Olympian, Buchanan High grad Kyle Alcorn thrives with support from family

The Fresno BeeJuly 21, 2012 

Angela Olsen initially found future husband and Olympian Kyle Alcorn kind of repulsing.

Who could blame her?

The first time she saw him was in a blown-up picture, with Kyle sick and hunched over during a high school track and field meet.

Though they both graduated from Buchanan High in 2003, they had never talked to each other. The photo was one more reason for her to keep her distance.

They ran in different circles, anyway: Kyle literally as a star on the track and field and cross country teams, Angela as a transfer student from Visalia focused on psychology and not at all on athletics.

"It seems like you have to start really young, in (the Clovis Unified) feeder program, to play sports there," she said. "Or you have to be ultracompetitive and naturally talented."

That didn't fit Angela, but it aptly described Kyle.

Little did they know that a passionate bond eventually would form, helping both enjoy success.

In Kyle's case, it's by reaching the ultimate level in his sport as a member of the U.S. team for the London Summer Olympics. He will compete in the steeplechase prelims Aug. 3, with the top 16 advancing to the final Aug. 5.

His rise from a Clovis kid to Olympian isn't merely a tale of a naturally gifted person learning to maximize his talents through hard work and discipline.

It's also about how Kyle reached his childhood goal while helping Angela achieve her dreams, too, as the young couple worked to maintain a romance amid the stress of competition, careers and family life.

"Making it this far took a lot of work and sacrifice from a lot of people, especially my wife," Alcorn said. "I owe them thanks. I just want to go out there and give it my best at the Olympics.

"I want to be able to say I gave it my all, at a time when everyone seems to care about track and field again, and make my family and friends proud."

Though the central San Joaquin Valley has produced a long list of noted Olympic track and field competitors, Alcorn is the first graduate of a Clovis Unified school to make it to the Games in the sport.

"That young man has a chance to continue the great legacy of track and field Olympians and stars who've come out of the San Joaquin Valley," said Bob Fraley, the retired Fresno State coach. "We should all be proud to have a local kid in the Olympics."

But it was hardly easy.

The journey begins

Blame the photo for ruining Angela's shot at love at first sight.

But during the summer following their freshman year in college (Kyle at Oregon and Angela at Fresno State), a mutual friend held a mini Buchanan reunion.

Angela immediately noticed Kyle. She remembered but pushed aside the memory of that old photo: He "wasn't throwing up and he looked cute."

She introduced herself.

"I always knew he was a good Christian boy," Angela said.

Turns out they shared many common interests -- religion, drive and determination and intellect.

"It all happened pretty fast," Angela said. "At first, I thought it was just a summer fling. But then we kept seeing each other."

The demands in their lives, though, would keep them apart once school started again.

Kyle was busy with track, first at Oregon and then at Arizona State -- where he transferred following his sophomore year when the Ducks changed coaches. Angela studied psychology at Fresno State.

"Obviously, it was tough for us at times," she said.

But in some ways, the distance helped.

Kyle was able to fine-tune the techniques he needed to excel in his unusual event. The steeplechase is a 3,000-meter race in which runners must clear hurdles and water-filled pits.

Angela could concentrate on her school work.

The time apart also strengthened their desire to be with each other.

By their senior year, Kyle and Angela were engaged.

The proposal was quite the sight.

Five days before Christmas 2007, Kyle wrote out "Merry me?" in lights outside his parents' home.

"Angela used to tell us she thought Kyle was arrogant and cocky in high school, so they never spoke to each other," said Kyle's father, Scott. "Yet here they are today, happily married."

Dream falters

So many big events happened to Kyle the next year that, in hindsight, he thinks it might have been too much.

In the spring semester of his senior year at Arizona State, Kyle captured the NCAA steeplechase championship. A month later, he was in Eugene, Ore., at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He had landed a modest shoe deal with Nike.

There also was marriage, with Kyle and Angela preparing for a September ceremony with 300 guests in the foothill town of Three Rivers.

"It was real exciting, and I had so much going on in my life," Kyle said.

Then he finished 11th in the steeplechase final at the trials in 8:47.30 -- more than 27 seconds behind the winner, ex-Tennessee standout Anthony Famiglietti. It was even 20 seconds slower than what Kyle ran en route to the NCAA title.

"Looking back, I probably didn't have the best mindset when it came to the trials," Kyle said. "Because I kept thinking 2012 was my best year to make the Olympics -- not 2008. And I let the crowd and the stage and excitement get to me."

With his Olympic dreams on hold for four more years, the couple agreed they would stay in Fresno so Angela could work on her master's degree.

