Steven Mills is one of our new freelancers from the British Isles. A thoughtful eye on the sport, Steven possesses a unique and colorful viewpoint on all things athletics. Here is his interview of American 800 meter star, Chanelle Price, who has added some talents to her C.V:
Genzebe Dibaba broke one of the toughest records on the books in the Monaco Diamond League last Friday with an astonishing time of 3:50.07 in the women’s 1500m.
For many, Qu Yunxia’s record of 3:50.46 set at the 1993 National Games in Beijing was deemed one of those marks that would stand the test of time but paced by Chanelle Price through the first 800m at a searing pace, the stage was set for Dibaba to have a crack at this seemingly unbreakable mark.
Fresh from those exploits, Steven Mills caught up with Chanelle Price on the day before the start of the London Anniversary Games about her consequential role in the record attempt.
Q – First things first, how did the pacemaking gig come about?
Chanelle Price – I believe that my agent had reached out about me pacing a while ago but they said they already had someone from her country who was there to do it and I said that’s fine.
But then I was in Lucerne and I had just finished my 800m and I was at dinner and my agent [John Nubani] approached me and Genzebe’s agent asked me if I wanted to pace. It [Lucerne] was my fourth 800m in ten days and I was pretty tired because there was a lot of travel and they were all in different countries and I was tired.
I was kinda like ‘I don’t know’ and then John said it was a world record attempt and you would be pacing Dibaba and I was like ‘sign me up!’ [laughs]
That’s basically how it came about: we reached out to them, they said no, and then they came back to us.
Q – Was the Monaco 1500 the first time you’ve been asked to pace or did you have some prior experience?
CP – I’ve paced smaller meets before for team-mates at the mile but I would be coming through 800 in 2:15 so nothing like this!
Q – But I’m guessing there were probably still a few nerves on the start-line
CP – Absolutely! I was confident but definitely nervous, a lot more nervous if it was just me in the 800 because if I don’t do well in my own races, it’s just me but this was someone else’s race. I was pretty nervous but also pretty confident that I could do it.
Q – So compared to the world indoor final, how would you compare the nerves and pressure?
CP – I probably wasn’t as nervous as I was in the world indoor final but it’s definitely up there [laughs].
Chanelle Price, photo by PhotoRun.net
Q – We know you like to front run and I’m just wondering if you found that an advantage or if you were slightly inhibited by it because you had to hit precise times rather than just run according to how you felt?
CP – Dibaba’s coach and agent came up to me and they explained they felt comfortable with me pacing her because I was comfortable front running and when they explained it to me in that way, I was like ‘hey, I do this all the time!’ But they did point out I had to be very, very smooth. They wanted me to get out and then settle in and then I did that. I was proud of myself.
Q – When you were told you had to go through in 60 seconds and 2:03 for 800m, what did you think because those times are crazy fast!
CP – I knew I could do it; I do stuff like that in practice so it was a matter of not letting the adrenaline carrying me to a 58. It was about using the clock and trying to be smooth for her so when I saw 29 and went into a flow, I knew my flow would carry me to a 60/61 so I was pretty confident.
Q – And did you do any specific drills or training exercises to get you ready for the record attempt?
CP – Absolutely. I had Lucerne a few days before and the next day was travel so I wanna say the day before I paced her, my coach told me to go out to the track and do some 200s in 30/31 – that’s not a familiar rhythm for me. It’s usually 28/29 and if I’m doing mile pace, that’s certainly not my mile pace! Doing 30/31 was definitely something I had to go to the track the day before and feel out.
Q – Pacemakers can get it wrong in these sort of races. Is pacing one of those things which looks harder than it actually is?
CP – It’s tough, just because they want such even splits. I wasn’t as even as I think they wanted but I got the job done and Dibaba was very grateful. I’m used to 57/58 and coming back with a 62/63; that’s just how I run so when they told me they want a 60/61 and another 61/62, that’s hard.
It’s hard to keep a steady pace but her coach and agent assured me that don’t focus so much on time: they told me get out, settle in and be smooth and Dibaba will take over. I didn’t try and focus too much on that 2:03. It happened to be 2:04 but it still worked for her! [laughs] Maybe next time she chases it, I can hit that 2:03 for her if they ask me to do it.
Q – Was there any communication between you and Genzebe right before or during the race?
CP – Right before the gun went off, I gave her a handshake and she gave me a head nod and I knew it was business.
Q – And after the race, you ran over to Genzebe and gave her a big hug.
CP – She gave me a kiss on the cheek. I don’t know if it was in the moment but she was just so excited! She’s probably just 100 lbs so I picked her up and gave her a big bear hug. Just to be a part of history and help someone else achieve their goals just felt great.
Q – Have you had any communication with Genzebe’s camp since Monaco about pacing her again in the future?
CP – John wants me to become her little pacemaker! He’s in the works with that. It was funny because her coach right before I went to the line told me one of his guys went 1:42 in the 800m [Ayanleh Souleiman, who ran 1:42.97] and he told me ‘everything is going right today, Chanelle! I think the pace is going to be right today!’ Afterwards, he gave me a big hug and said ‘the price was right!’ I think he will call me up anytime he needs a pacemaker.
Q – Obviously you’ve won a world indoor title but after you retire and reflect back on your career, where does this record rank in terms of career achievements.
CP – I didn’t make the world outdoor team but I got a chance to help someone break a world record so I always try and take the positives out of things. If I didn’t make the team, I wouldn’t have been over in Europe; I would have been training for the World Championships instead. This was an awesome opportunity and it is definitely going to be one of the proudest moments of my career.
Q – Having spent a few years on the circuit, do you think athletes sometimes take pacemakers for granted?
CP – For the most part, I see athletes be very, very appreciate of pacemakers. I’ve had four 800s so far this year and the pacemakers have been amazing. I always make an effort to find them after the race and give them a hug or a handshake and say thank you because it’s not an easy job as I found out! [laughs]
Q – What was the psychology like knowing you were approaching a race where you had a big objective but that objective wasn’t to try and cross the finish line in first place?
CP – When someone says there’s a world record attempt and it’s kinda in your hands, you can really let that stress you out but I do my best when I’m just very relaxed and I don’t overthink and I don’t think about the pressure. I took a deep breath and I said to myself ‘Nelly, you can just go out there and do your best and just hope that it’s all right on the day.’ At the end of the day, that’s all I could do so that’s what kept me calm.
Q – Many people said the world 1500m record was untouchable. There are similar feelings about the world 800m record which was set in 1983. Where do you stand on these records because Genzebe has showed they can be broken. Do you see the 800m record going at some point?
CP – I think it will be. I think Genzebe has proven that anything is possible. I wanna say she’s only 24 so I think she will break her record many more times and hopefully I’ll be the person helping her to do that. [laughs]
Chanelle Price, photo by PhotoRun.net