Meet some of the fastest track & field athletes in the world. Their dedication to finding their fast is what drives them in a way that we know well—the relentless pursuit of speed is deep within their DNA, and it’s in ours, too.
Each member of the Legion of Zoom has a fast summer ahead of them as they continue on their road to Rio journey. Some are already established legends, some young guns are new on the stage, but all of them share two commonalities: they use their blazing speed to dominate, and they all train in Nike Zoom Air footwear, Nike’s fastest, most responsive cushioning system.
The squad is an undisputed roster of fast:
Mo Farah, 2-time Olympic champion and 3-time World champion.
Allyson Felix, 6-time Olympic medalist.
Mary Cain, 2-time American champion.
Jordan Hasay, 2-time NCAA Indoor champion.
Matthew Centrowitz, Jr., 2-time USA Outdoor champion.
Galen Rupp, 5-time consecutive USA champion.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 2-time Olympic champion; 5-time World champion.
Melissa Bishop, 2-time Canadian champion.
Laura Roesler, 5-time NCAA champion.
Darya Klishina, 3-time European champion.
Sergei Shubenkov, 3-time European champion.
Adam Kszczot, 5-time European champion.
Andrew Osagie, 2-time World Indoor bronze medalist.
Ana Cláudia Lemos Silva, 5-time South American champion.
Hannah England, 3-time UK champion.
Bethwell Birgen, top Kenyan at the 2014 World Indoor Championships mile.
Mahiedine Mekhissi, 3-time European champion.
Wang Chunyu, Asian Games champion.
Suguru Osako, University Games champion.
Helping athletes get faster
Our relationships with these athletes is born out of a shared commitment to helping athletes get faster, rooted in a legacy established by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman and track legend Steve Prefontaine. What began on the track in Eugene, Oregon, as a dedication to delivering innovation that expands athletic potential beyond its limits, has evolved to include athletes all over the world and across every sport. It is embodied by the Legion of Zoom.
MEET THE LEGION OF ZOOM
MO FARAH: LIKE ANY OTHER KID, BUT A LOT FASTER
In many ways, Mo Farah was like most kids in London: He wanted to play football, ideally for his beloved Arsenal Football Club.
But in other ways, he was different. His family had moved from Somalia when he was 8—and while he didn’t stick as a footballer, he had something no one else had as much of: speed—and lots of it. So Arsenal was not his destiny—the track was, and he was on his way to becoming a twenty-first century English hero.
His first British title came when he was just 14, and the next year he won the 5000 at the European Athletics Junior Championships. Since then, he has combined his natural ability with an uncommon dedication—“I train every day, no matter what, including Christmas, he says—to become a Gold medalist just a few miles from Arsenal’s home stadium, in front of a passionate, patriotic crowd of fellow Britons.
That famous 10000m Olympic final in London—it was the race of a lifetime. Looking around in disbelief after crossing the finish line, he looked back in joy at his training mate, Galen Rupp, taking Silver.
“It’s a mad, crazy blur. Our coach had predicted we would finish first and second, but he wasn’t sure in which order. Somehow, standing there, watching everything unfold, it doesn’t seem real. There are almost tears coming out of my eyes. It was an emotional moment for me.”
It was a Golden moment, but it was also redemption: “There have been some down times but two Gold’s is great. There’s been a lot of talk about me not being able to deliver but I've done my job.”
And how did he celebrate? He ate his first burger in a year.
• 2-time Olympic champion, 5,000m, 10,000m
• 3-time World champion, 5,000m, 10,000m
• Earned his first World Record in February 2015 in the Indoor Two-mile
ALLYSON FELIX: WITH SKINNY LEGS COMES GREAT SPEED
Weighing in at 125 pounds and four Olympic golds, Allyson Felix is pure speed. While she’s running royalty now, when she first hit the track as a high school freshman, she hardly seemed destined for the Legion of Zoom. Despite being considered awkward at the time, she finished Top 10 at the California State meet just 10 weeks later. Allyson Felix was an instant legend in the making.
She was the youngest Gold medalist sprinter in the 200m at the World Championships in 2005, and she made more speed history in 2007, becoming the second woman ever to win three Golds at a single World Championship. She won the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2011-2012 SportsWoman of the Year and she’s three-time recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, the USA Track and Field’s highest accolade.
She used a surprise 200m silver in Beijing as motivation for London, where she converted four years of daily obsession into one of the great performances in Olympic history—she became the first American woman to win three golds in Track and Field at an Olympics since Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988.
And that’s all with a frame she describes as “not a sprinter’s body.” So maybe it’s the mind that makes the body go so fast: “I am a sprinter,” she says. “It’s very difficult for me to be patient and follow a race strategy or conserve energy. I just love to go fast.” She may be fast, but she knows that sometimes speed comes slow: “To run fast takes a long time–it’s a process.”
