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Dr. J. on Running

Jenn Rhines

Training for Sydney

Published August 7, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

One year ago, at the USATF National Outdoor Championships in Eugene, OR, Jenn Rhines finished fourth behind Libbie Hickman, Anne-Marie Lauck and Deena Drossin. Rhines' time of 32:29.67 was a personal record.

Last month, at this year's championships in Sacramento, CA, history seemed to repeat itself. The same foursome entered the home stretch with Drossin in first place followed by Hickman, with Lauck and Rhines running side-by-side. Besides the national title, three berths were at stake on the US team to the Sydney Olympics.

With a burst of energy reminiscent of her training runs at Onondaga Lake Park, Rhines blew past Lauck and Hickman to finish second in a new personal record of 31:58.34, and to become an Olympian.

Jennifer Rhines was born in Syracuse on July 1, 1974. She started competing as a sprinter in eighth grade. Her parents, both runners, encouraged her progression into the longer distances. Attending Liverpool High School, Rhines' performances earned regional and national recognition.

In cross country, Rhines went from a twentieth place finish in the New York State Federation meet in her sophomore year, to third in her junior year and second in her senior year. She also went from sixteenth in the Kinney National Championships in her junior year to fifth as a senior.

On the track, Rhines won two State championships in the 1,500 meters, in 1991 and 1992. In the process, she set the Onondaga League record of 4:31.14 that remains unbeaten, and earned twice the Syracuse Post-Standard athlete-of-the-year designation.

On numerous Thursday summer evenings, Rhines ran in the Syracuse Chargers training runs at Onondaga Lake Park. A ponytailed teenager, she routinely beat accomplished male runners, some of whom opted for early retirement by throwing their spikes into the trash can.

After graduating from Liverpool High School, Rhines pursued an engineering degree at Villanova University. Outside the classroom, she won five Division I NCAA national championships in the 5,000 meters, including 3 outdoor titles, one indoor title and one cross-country title. She also won an assortment of BIG EAST titles, and set the still-standing BIG EAST indoor record in the 5,000 meters of 16:02.67 in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

Rhines graduated from Villanova with a degree in civil engineering, and opted to remain in Eastern Pennsylvania. There, she remained close to her coach Matt Centrowitz, whom she visits in Washington about once a month, and trains with former Villanova star Gina Procaccio.

Rhines worked and trained for a while, before taking leave of the profession to prepare for the Olympics. She married Terrence Mahon, a 2-hour 13-minute marathon runner, who brought added focus to her running.

As a post-collegiate runner, Rhines encountered increasing success at the longer distances. Her energy-efficient running form and explosive finishing kick combined into a string of victories on the roads. At the 1998 Jacksonville River Gate 15K Run in Florida, Rhines won her first open national championship in a time of 51 minutes. In April 1998, she won the Pikes Peak 10K in a record time of 32:45, beating the previous course record by more than three minutes, and running the fastest 10k by a female in the State of Maryland.

Rhines returned to the Pikes Peak in 1999 and won the race again. Earlier that winter, she finished 13th in the 8-K race at the World Cross-Country Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, helping the U.S. win the team bronze medal.

No sooner had Rhines secured a spot on the US Olympic team for Sydney, and had her measurements taken for the official US Olympic outfit, she took off across the Atlantic to hone her speed on the European track circuit. Planning to compete at distances shorter than 10,000 meters, she set a personal record of 15:19.88 in the 5,000 meters in Stockholm last week.

As we wish Jenn Rhines Godspeed in Sydney, footage of another American 10,000 Olympian remain vivid in my mind. At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Billy Mills won the gold medal against the odds. In one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history, the television announcer screamed: "Look at Mills, look at Mills."

Sadly, no one in America will hear Dwight or Carol scream "Look at Rhines", since NBC decided against showing any live coverage from Sydney, let alone the 10,000 meters. My views on their decision belong in a separate column.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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