekiden in November ‘99 (32:10 for a 10k leg) and a decent indoor 3k and I remember thinking it was the first time I really thought I could make an Olympic team. I got hurt that February and didn’t run a step until May. I came back and made the Olympic standard at the Olympic trials but not Canada’s “A” standard. I appealed on the grounds that only some events had a separate “A” standard and was (finally, after training for five more weeks and anxiously waiting every phone call)  told the day of opening ceremonies that I wasn’t going to Sydney. I was also told four years later that if I would have appealed on injury I would have gone.

CK: What happened to you when you were competing at Athens? Apparently you nearly didn’t race the 1500m?

CB: I had a stress reaction in February 2004 and appealed to only run 1500. Because, by Canadian standards I qualified in the 5000 they said I had to run that first. I didn't run that well, and they (Alex Gardiner and Martin Goulet) pulled me from the 1500m because they thought it would affect their funding (Although that's not what they said, but that is why).  

So I'm at the Olympic Games, it's supposed to be this amazing experience that I've worked so hard for, and Athletics Canada is telling me I can't run (Especially upsetting considering what happened in 2000). I had to get the team captains involved (Kevin Sullivan, Diane Cummins, who was great and I'm sure it affected her race), the Olympic athlete representative, and finally after three days of anxiety and being upset, they let me run when they found out it wouldn't affect their funding.

We, as athletes, work so hard for our dreams and it's so frustrating to deal with the politics of sport when you don't feel like your own federation supports those dreams. Unfortunately, I've had only negative experiences with AC and it's sad because I have no desire to have any contact with them. They have so much power, and I don't feel they have the best interest of the athlete in mind.

CK: Perhaps this will change with a new regime.

CB: Yes, hopefully this will change because they represent the voice of our country and having pride in representing Canada! Although the AC part of the Olympics was tough, the friends I made and the experience I had will never be forgotten. It was still an amazing experience!