• 6-time Olympic medalist, second U.S. woman ever to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games
• 3-time World Outdoor champion, first woman ever to win three consecutive 200m
SHELLY-ANN FRASER-PRYCE: STEALTH BOMBER
It’s as if she’s been sneaking up on people her whole life.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could’ve been the Legion of Zoom’s secret weapon—for years, no one seemed to see her coming, and even when she’s at her fastest, she feels slow. “Funny—sometimes when I feel I’m running slow I go my fastest.”
There’s a little something stealth about how she performs: When she won Gold in Beijing, becoming the first Jamaican woman ever to win the Olympic 100m, they said she’d “come of out nowhere.” She never won a 200m race in high school and is now the reigning World Champion. When the Jamaican government declared her a national “Ambassador-at-large,” even she was surprised. She said, “Who’d could have predicted a little girl from the Waterhouse Community….”
“Where I came from influenced me by teaching me perseverance, working hard and will power to survive in a inner-city community,” she says. “I was motivated to work hard as a way out for myself and my family. My family is very close knit—aunts, cousins, mother, brothers. My grandmother in particular played a big part in determining where I went to university.”
At just five feet tall, it may be that her diminutive stature contributed to her ability to hide in plain sight, but you can’t miss her now: The “Pocket Rocket” has blown her cover. For one thing, her Facebook page has over 585,000 fans. “I like using Instagram and Twitter as well,” she says, “since a picture speaks a thousand words. I also reply to my fans online which sometimes surprises them. The comments I get most are how much they love my smile and how surprised they are that I am so small. My favorite fans are children, I can’t get enough of them and love spending time with them.”
She’s front and center as a major figure in world Track and Field now —and living up to her attention-getting nicknames from younger days: Her high-school nickname was “Grasshopper, because of a green suit I always wore and I was smaller than everyone else”; at university, they called her Medusa because her teachers thought she “was crazy trying to be a full-time student and training to be an Olympic champion at the same time.” Since then, she became an Olympic champion and she’s looking for more. “I want to be the first person in history to win three Olympic Gold medals in the 100m.”
• 2-time Olympic Gold medalist, 100m
• 5-time World champion, 100m, 200m, 4x100m
GALEN RUPP: HE GREW UP FAST
When you’re a native son in webfoot country and you can run this fast, it doesn’t matter what sport you start with: you end up with running.
And if you're Galen Rupp, you end up in the Legion of Zoom. So it was with Galen Rupp, an Oregon kid who thought he might chase soccer balls around for fun—but realized he had something else when he was a freshman in high school. “I had just started working with Alberto and he trained me for only a few weeks and then entered me in the Junior Olympic cross country race. The idea of running six or seven days a week seemed daunting at the time. I won the state meet, the regional meet, and then got second at the national meet,” Galen recalls.
“Alberto told me afterwards that he thought one day I could become one of the best distance runners in the world if I stuck with it. Hearing that from a former world record holder gave me all the confidence in the world and really opened my eyes to the possibilities if I continued to run.”
“I grew up in a state that loves track and field,” he says. “I always looked up to all of the greats that came through the University of Oregon like Steve Prefontaine, Rudy Chapa, Alberto Salazar, and Billy McChesney, and it was a privilege to attend Oregon myself and be a part of that rich history.”
But he’s had to fight for it: “I’d battle for every inch. Even running in junior races, the top Africans would run incredible times. I knew though that with time I would be able to catch them and eventually beat them, but I had to chip away at the gap and get closer and closer every year,” he says. “Your work rate is totally up to you and something that you have complete control of. I take great pride in the training load that I am able to handle and it gives me great confidence when I step to the line of race that nobody has trained harder than me.”
The rest is part local legend and part American running history: Five Oregon state high-school championships, a smattering of NCAA titles for the Ducks, a record here, a record there, a coveted Bowerman Award as the college track’s Athlete of the Year, a gradual rise up the World Championships ladder and a Silver in London. “I remember my senior year at Oregon during the indoor season, something clicked and I really got on a roll. I had just won the cross country national title, my first one since being in college. I had really adopted a mantra in races of just relaxing as much as possible and then committing to a place in the race where I would take the lead and go hard. I had been practicing this a lot in training, but during the NCAA Indoor Championship I was able to put it into effect. I got on a roll and ended up winning the 5,000 and then won the 3,000 the next day.”
Up here, if you’ve got speed, you’ll end up on the fast track—and he’s had a connection to Track and Field greatness for years: “I remember in high school talking with Phil Knight and Alberto Salazar and they told me to always do the right thing. Whether that means doing all the work and never taking shortcuts in training, to being honest and having integrity as a person I never forgot those words,” and now his dreams are as big as they get. “It would be an honor to be looked at by future generations as someone who accomplished this goal and helped inspire others to think that it can be done and is possible.”
