AFTER WINNING the Paris Diamond League 800 in late August, Hanna Green admits, “I was a little bit shocked, honestly. I knew going in that I was one of the top competitors with one of the better times this year. Even so, traveling from the U.S. to Europe only a couple days before and then… I don’t know. It was just a big race and I hadn’t done anything like that before, so it was definitely exciting and a little bit shocking. I was definitely surprised.”
In her second full year as a pro, the 24-year-old Virginia Tech alum has been enjoying a season where just about everything is going right. She explains, “I didn’t think it would go as well as it has. I mean, I was hoping to break 2:00 this year. That was my main goal.” Last year she had been oh-so-close, hitting a best of 2:00.09 to place 7th at the USATF meet. She showed great consistency all season, but only won a single outdoor contest, the 800 at Dublin’s Morton Games.
“It’s hard when you switch coaches,” she says of her move to Eugene to work with Mark Rowland and the Oregon Track Club Elite. “Moving across the country, having a new coach. The training was very different and I got injured a few times so it wasn’t always consistent. It just took me that year to really get into it and be more comfortable with the training and everything.”
A solid winter of basework has made Green stronger than ever. Indoors, she took 2nd in the USATF 1000. Outdoors, she opened with a big PR 4:09.33 in the 1500. A steady string of 2:01s—including a win at the Payton Jordan Invitational—got her ready for her first DL opportunity, the two-lapper at the Prefontaine Classic.
There, in a race sparked by the fast front-running of Caster Semenya, Green closed well to grab 4th, destroying her best with a 1:58.75. “I knew if I was going to break 2:00, I should be able to do it there,” she says. “You don’t get opportunities like that all that often and I knew I was in the shape to do it. It was just… actually doing it. That opened up a lot of other opportunities for me.”
Then in Des Moines, Green passed halfway in the USATF final in 5th place, but closed faster than everyone but Ajee’ Wilson to take 2nd in another PR, 1:58.19. Her next race would be the DL win in France. If anyone had been thinking that Green would be able to show up in Brussels or Doha and fly under the radar, they have another think coming.
The life of a pro athlete was the furthest thing in Green’s mind when she was in school. She started running in 7th grade in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, when her friends talked her into leaving soccer for cross country. On the track, she started out as a miler, though by her senior year, she was more of a 400 specialist with a 55.93 PR. The Virginia Tech coach at the time, Ben Thomas, was intrigued with Green’s prospects as an 800 runner, though she only ran 2:16.39 as a prep. As a frosh, she improved to 2:04.46. By the time Green finished out her career as a Hokie, she had been an All-America 4 times and a 4-time ACC champion at 800 (with another win at 1500). She had bests of 2:01.17 and 4:15.08.
Good enough to go pro? “I hadn’t really ever thought about it,” she admits. “It wasn’t something that I would ever have said, ‘I want to be a pro athlete.’ It just kind of worked out.”
An agent came to town to talk to a previous graduate of Virginia Tech, and spoke to Green briefly. “That’s kind of what put the idea in my head that it was actually an option,” she says.
“After I had run pretty well in college, I thought, ‘You know, why not give it a shot and see what can happen?’ because you don’t get these opportunities often. I mean, when else in my life am I going to be able to say that I was a professional athlete?”
That brought her to Eugene and coach Mark Rowland, who himself had won the steeple bronze for Britain at the ’88 Olympics. “I love working with Mark. He’s been a great coach and we get along really well. I really like how he coaches his athletes on an individual basis. My workouts are just for me; they’re not for anyone else. And he really takes into account how we’re feeling before workouts and after workouts and whether we should step back or push through.”
Now Green is back on the road, getting ready to run in the DL Final in Brussels. “It does get a little annoying living out of a suitcase,” she admits. But she adds it makes focusing on the racing a little easier. “That’s what I know I’m here for.” There will be no Semenya on the track, and Green says, “I think it will be slower in general, because no one right now can run those types of times. But you never know. In Paris we went out extremely fast [55.62], so you just don’t really know what’s going to happen.
“I want to be right up there with the top girls and have a shot at winning when it comes down to that last 100m.”