Alysia Montano: Olympian inspired by motherhood

Team USA Olympics Trials TrackTown USA Hayward Field 800 meters
Alysia Montano gets out to her usual fast start in winning the 800 meters at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field in TrackTown USA. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

When she is old enough to understand such things, Linnea Montano will probably listen to what her mother did a month or so before she was born and then fix the image in her mind. She might blink a few times while looking at her mom and say, “You did what?’’

On June 26, 2014, while eight months pregnant with Linnea, Alysia Montano lined up for the first round of the women’s 800 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif. One veteran sportswriter in attendance said it was the most shocking sight he had seen in nearly 40 years on the job, relegating his first peek at 7-foot-7 Manute Bol on a basketball court to No. 2.

Accentuating her pregnancy all the more, Montano wore a bright pink singlet that rode up a bit on her swollen tummy. It looked like she had tried to hide a rugby ball under her shirt and failed.

Nevertheless and with her doctor’s OK, the University of California graduate and 2012 Olympian ran the full distance, joyfully so, in 2 minutes, 32.13 seconds in what was surely the happiest last-place finish of her career.

“I got inspired by running at last year’s nationals,’’ Montano said. “It was an experience that I will cherish with my daughter forever. It was great to remind myself of that competitive feeling of toeing the line.’’

As it turned out, Montano actually ran a little faster than two of the competitors in the U.S. junior women’s heptathlon 800 in a classic comparison of apples and oranges.

Alysia Montano was all smiles as she competed in the 800 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento last year while 8 months pregnant with her daughter, Linnea. (Photo courtesy of USATF)

Alysia Montano was all smiles as she competed in the 800 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento last year while 8 months pregnant with her daughter, Linnea. (Photo courtesy of USATF)

“That is awesome,’’ Montano said. “I couldn’t imagine adding a bunch of other events on top of my training for the 800. I’m sure those hep girls would kill me in a few events themselves.’’

Because she took such good care of herself during her pregnancy, Montano was able to begin training a mere six weeks after giving birth. Six months later, she returned to competition by winning the 600 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships despite a pronounced distaste for indoor running. Her time of 1:26.59 was the seventh-fastest in U.S. history.

“When she said she wanted to run indoors, I about fell out of my chair,’’ said Montano’s mentor, Cal head coach Tony Sandoval. “I’m astonished. Where she was back in August … we had no intention of her running indoors. We thought it would take a year to get her body back. I am shocked that she came back so fast. To win USA Indoors was phenomenal. Her workouts have been beyond all expectations.’’

These days, Montano’s workouts are conducted at College of the Canyons in her hometown of Santa Clarita, Calif. She and her husband and agent, Louis Montano, moved back to their hometown from Berkeley primarily for the convenience of having family around for babysitting purposes.

“My husband and I decided to relocate back to our hometown in December and kept it a secret to surprise our families for Christmas. It was a hit,’’ Alysia Montano said. “Since we grew up here both of our families are a big help with Linnea, but most importantly we wanted her to grow up with close relationships with our family.’’

At College of the Canyons, some of Montano’s workouts are supervised by 1988 Olympic sprinter Denean Howard Hill, although Sandoval remains her coach and sends her weekly workouts.

“When it comes to having someone do drill work, Denean has been there,’’ Sandoval said. “It’s always nice to have somebody watch. That’s one dark area that’s missing. I don’t see her. Denean has been there. Louis has been wonderful. He’s been a nice extension of me. He knows what I want.’’

Sandoval said Montano will move back to Berkeley for the month preceding the 2015 USATF Championships, a time when his duties with his Cal team are greatly lessened. For now, though, it’s up to Howard Hill to assess how this new mom is doing in her workouts.

“I work with her on speed, making sure her technique is good, her form is good, make sure she is doing speed drills correctly,’’ said Howard Hill, the sprints coach at COC as well as coach at NAIA Masters College. “This just started about a month ago. I knew Alysia back in high school. I get an opportunity to go over her workout. I’ve always felt her first lap was a little too fast. If she backs off, she might be able to run 1:55, 1:56.’’

Alysia Montano waves to the crowd while holding her daughter, Linnea, after winning the 600 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships on March 1 in Boston. (Photo courtesy of USATF).

Alysia Montano waves to the crowd while holding her daughter, Linnea, after winning the 600 meters at the USATF Indoor Championships on March 1 in Boston. (Photo courtesy of USATF).

Montano said, “Denean comes out now and then to help facilitate and keep a watchful eye on form and technique. I have known her for quite some time and love her energy and enthusiasm.’’

Montano’s personal best is 1:57.34 from 2010, the 10th-fastest time in U.S. history. The plan for her in 2015 is to race more and peak for the USATF Outdoor Championships, June 25-28, at Hayward Field in TrackTown USA, and earn a spot on the World Championships team for Beijing in August.

“My emphasis this outdoor season is to get comfortable racing again,’’ she said. “Being out of racing for over a year (discounting her flamboyant performance at Sacramento in ’14) … can be weird to get used to again, especially when I train alone. Returning to competition after pregnancy, I feel stronger. I have been through one of the hardest events in life, giving birth naturally, and it challenged me mentally and physically.’’

Sandoval is enthusiastic about the new season.

“One thing with (Alysia),” he said. “She did have five years in a row where she trained intensely. By 2013, she was burned out with running. The year off certainly refreshes you. I tell you what, I’m really excited. She’s excited. Louis is excited.’’

And one day, Linnea will be amazed at what her crazy mommy did that June day in 2014, just before she came out from under that bright pink singlet and into the world.

John Crumpacker was a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for more than three decades. In that time he won seven national writing awards and covered 10 Olympic Games. He was president of the Track & Field Writers of America on two occasions.