• Olympic Silver medalist, 10,000m
• 6-time USA Outdoor champion, 10,000m
• American record holder, 10,000m, indoor 3,000m, 5,000 & 2-mile
JORDAN HASAY: LITTLE PONY. MASSIVE KICK.
Nicknamed “The Little Pony” for her mane-like ponytail, she’s been kicking records to the curb since junior high.
She’s been fast for a long time. “When I was in fourth grade the PE coach noticed I was beating all the boys in the 10-minute run. I just loved it. I would sit on the edge of my desk waiting for the bell to ring so I could get a head start. The feeling of running down the grass onto the track was the best. I just felt free and excited. I loved the feeling of my lungs and legs working hard.” So began her path to the Legion of Zoom.
Being from a family of athletes helps: “My family are all athletes,” she says. Growing up my parents were role models for living a healthy lifestyle. It makes it easy now as a professional athlete because they understand everything that I do.” Her brother is a professional stand-up paddle boarder; when she’s home in California they go surfing together to relax.
Her family inspires her in other ways too: “I have a lucky ring that my grandma gave me when I first turned pro. In the first race I wore it, I ran an 11 second PR. I wear it in workouts to remind me to never give up.”
A few short years later, as a 7th-grader, she ran at Hayward in the Junior Olympics and set national records in both the 1500m and 3000m. And just days before competing in the 2008 Junior Worlds in Poland, then 16-year-old Hasay set the 1500m American high school record at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. The crowd’s chant of “Come to Or-e-gon! Come to Or-e-gon!” was rewarded, as she joined the Ducks after graduating as one of the most decorated U.S. high school distance runners of all time. Now a pro, she trains in Oregon and her mileage is higher, her workouts are faster, and her PRs in every event are falling. Fast. “I would like to make the Olympic team in 2016 and medal at the Olympics and/or World Championships,” she says. “I would also like to set the American records in the 5k, 10k and marathon. I’m motivated by the idea of always giving my best and making the most of every opportunity. I focus on enjoying the process and remember to make the most of the time I have been given.”
She knows that young athletes look to her for inspiration. “I see a huge part of what I do as an opportunity to interact with as many people as possible. I especially love inspiring younger kids,” she says. “I use social media and also at races win or lose I make a point to interact with the fans and remember what it was like for me when I was a kid looking up to athletes.”
As for what she eats to stay in this kind of shape? “I love beets. I eat them every night with a salad. I also couldn’t live without dairy—I love milk, yogurt and cheese. When I am home I like to get pizza from my favorite local restaurant. My favorite candy is Werthers. I eat one every night after dinner.”
• Olympic Trials finalist, 1,500m at 16 years old
• National high school record, 1,500m
MATTHEW CENTROWITZ, JR.: ELITE RUNNING IS LITERALLY IN HIS BLOOD
His father, head track coach at American University and a 2-time Olympic runner, used a little reverse psychology to delay Matt’s interest in the sport.
When you’re conditioning for other sports, you’re supposed to fear the running part. Not Matt Centrowitz. “When we were running laps, or we were doing miles in PE, I actually didn't hate it, and I was always lapping other guys, or finishing first. That's when I knew that if soccer, or whatever sport I was doing at the time, didn’t work out, I would have track and field.” He didn’t just enter track and tield, he entered the Legion of Zoom.
Ask most elite runners where they get their speed, and they’ll say from their training or their determination. Centrowitz claims it comes from the genes. “It comes from my parents,” he says “Can I say that? My dad was a two-time Olympian, and then my mom ran as well.”
Maybe he gets his big-race composure through his family also:
“I feel most comfortable in championship racing. I like not worrying about the clock and really just worrying about winning. That's what racing is all about. You get to some of these faster races, and people are fine with getting second or fourth, or whatever, breaking records and stuff. I've always been a championship racer, and I've always just been super competitive about worrying about place more than time.”
It wasn’t until high school that Matt switched from soccer to running, and he hasn’t stopped. While running for the University of Oregon, Matt became the first Duck since Steve Prefontaine to win the USA Outdoor Championships in the 1500m (which he did in 2011 and 2013). After such incredible success, Matt went pro instead of completing his collegiate eligibility. Having won World Championship Silver and Bronze, the 1500m star is looking to complete his collection with a Gold. Now training with the Nike Oregon Project, he routinely breaks his own PRs, sets meet records all over the country, and never takes his eyes off that golden prize. “I spend 50% of the time working on speed and the other 50% working on endurance. I think I’m best know for shifting gears—that’s always been it, my change of pace in the 1500. If they go from really slow to really fast, I'm always able to cover it really quick, more than having top end speed. I would say shifting gears is kind of my strong suit.