It meant Kyle would have to leave college distance coach Louie Quintana and train on his own. For many athletes, that might have been the end of the dream.

Not so for Kyle, not with his fierce work ethic and a wife just as determined to see him stay on track with his workouts and diet.

"A lot of athletes in Kyle's situation join a training group to keep that structure and accountability and so you have some company," Quintana said. "We've had athletes leave ASU sometime and struggle initially with the training on their own.

"One of Kyle's best attributes is that he is very disciplined. He will take care of what needs to be taken care of on his own."

Kyle ran roughly 90 miles a week, occasionally joining the latest crop of Buchanan High runners. He would go to the gym to work on his strength and speed, conscious not to lift too much and add excessive bulk.

At 6 feet, 1 inch and 167 pounds, Kyle has what is considered an ideal frame by American steeplechase standards. But he is significantly bigger than some of the world-class athletes he will face in London.

Reigning Olympic champ Brimin Kipruto of Kenya is 5-7, 119 pounds. Keynans have won seven straight golds in the steeplechase dating to the 1984 Games.

"I feel like a giant standing next to them," Alcorn said. "I'm comfortable with my size. Usually, when I drop below 160 pounds, I feel weak and fatigued. I know how to run with this weight. It's never been a problem for me."

And baby makes three

Fast-forward to 2010. Two years had passed since Kyle had failed to qualify at his first trials. Now, with a new Olympic cycle in full swing and Angela done with her master's program, it was her turn to sacrifice.

The Alcorns moved to Mesa, Ariz., to allow Kyle to work with his college coach again and use the Arizona State training facilities.

Under Quintana's watch, Alcorn began developing a better rhythm and feel for the steeplechase. His endurance and closing speed increased and he became more aware of where he needed to be in the pack at certain points of the race.

During lighter workouts, Angela joined in and would ride a bike while he jogged.

"It's kind of embarrassing to say," Angela said, "but yes, there were times when Kyle was faster on foot than I was on the bike."

Their days of training together didn't last long.

Angela found out she was pregnant, putting her on track to have the baby in an Olympic year.

Friends and family worried about the couple balancing the stress of their impending new arrival and the demands of Kyle's training.

"My wife and I were kind of nervous how it'd all play out," Scott Alcorn said. "We were kind of wondering how come they couldn't wait?"

The couple never worried. "God won't give us more than we can handle," Kyle told Angela.

In January, Landon Alcorn was born and a new regimen crafted.

The couple devised a schedule that allowed Kyle to train in the mornings, then watch the baby while Angela went to work as a school psychologist.

By the time his afternoon workout rolled around, Angela was back or a friend was able to baby-sit.

"In some ways, I think it's helped Kyle with his racing," Scott Alcorn says of his son becoming a father. "It's kept him on a tighter schedule and loose in races to where he's not thinking too much and seeming to have a fun time on the track."

The summit

Moments before the steeplechase final at this year's trials, again at his old school in Oregon, Kyle and his college coach went over their plan of attack one last time.

To finish in the top three and make the Olympics, they agreed he needed to settle in the middle of the pack at the beginning, work his way up to the top five for the final 400 meters, then use his great closing speed.

"Ready to go?" Quintana asked with a smile.

With a rare stone-cold look on his face, Kyle got up from his chair and looked his coach in the eye: "I'm making this team."

"At that point," Quintana said, "I knew he'd make the Olympics -- no question."

In the end, Kyle surged past two runners in the final 400 meters and placed third by a wide margin in a time of 8:22.17. Evan Jager won in 8:17.40; Donald Cabral was second in 8:19.81.

Kyle collapsed within seconds of finishing. In the stands, his wife and mother jumped up and down, then cried. He eventually got up, worked his way over, found his wife and kissed her.

Then, Kyle lifted their 6-month-old son up high.

"One of the best feelings ever," he said. "No matter what happens from here out, I'll always have that moment.

"I'll always get to say I was an Olympian."

Kyle will run in a final tuneup Wednesday in Dublin, Ireland, before tapering off and resting his body for the Olympic preliminaries.

His personal-best time of 8:20.68 puts Kyle on the bubble to advance to the finals.

In his mind, he's already won. Further proof will be provided when Angela, Landon and eight other members of Kyle's support group join the Olympian in London.

Angela gets emotional recounting what it took for Kyle to get there.

"Being the wife of an Olympic athlete, 'If you're not helping, you're hindering,'" Angela said. "That's been my motto. There are sacrifices we all had to make to make this work. His goals, my goals, our goals.

"It wasn't easy. It never has been that hard, either. It just worked. What can I say, we always have been such a good team."

The reporter can be reached at(559) 441-6362, banteola@fresnobee.com or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.

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