Commentary

Gall runs to London

Former U-M star makes run to first Olympics

Updated: July 24, 2012, 5:47 PM ET
By Chantel Jennings | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jerry Gall can't quite believe it. He's coming out of a dream, he says. As he inches further and further away from June 25, he's realizing what happened on that rainy day in Oregon -- his youngest child qualified for the Olympics in the 800-meter run.

Reporters have called, television stations have interviewed and still, he has the same answers.

[+] EnlargeGeena Gall
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeena Gall missed the Olympics in 2008, but reached the 2012 games with a second-place finish at the Olympic Trials.
He tells them Geena is driven. She's passionate. She gets her speed from her mom and her strength from her dad. She's the first Grand Blanc (Mich.) resident to ever qualify for the Olympics.

He laughs now as he recalls the feeling of content that her two NCAA Championships and 10 Big Ten Championships once gave the Michigan graduate.

Would that have been enough? No. But the Olympics? It seems like a dream.

But there it is, the posters attached to the green siding and white trim of their house: CONGRATS GEENA! NEXT STOP: 2012 OLYMPICS.


In 2001, Jerry sat in the stands at the Grand Blanc track and watched as his daughter awkwardly made her way to the starting line for an 800-meter run.

She was a skinny, ponytailed high school freshman who'd mainly run the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Dashes are what she did. But this was a run.

There was a part of his daughter that dreaded the race, he knew, but another part that reveled in the challenge her coach had put in front of her.

"He just kind of threw her in it," Jerry said. "Like, 'Well, we'll see."

But that race -- her first time ever running the 800 -- she finished in 2:21, just two seconds off the Grand Blanc school record.

"When we finally let her lose on the track it was like, 'What! What is going on?' " Jerry said.

Later that year, she broke the record. And by her junior year, she secured a spot on the national stage, winning the 800-meter run at the national high school meet.


By 2008, Geena had made it to the Olympic trials. Just a month and a half earlier she had won the NCAA Championships in the 800 as a college junior.

Exams and classes were over for the summer and she was in Oregon running against the best the U.S. had to offer. She enjoyed the extra competition, but in all reality, it was just the cherry on top of her already successful season.

"As a collegian, you don't peak for that," Gall said of the trials. "You peak for NCAAs. … It was a huge accomplishment just to be there. For me, I just wanted to stick my nose in it and race to the best of my ability and give it all I had."

But that happiness shifted to nerves the further she got in the meet. During prelims, she easily qualified. Semis were a bit more difficult, and finals provided a jolting realization that all eyes were on her -- she was the only collegiate runner in the field.

It had become a quirky race that had 12 racers instead of eight because of a fall in a previous round.

The track, where Gall had felt the most comfortable, now felt cramped.

[+] EnlargeGeena Gall
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireGall (left) holds two Big Ten records as well as being a 10-time All-American while at Michigan.
Gall could look up and down the track and name the runners she idolized and studied.

Jerry watched, amazed from his couch in Grand Blanc. Before the finals he had called her to say good luck and congratulations. A pre-race congratulations normally meant she was in over her head.

And if she didn't know that at the start of the race, she knew it by the 200-meter mark. She had gone out full strength, just trying to keep up with the pack. But her endurance would not hold out and she finished respectively in seventh, with a chip on her shoulder for the next four years.

"That day I was like, '2012, that's my goal, that's when I'll make the Olympic team,' " Gall said. "I knew I'd be ready. I knew I could be peaking at 25 for middle-distance women."


Geena had made it through 2012. It was June. She was back in Oregon. She was back at the place she wanted to conquer. But she was no longer wide eyed; Jerry was no longer in Grand Blanc.

He and his wife June, along with Gall's grandmother, had made the trek out to Oregon. This was her year and they would be here to celebrate it with her.

The morning of the final, Jerry sat in his hotel room trying to decide whether to speak to Geena before the race or not. For a few days he had been tip-toeing around his daughter, weary of saying too much of the right thing or a smidge of the wrong thing.

Finally, he conceded to see her.

"I went and told her, 'Geena, I've watched you race all these girls, you can do it. This race can be yours,' " Jerry said. "When your stressed like [she was] your mind can take you to different places, so I just reassured her."

And from the finish line, Jerry watched as Geena rounded the final turn and crossed the finish line in second, securing an Olympic berth.

For the Galls, it was indescribable joy -- 12 years of training that had prepared her for the two-minute run to the London games.

"The Olympics were always on my list of goals," Gall said. "The Olympics, that's the pinnacle of this sport. You know you've made it in this sport when you can say you're an Olympian.

"And it's not over yet. There are still goals I have. I want to make it to the finals. I feel like I can still run faster. I'm going to race 100 percent each time. I'm on a mission. It's not over yet."

No, it's not over yet but still, Geena Gall has made it.

Chantel Jennings | email

Oregon/Pac-12 reporter