While he’s known as a tactician, and as the recipient of some pretty good bloodlines, soon the world will know him for his speed: “I think everyone gets adrenalin rushes from certain things. When I know I'm going to go fast, I kind of get…I don't really want to call it runner's high, but that adrenalin rush. You know you're going to do something special. You know you're going to do something hard. It's not going to feel easy, but it can feel fun if you're in the front, obviously, and doing well.” And when it’s all going really well? “I mean, you feel like untouchable. You just feel like you can't be stopped on that given day. Everything's kind of clicking and you're hitting those gears. I'd say, you just feel untouchable.”
• 2-time USA Outdoor champion
• 7-time Division I All-American
MELISSA BISHOP: FROM A SMALL ONTARIO TOWN TO A HUGE OLYMPIC STAGE
She played soccer, hockey and volleyball before finally stepping onto the track in 8th grade.
Melissa’s journey to the Legion of Zoom has been a long road. From her Grade 2 teacher telling her she ran like a deer and introducing her to the local soccer coach, who told her she had a great stride, and that she would “go to the Olympics one day,” to her family driving her the two hours from her hometown—which had a gravel track that stretched only 350m—to Ottawa, where she practiced for 2 or 3 hours before heading home again, she was always on her way to great speeds and great heights.
“My family plays a huge role in my career,” she says. “Without them, I wouldn't have been able to see the potential I had. Without their time, money, resources. They continue to be my biggest supporters, constantly reminding me that I’ve been put on this path and given this talent for a reason. It's so easy to get caught up in the little track bubble, that they're great to lean on and get a clear perspective on things.”
She’s inspired by her mom’s constant reminders that everything happens for a reason. “She’s told me this since I was a little girl. Through wins, loses, injuries, sickness, breakups, this has been the mantra. There is a bigger picture, and sometimes it’s not a direct road there. I’m learning that there are bumps in the road, take them in stride, one day at a time.”
About running her race, she says: “I don’t think an 800m will ever feel nice. Fast or slow, it’s going to hurt. You might as well make it fast.”
Melissa wants her legacy to be Canada’s fastest woman in the 800, to have the word “'Olympian' behind my name multiple times,” and be someone who can inspire others to get involved and to chase their dreams whether on or off the track.
• Olympian, 800m
• 2-time Canadian champion, 800m
MARY CAIN: FAST AND STEADY SETS THE PACE
In fifth grade, she ran a 6:15 mile. In seventh grade, she ran it in 5:03. And that was before she had a coach.
Mary Cain’s drive to the Legion of Zoom has come from inside. “I fell in love with running at a young age, ever since our gym class mile runs. This passion deepened, though, on all my runs on our local trails. I love being outside, with just my thoughts, and running is the perfect outlet for that.” She still remembers her first big triumph: “The first time I realized that I could be a good runner was when I was a third grader- the two fastest kids in the grade were me and this boy, so we had a show-down on the track. I just smoked him.” She credits her supportive family for not pushing her toward faster: “Therefore,” she says, “my will to run came from within—no where else.”
Maybe that’s why she’s happiest at home: “I am genuinely happiest when I come home and run on my local trails. I have only been away in college one year, but coming home is always my favorite part of the year, especially when I’m home with all of my sisters.” She says she loves clearing her mind and getting into a flow state.
She takes another influence from her mother: Mary and her mom idolize another Mary—Mary Decker- and Mary Cain hopes to one day have a legacy as phenomenal as her hero’s. That internal engine drives her to pursue that dream:
“I think about all of the people who will get out of bed. So if I don’t, my competitors can get one step ahead of me. I also think about how hard I’ve worked to even reach this point, so not getting up will only hurt me and my dreams—no one else.”
As a high school athlete—near home—Cain smashed no fewer than 12 American junior, World junior and high school records, but her real breakthrough came in 2012 when Alberto Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project called her house one October night. He talked to her parents about her potential, and what he thought she needed to do to improve. Mary’s raw talent got the refinement it needed, and she went straight to the pros after high school. She continues to train with Salazar in Portland, Oregon. While still coming into her own as a premier distance runner, Mary understands a key truth of the sport: “When I’m in the back of the pack, I remind myself it’s not done until it’s done, and it’s not won until it’s won. I never want to count myself out before or after a race.”
“I try to live by the mantra ‘Stay Calm and Carry On.’ This year, I suffered a lot of low points, and this has always helped pick me up. I also try to just remind myself how lucky I am, to be happy that I have the opportunity that I have and that I’m healthy enough to be running. First and foremost, I want to become an Olympian. That’s the dream that defines all others. I want to be considered the best American female middle-distance runner. It will be hard to usurp Mary Decker from this position, but that really is the dream.”
• Olympic Trials finalist, 1,500m at 16 years old
• 2-time USA Indoor champion, 1,500m
LAURA ROESLER: IN NORTH DAKOTA, 2006 WAS THE YEAR OF THE ROESLER
Stepping onto the high school athletic stage as a freshman, Laura took North Dakota Cross Country and Track and Field by storm.
