World number three 400m hurdler Georganne Moline has blossomed from awkward teenager into world class athlete. The US athlete says track changed her life, and it's hard to disagree.
As a shy, slightly gawky teenager growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, high school proved a challenging experience for Georganne Moline. But on the track she found her sanctuary.
“Track changed my life,” the 24-year-old admits with typical candour.
“Before I started track, I felt like no-one could relate to me. When I got to the track, it felt good. It felt like I finally fitted in.”
Montana-born Moline didn’t have it easy growing up. Her parents – both US Marines – divorced when she was young. Aged three she and her mum, Carrie, headed south to start a new life in Phoenix. The pair were homeless for their first six months and lived out of a car.
“I remember we would head down to the McDonalds play pen or the park to play because it was free,” Moline recalls. “My mum and I would occasionally stay in hotels so we could shower. My mum was remarkable. She never showed weakness and always told me it would be fine.”
Mum also played a huge role in her track career. At her first ever high school track session Moline was keen to try out for the 100m and long jump, but was steered towards the hurdles by the coach. After a “terrible” debut experience over the hurdles she told her mum she was quitting track. Mum would not entertain such thoughts.
“She has this belief that if you start something you have to finish it. She didn’t let me quit, which looking back I’m really thankful for.”
"When I got to the track, it felt good."
Moline persisted and found success at state level in 100m and 300m, which in turn gave her confidence she “previously never had”. And if her mum has been the most important person in her life, the second is Fred Harvey, the University of Arizona’s Director of Track and Field and Moline’s coach of six years.
He paid the emerging athlete a visit at home when she was toying with the idea to go to college away from her home state. As well as persuading her to stay local (she is now based in Tucson), Harvey won the young Moline’s trust.
“I knew after this visit, this man [Harvey] would not only care about me as an athlete, but also as a person,” she explains. “I want someone to believe in me and at the end of the home visit he said ‘I want you to know, I believe in you’.”
The pair have since forged a rock solid coach-athlete relationship; Moline says her natural “impatience” is countered out by his patient and methodical approach.
Nonetheless, success was not instant. Moline’s development was hampered by a series of injuries, including a stress fracture of the tibia and a sprained disc in the back. A partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament in late 2011 proved a tipping point.
“That was the moment my athletics life turned around,” she says. “It was leading into 2012 when I thought I finally need to take care of my body.”
Injury saw Moline redshirt the outdoor season of her freshman year at the University of Arizona
She ditched her haphazard diet for a disciplined nutritional plan; late nights and lazy mornings were replaced by sleeping patterns more readily associated with professional athletes.
In 2012, Moline improved her 400m hurdles best by more than three-and-a-half seconds. She was hotly tipped to secure the NCAA title in Des Moines, but in her heat she struck hurdle eight and crashed to the ground. She failed to make the final. It came as a crushing blow.
“I thought everything I had worked for that season was over,” she says. Her coach convinced her otherwise.
“He said ‘you still have the Olympic trials.’ I said ‘yes, coach, but it not like I’m going to go to the Olympic Games.’ He said ‘you will forget about this moment when you’ve made the Olympic Games’.
“At that moment something clicked. I used to have this image on TV about how an Olympian should look like, and it didn’t look like me. Now I believed.”
Three weeks later she ran a 54.33 PB to finish second at the Olympic trials and book her ticket to London. It was her first ever trip overseas, but that did not faze her: Moline placed fifth in the final with another lifetime best of 53.92.
“I wanted to pinch myself,” she says of that experience. “I was so happy to achieve my goal of running under 54 seconds.”
In 2013 she set a new lifetime best of 53.72 for second behind Kori Carter in a world-class NCAA final. However, burnt out after a long collegiate season, Moline crashed a hurdle and hit the ground in the heats at the Moscow World Championships. The 2014 season has also been a struggle, hampered by a hamstring injury and lacking speed endurance.
Nonetheless, a 54.00 season’s best clocking to finish runner-up at the US Championships and second place finishes in Rome and Monaco prove that on her day she has few peers. And as well as her ability, she is brimming with confidence and has one clear goal for 2015.
“The goal is to win the world title, I’m not even thinking of top three. I know I can do it.”