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American Record Holder Faces Olympic Trials Decisions

 1 24 21Elle Purrier

IMG_1448.jpgElle Purrier, Millrose Wanamaker Mile photo by Mike Deering / The Shoe Addicts

January 24th, 2021

A favorite, albeit shopworn, expression is "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." It is a saying that can be witnessed and validated in many walks of life. That maxim is often evident in track & field where a dedicated athlete can close the gap and occasionally overcome a more naturally skilled performer who has drifted away from thorough preparation.

A footnote to that maxim is: "But when talent works hard, you may well have something very special." Think: Ashton Eaton; Ryan Crouser; Allyson Felix; Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The reigning Wanamaker Mile champion Elle Purrier is quite talented. And she has a deeply-rooted and finely-tuned work ethic. Might Elle Purrier be on her way to becoming something very special?

Purrier grew up in rural Vermont on her family's dairy farm - a setting quite different from most budding track & field athletes. "My parents milked about 40 cows daily and my brother and I would get up and do chores before we left for school," explains the New Balance athlete who unhesitatingly slid right into the farm's team approach. "I feel like that was what the routine was, what we were expected to do while I was growing up. Things were kind of simple and easy back then, it seemed." The challenge of farm life never fazed her. "I didn't really realize that that was kind of a different thing, a different lifestyle than most other people until I got out of town and went to college." And with a laugh, the New Balance athlete adds, "Not everybody is from a small town!" Looking back, Purrier now appreciates what farm life gave her. "I think in the long run it has really helped me as an athlete. I've learned a lot of my lessons on the farm and a great sense of work ethic."

In high school, a coach saw her potential during a school fitness test and steered Elle toward track. "I ended up winning my first track race and it kind of just came from there," remembers Purrier. "I definitely had a lot of natural talent. I think that probably came for growing up on the farm and just doing things from a young age. I always felt like I had to work a little bit harder to keep up." That talent/work ethic combo paid off. By the time Elle was ready to move on to college, she had captured 16 Division III high school state championships.

While a few of the larger northeastern universities reached out to Purrier, Elle found smaller college settings more to her liking. "I really didn't have an understanding about what the college running scene was like at all. I was kind of overwhelmed," confesses Purrier. "Honestly, I think [the larger schools] would have been too much for me at that time in my life. At that time, I still didn't understand how good I was. And I wasn't really ready to really buckle down and just put everything into my running career. I think I was still a kid and learning so much." After she finally selected the University of New Hampshire, she knew she made the right choice. "I felt very comfortable with it. I felt like I fit in more with the team. It still was a big adjustment for me." While at UNH Purrier was ably guided by Wildcat coach Robert Hoppler under whose guidance Purrier captured the 2018 NCAA indoor mile championship and the 2018 Penn Relays mile crown. "Hop is a blue-collar kind of guy. He is still one of my closest mentors. And I talk to him often," reveals the 11-time NCAA Division I All-American. "He got me where I am."

After college, Elle turned her attention to the pro ranks. "I kind of went with my gut - similarly to the way I looked at college," explains Purrier of her decision to align with New Balance Boston. "I just felt that New Balance Boston was the best option for me. I just didn't think I would be very happy anywhere else. I could see from the other athletes that they were treated very well. They seemed more like a good family, I guess. The transition went very well."

Now in her 3rd year with "Coog's Crew", Purrier knows she is in the right environment to reach her full potential. "I kicked up my training and my mileage. And with my teammates we've become very close. Mark [Coogan] is very good to work with. He's really chill. He has great confidence in his athletes. And that is something that I have really done well with. His confidence in me has helped me believe in me - more."

As a professional, Purrier has shown continued improvement. In the 2018 USATF Outdoor Nationals, the newly-minted pro made the final and a chance to see how she might fare against the big girls. "I felt the pressure was kind of off. It was the first meet with me as a New Balance athlete," recalls Elle. "I was the new girl; kind of the underdog. I tend to really thrive in that setting." Undaunted by her more seasoned competitors, Purrier ran 4:09.30 to finish 6th. "I raced pretty well."

In the 2019 outdoor championships Purrier found herself toeing the line for the 5000m final with a chance to make the USA team c the Doha ompeting in world championships. She brought quiet confidence to the race. "I didn't expect [to make the team], but I had confidence that I could do it." The tactical race came down to a crowded, mad dash over the final lap. "Over the last 400 there were a bunch of us. You know, just running for your life to get to the finish line," offered Purrier excitedly. "You don't know what's going to happen. It's kind of like slow motion but you don't really remember because it went by so fast. I kind of remember that I got caught with 200m to go and I was kind of behind. Then I remember passing Rachel Schneider [who dropped from 3rd to 4th] and I felt like I had a little bit of disbelief that I found that extra energy to get there." Grabbing 3rd, 0.45 seconds ahead of Schneider, Purrier made the Doha squad. Thoughts on that final homestretch? "I don't remember. But I do remember that it hurt very bad." After a pause she adds, "After accomplishing that, it definitely was extremely rewarding. It is still one of my favorite races."

Four months later she lined up against a loaded international field to race in the Millrose Game's Wanamaker Mile. "Kind of looking at the competition it was definitely nerve-racking. I knew all of their résumés. I knew no matter what it was going to be a fast race." It was. "I remember binding into the pace and hanging on about 4th or 5th throughout the whole race, staying on the gas pedal, and riding the pace. I remember hearing Mark urging me to make moves and stuff. I felt fine. I wasn't thinking about pace at all. I was trying to win." The field split 2:08 and change at 880 yards. "And then I started picking people off. And the last 200m, it's like 'All right. let's see what you can do over the last 200.' And when I passed Ko Ko,[leader Klosterhalfen] I couldn't believe that happened. And when I learned I had broken the American record, then I really didn't believe it." Purrier's winning time of 4:16.85 destroyed Mary Decker's 38 year old American record [4:20.5 which, at the time,was also a world indoor mile record] by nearly 4 seconds. The next 3 finishers all set national indoor mile records for their respective countries. Only one woman has ever run an indoor mile faster than Purrier's winning Wanamaker clocking [G. Dibaba / 2016]. Purrier's days of being able to sneak up on the competition are over.

1 27 21 Elle Purrier

Elle Purrier, 2020 NB Indoor Boston, 2 mile, photo by Kevin Morris/ @kevmofoto

After navigating through the pandemic wickets [last summer in her only race she set an 800m PR of 2:00.77], Elle Purrier, who will turn 26 on February 20th, and Coach Coogan have some serious Olympic Trials decisions to make. This summer in Eugene, will she race in the 1500m, the 5000m, or both? "To be completely honest, at this time I really don't know what event I'm doing - the 1500m or the 5K," explains the American record holder who has Olympic qualifying standards in both events. "If I run the 1500m and I don't make the team [first round on Day One; semi on Day 2; final on Day Four] then I would have a shot at the 5000m [prelim Day 7; final Day 10]. That's always a plan. I think we're just going to see where my training is at and how I race in both events and then make a decision. Leading up to the Trials I will probably do a mix of races: 800m; 1500m; and 5000m. We've made a schedule."

In the meantime, we can be sure this talent will be embracing hard work. / Dave Hunter /


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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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