Her initiation in the Legion of Zoom started outside the limelight in North Dakota. More than winning the state cross country title as a freshman, Laura’s love of speed also translated to the track as she dominated the sprints and middle distances at the North Dakota State Track and Field meet. She graduated with a grand total of 22 state titles.
Even so, she describes a high-school defeat as one of the turning points in her career. “I think when I was a senior in high school at my state track and field meet and I lost my first race in about five or six years. I thought I would be upset and devastated but I was so relieved and honestly the most relaxed I had felt in a long time. My family and friends and most people at the meet still supported and cheered for me and I realized that it's not really the winning and losing that defines you, it’s how you react to them and your character that people will remember most.”
“I love the fact that I’m from North Dakota because I feel I’m representing our state at the next level,” she says. “It was also very special to go to school at the University of Oregon because I feel like I adopted a whole new family of fans that are not only die-hard Duck fans, but just track fans in general.”
Running for Oregon was exactly what Laura wanted. While many elite athletes forgo collegiate eligibility and go straight to the pros, Laura felt she was ready developmentally, she knew she wanted an education and more than anything else, she wanted to run on a collegiate team. Her sprint group training is what prepared her for the pros, and what enabled her to become a 5-time NCAA Division I national champion and a 17-time All-American. While her professional training program in San Antonio focuses more on building her endurance, Laura says, “My greatest asset is my speed. We’ll never lose sight of that.” And she’s conscious of building her legend: “I want my legacy to be that I gave it all I had and gave it my best shot. I want to be seen as a fighter, someone who did everything in her power to follow her dreams, who worked hard, stayed true to herself, and stayed humble, grateful, and hungry. Whether those ended up in medals or not, if people can describe me as that I will feel successful.”
Laura looks up to Sanya Richards-Ross. “She has inspired me the most. She is someone who has been at the top for so long and yet remains the same person and has the same values. She is always very composed and humble and so nice. I met her when I was 16 at the Olympic Trials and she took the time to talk to me and actually seemed very genuine about it. For someone who is that successful, it is very inspiring to see and experience her have that kind of attitude and character.”
For someone this fast, she’s not afraid to slow down and play the piano, go hiking, and read. “I read a lot of books,” she says. “At least two a month. I also love to just enjoy the sun and lay outside by the pool. But I only swim if I am forced as cross training!”
Her greatest fear: “Losing sight of who I am and where I came from. Living in a world and sport where we’re so defined by our successes and losses, competition can sometimes consume you. My mom recently told me how proud she was of me not because of how successful I had been but because of the person I had become. She also asked me to make sure I never forget that and to always stay true to myself and to stay humble. And that is something I think is important and especially so if it is that important to my mom, and straying away from that would be a disappointment to her.”
Her mantra: Control what you can control. “My college coach told me this and it’s something that really stuck with me. I am a very Type A personality and it was hard for me to not be able to have all factors in my life or racing go according to how I wanted them to. But trying to just focus on the things I can do and have control over has made me feel a lot stronger as an individual.”
• 5-time NCAA Division I national champion and 17-time All-American
• Prestigious Bowerman Award recipient, most valuable female student-athlete
ADAM KSZCZOT: FROM FARMER TO CARPENTER TO NATIONAL RECORD HOLDER
Growing up on a farm in Poland, Adam knows that hard work means results you can see—but he also know it begins with determination that lives within.
For the man the Kenyans affectionately call “Coskot,” achieving Legion of Zoom-level performance on the track begins with confidence: “Everything starts in the mind. I imagine my movements to improve my technique. I come to the race in the ideal mental state.” But before becoming a premier runner, he played every sport he could: football, volleyball, basketball, running. Adam began his running career in 4th grade. While he easily beat the older kids, he didn’t know that he could make a career out of it until he decided to go to high school in a bigger city.
Still, Adam was plagued by so many running injuries in his first year he almost left the school to go back to his village. His mother convinced him to finish out the year. Good thing she did: In his second semester he became an 800m Silver medalist at the Junior European Championships.
From that point on, he was hooked. The 25-year-old recently completed a degree in engineering from the University of Lodz, and did so at the same time he maintained a grueling professional training schedule. Now an elite runner, Adam’s hard work has paid off. He enjoys time away from the track with young fans: “If I have some time I meet with elementary school students to tell them how fun being an athlete is!” He loves helping kids get into sports, connecting with his fans and inspiring others—and “telling my story to the world.” And besides running? He likes to be home, “with my wife and cats. It’s so peaceful!” he says.
About his race he says: “There’s no 800m without speed. I am a sprinter.” And that may be why he describes his goals in the simplest possible terms: “Be as fast as possible to be better than myself.”
• 3-time European champion, 800m
• 2-time World Indoor champion medalist
• Polish national record holder, 800m
SERGEY SHUBENKOV: THE HIGHER THE STAKES THE FASTER HE GOES
Born in the small Siberian town of Barnaul, Sergey performs best under pressure. His best results seem to come in the biggest meets.
As a kid, Sergey played a lot of sports and only started running as an after-school activity when he was 12 years old. His mother, 1986 European Championships heptathlon Silver medalist Natalya Shubenkova, even tried to dissuade him from seriously taking up the sport. She knew all too well that the athletic facilities available to her son—the same facilities she trained on in the ’80s, and that were built in the ’70s–were in severe disrepair, and she feared his success would be hampered. But the adversity of long Siberian winters and sub-standard training conditions hardened Sergey into a determined, single-minded competitor, with a very simple Legion-of-Zoom-worthy goal:
“As always, the goal is to win every competition I’m in.”
But he’s still chasing perfection. “I return to the example of the world record where I talked to Aries Merritt afterward and he said, ‘Oh my God, everything was perfect.’ Like he couldn’t have done it better. I think I’m still trying to find this point where you do everything perfect. I never can do this, I don’t know why. Either I’m not fit enough or strong enough…”—or his time just hasn’t come yet.
You get the idea that he knows his future fast is out there: “You know when I’m really going fast, like when I was third in the World Championships, when I was winning Europe—the feeling was like there was a starting shot, and then…I crossed the finish line—and that was all. I just try to remember the distance itself, how I run and I remember nothing.”
Despite this challenge, he’s acquired impressive accomplishments at the international level in the 60m and 110m hurdles. His accomplishments include Gold-medal finishes at the European Championships, and Bronze-medal finishes at the World Championships and Olympic competition. He’s is focused on refining his speed and fitness, and learns something new after each race.
His favorite example of his mental approach is the 2014 European Championships. “I wasn’t the fastest guy there,” he says, “but in the finals all the other guys made mistakes—and I was first. Just because I was calm and concentrated.” Maybe a native of a Siberian village just has an easier time staring down hurdle-sized obstacles.
• World Championships bonze medalist, 110m hurdles
• 2-time European Outdoor champion, 110m hurdles
DARYA KLISHINA: A TEAM PLAYER TURNS LONE LEAPER
Starting at the age of 8, Darya Klishina played volleyball. That was her primary sport while all others, including track and field, were secondary—until she was 13.
A coach with a good eye saw her compete in a city relay in her small town of Tver, Russia, and recommended she seriously pursue track and field. Darya realized it was impossible to excel at both sports, so she made her choice. Having been track athletes themselves, Darya’s parents supported her decision to switch. The only caveat they offered was that track is an individual sport, whereas volleyball focuses on the team. Darya understood. Her path was set.
Before discovering that her long legs and lean stature were best-suited for the long jump, Darya and her coach experimented with the hurdle, short sprints, and triple jump. “My coach just followed me, and he finally decided that I perform best in the jumping events.” She confesses that she doesn’t like to run more than 100m, and that her favorite part of training is weightlifting. She enjoys the quiet of the weight room and the technicality of the lifts. “I like weight training because it’s so quiet and not so fast. On the track, of course I like the technical workouts. They’re mentally challenging, but interesting.”
For Klishina, speed isn’t about the finish line, but the take-off: “Long jumpers must have a good balance between speed, running, and jumping technique.” And she knows how to visualize success: “In my head, I already have the picture: The best running technique—when I start to feel speed, maximum speed, it’s really cool—and after that of course, jumping technique.”
• 3-time European champion, long jump
• Russian junior national record holder, long jump
SUGURU OSAKO: ANOTHER JAPANESE SPEED MACHINE CROSSES THE PACIFIC
He left Japan to start rewriting the Japanese record book.
To be the best you have to beat the best. Suguru Osako was doing just that on a regular basis in Japan as the country’s #1 collegiate runner, trained by former Japanese Olympian Yasuyuki Watanabe. But upon barely missing a spot on the Olympic team, he packed his bags, crossed the Pacific and began training with Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project. Since then, he’s scored three national records and recently recorded a 13:28.00 in the 5000m at the Millrose Games—and has been welcomed into the Legion of Zoom.
Based on his American progress, his fans in Japan and all around the world believe he’s destined to take down the longstanding outdoor 5000m and 10000m national records in the not-too-distant future.
While still just 23, Suguro looks to be converting his Oregon Project training into some impressive results. A second place under the bright lights of new York’s Armory Track Invitational in the two-mile certainly raised eyebrows, running a Japanese national record and finishing ahead of some big-time American runners. Combine that with his Silver in the 10000m at the 2014 Asian Games and you get the feeling you might be looking at a star on the rise.
• Japanese National Record holder, 5,000m
• Asian Games Silver medalist, 10,000m
• University Games Gold
BETHWEL BIRGEN: HE GETS BETTER WITH AGE – AND HE’S STILL YOUNG
Some athletes slow down over time. Some athletes slow down time.
Since debuting in 2009 on the European tour with a 1500 PR, few athletes have progressed with the determined dependability of Kenya’s Bethwell Birgen. The 3000m, the mile, the 1500m, outdoors or indoors—he has steadily whittled away at his times (four seconds since ’09 in the 1500, nearly seven seconds in the mile), transforming himself from a solid competitor to a true 2016 medal contender.
For an athlete still building his legend, he’s on some impressive lists. His 1500m PR of 3:30.77 places him among the top fifty of all time for the event, while his indoor best of 3:34.65 is among the top twenty
He ran 2013’s 5th-best 1500 at the Monaco Herculis meet and represented Kenya at the ’13 World Championships, where he reached the semi-final, but if history is any guide, he’s destined to improve on that showing this summer and in the Rio Games.
• Personal best in the mile of 3:50.42
• Twice ranked in the world top 10 in mile by Track & Field News
• Top finishing Kenyan at the 2014 World Indoor Championships mile, finishing 8th
ANDREW OSAGIE: “I JUST WANT TO RUN PAST PEOPLE”
Some people run because they have to. Some run because they can. And some run for the pure, unadulterated joy of passing someone else. "I can't think when I'm going slow."
And it wasn’t just running. Andrew tried it all. “I played football when I was younger. Basketball, swimming, tennis, badminton. I did anything and everything, football, rugby and a lot of hockey. They just basically hit whatever it was twenty yards ahead of everyone else and just let me chase it. Anything where my fitness could sort of help me. I just liked the sport,” he recalls.
In fact, he thought he was destined for football. After scoring a goal for his college team, he thought, “‘This is it. I'm on the first team so I can start my career.’ But on literally the last kick of the game, I go to kick the ball and I kicked the guy in the foot and tore my ligaments. So I thought, ‘Okay, if I'm going to do athletics, which is what I came to university for, I need to stop doing this football rubbish.’”
Even though he had to leave those other sports behind, it’s that athletic passion that has propelled him through an astonishing array of injuries—many due to the fact the one of his legs is 9 millimeters shorter than the other—and forced him to adopt an unorthodox training regimen. While he runs lower training distances than most world-class competitors, he runs fast.
“In a way, everything at speed, for me is easier. So much easier. Even in my sessions. If you ask my coach, he’ll say the same thing. I've come back from having the season off, I’ll come back and struggle to jog, but I'll put my sweats on track, going real fast, and it’s like I've never had a break. It’s just literally instant. I wouldn’t say it’s as spiritual as that, but I just feel like it’s so much more natural running that speed, and I think that probably I can access things when I’m at that speed that I can think about. It’s really strange to describe.”
While he’s had some tough races in the recent past, he knows the podium is within his reach. “Losing builds character. It gives you a reason to go out and run in the cold weather in Britain, when it’s freezing. Never forget, never regret. That's one of my lines. One hundred per cent I can beat the best in the world,” he says. “I love championship races. I always seem to step up, improve or run a season’s best at a championships.” Easy to say when you know what you really want: To run past people.
• 2-time World Indoor Bronze medalist, 800m
• Olympic finalist, 800m
HANNAH ENGLAND: SOMETIMES IT ISN’T EASY TO HARNESS YOUR OWN POWER
When you’re tall and skinny, you’ve got the goods—but they may not be entirely in your control.
Hannah England’s career has been about getting the most out of a unique set of tools. While she admits to not being particularly coordinated in her youth, she’s getting more out of her body now. “I’ve got long levers,” she says, “and my career has been all about trying to harness them, making them as strong as possible so that I can use them as an advantage. I think once I’m powerful and coordinated they’re a massive advantage.”
She may think she was a little klutzy, but the record shows otherwise: She’s been destined for the Legion of Zoom since winning races since her early teens—her first breakthrough was an under-15 runner in a major UK event in Birmingham.
“I first really fell in love with running at 16—that feeling of speed, that feeling fast was pretty cool. Beating the boys in school was great—lining up and putting boys away was quite fun,” she says.
Soon after, she was a national junior champion, a World Juniors competitor and an NCAA champ at Florida State. Now that she’s reached a World Championships podium, it looks like all the levers are catapulting her in the right direction.
“I’m very habitual,” Hannah says. “The more I practice something the more I believe in it, so my race track will be the same all year round. Come the end of the season I might tinker it, sort of move it forward as I develop as an athlete but it always involves a nice slow jog the night before, some strides, some drills, feeling good and then having my fixed routine on race day. I plan out the hours before my race. What I’m going to eat, when I'm going to stop eating, when I'll take a nap. Routine.” Seems to be working so far.
• World Championship Silver medalist, 1,500m
• 3-time UK Outdoor Champion, 1,500m
WANG CHUNYU: TURNING BACK THE CLOCK AND TURNING UP THE HEAT
Youth is being served in China as their young core of sprinters is being led by Wang Chunyu.
It’s been almost two decades since China has been able to make a splash in women’s track and field. But now the country is being led by 20-year Legion of Zoom phenomenon Wang Chunyu. Wang, which translates to “King,” is happy to be wear the crown of her young Track and Field compatriots.
Her first successes came in local meets when she was just 15 years old, and in February of her sixteenth year she became the youngest ever Chinese national indoor winner. She burst onto the world scene four years ago at the World Youth Championships, when at 16 years old her PR time of 2:03.23 in the 800m turned heads.
Her performance was the best result by a Chinese athlete in five and half years, the best by a Chinese youth athlete for 14 years and the best ever result by a 16-year-old Chinese 800m runner.
Two years later at the 2013 Asian Championships, she out-sprinted Bahrain’s Genzeb Shumi Regasa and India’s Tintu Luka to win Gold in the women’s 800m by nearly two seconds. Now 20, Wang Chunyu is ready to turn her speed up a notch.
• Asian Games Gold Medalist, 800m Gold
• World Youth Championships, 800m Silver
MAHIEDINE MEKHISSI: REDEFINING THE CONCEPT OF “RUNNING YOUR OWN RACE”
Great athletes come in many forms: Cool and calm, driven and determined, fiery and emotional. And then there is Mahiedine Mekhissi.
Middle-distance runners are known for being a breed apart, so maybe Mekhissi is just taking his place in a long line of blazingly fast, eccentric speedsters. While the Reims-born 30-year-old is, like his middle-distance compatriots, driven by his independent spirit and insatiable hunger for finish lines he just can’t seem to find, there is truly no one like him, even within the Legion of Zoom. His unique and complex relationships with his teammates, race mascots and even his own jersey have drawn attention his way—but he’s earned nothing but respect with his feet.
“I do not calculate my image,” he says. “I train and I want to win medals for the France team, period. You cannot be liked by everyone. I do not want to become someone else, I prefer to stay as I am.”
After a famous incident in 2014, in which he removed his vest down the home stretch to celebrate an inevitable 3000m—and for which he lost the title- Mahiedine had an opportunity to improve upon a moment of adversity and show what he was made of. “My only possible reaction after the disqualification was to go back to the track and get this title. There are not many athletes who are capable of doing what I just did. I came from joy to sadness after the disqualification and my reaction was the reaction of a champion.”
He is his own man, and he is one of the fastest men in Europe. Great athletes come in many forms. This one may eventually come in Gold.
• 2-time Olympic Silver medalist, 3,000mSC
• 3-time European Outdoor champion, 3,000mSC
• 2-time World Champion Bronze medalist, 3,000mSC
ANA CLÁUDIA LEMOS SILVA: HER CHANGE IN ALTITUDE BROUGHT ABOUT A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
For someone this fast, Ana Cláudio Lemos Silva was a little slow to discover the Zoom within herself—and, like many Brazilians before her, if it weren’t for football Ana might never have realized her Olympic opportunity. Her speed was discovered on the pitch, but her passion for running developed over time.
In 2009, after four years winning at the junior level, Ana had a choice to make: Continue living a life of trips to the mall with her friends, or going full speed after Olympic Gold. What she discovered: She was happiest when training or competing, “because I’m doing what I loved most.” Ana changed coaches and began working with Brazilian Olympian Katsuhiko Nakaya and training in BM&F Bovespa’s track club. She listened to the words of Brazil’s men’s volleyball coach, Rezende: “The Grand Champion is one who knows how to deal with fear.” She is now one of the brightest stars in South American track and field.
“What motivates me when I don’t want to get out of bed is the desire to win—and then I get up quickly!”
In 2010, at the South American Games, held at altitude in Colombia, she improved on her previous 100m best by .4 seconds and equaled Lucimar de Moura’s South American record of 11.17 seconds.
In 2013, she set the continental record at 11.05 at the Grande Prêmio Brasil/Caixa Governo de Pará de Atletismo in front of a partisan crowd. “This is a great present for my mother,” she said, acknowledging that it was Mother’s Day in Brazil. “She will celebrate it the whole day. Now, my dream is to break 11 seconds. I owe this to my coach, Katsuhico Nakaya, who has worked intensely to bring me to this level.”
Now she dreams of medalling at the World Championships and the Olympics—and of telling her story to the world.
• 5-time South American champion, 100m, 200m, 4x100m
• 2-time Pan-Am Games Gold medalist, 200m & 4x100
• South American Record holder, 100m, 200m