By Josh Brown
EUGENE, Ore. — Katie Landwehr didn’t like how her collegiate career ended.
So she kept going until she got an ending she wanted.
After finishing last in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 3,000 steeplechase, the Tippecanoe High School graduate impulsively booked a flight to Princeton in one final attempt to post a qualifying time that would allow her to compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field — the same site as the NCAA Championships. She not only ran the time she needed, she also bettered that time in the preliminaries and qualified for the finals, then she ran one more personal best in the finals and finished 11th.
It was a whirlwind conclusion to a long and eventful career — one whose official end came at the NCAA Championships.
“I was disappointed,” Landwehr said. “I had worked really hard to get to the NCAA finals, and it was just a shame that I couldn’t make that last race go the way I wanted it to. I got into that final race and got myself in a position to do well, but then I fell over the second or third water jump.
“I fell hard, but I got back up pretty quick. Still, I’d just lost so much momentum.”
Landwehr, who ran a 9:59.77 in the preliminaries to qualify for the final, ran a 10:25.54 and finished 12th — a result that left a sour taste in her mouth.
One that she wasn’t about to let stand.
“I was encouraged by some good friends, my coaches and my parents, and I decided to go out to Princeton to run one last steeplechase,” Landwehr said. “If I was going to go, though, I had to go out by myself. No coaches, no team. Just myself. It was a whole new experience. It was my first time running post-collegiately, but luckily there was another former Michigan State alum racing there, so that helped.
“Going out to Princeton was a very emotional and impulsive decision. I got home from the NCAAs on Sunday night and was still disappointed, then I woke up on Monday, talked to my coaches and parents — and by Monday night I had a plane ticket.”
That trip proved to be the best thing Landwehr could have done. She ran a personal best time of 9:52 — one second better than she needed to qualify for a trip to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
“Qualifying to the Olympic team trials is something I’ve wanted to do for years and years,” Landwehr said. “The fact that I had another opportunity to do it and decided to go out on my own to do it, that made it sweeter. It made it more my own thing, like something I was doing for myself. It was very cool.”
Which meant that Landwehr would return to Oregon’s Hayward Field with a chance to make up for what had happened in her previous visit.
“I learned from that experience and the disappointment, and I knew how to approach the race differently,” Landwehr said. “It was really nice to get the opportunity to apply everything I’d learned and then do it.
“It was crazy and awesome. The NCAAs was my first time racing at Hayward Field. There’s so much history there. So many world-class athletes have competed there. It was awesome.”
And over the course of the week, Landwehr had the chance to race against a host of those world-class athletes — and prove she belonged there with them.
“Going in, I knew it’d be … competitive,” she said. “I was one of the last people to make it in, and if you looked at the times and start list going in, it didn’t look like I had a chance. But I knew that I was capable of running better than I had — and I did.”
Landwehr ran 9:46.15 — another personal best — in the preliminary race, taking fifth in her heat and qualifying for the finals, which were ran on July 7. She then ran a 9:41.22 in the finals, her third straight career best, and finished 11th.
“Three straight PRs in just over two weeks,” Landwehr said. “I was super excited just to be in the finals. I knew I was running against the best athletes in the entire country, and I just wanted to be competitive. Everyone says that making the U.S. Olympic team is one of the hardest things to do in track and field. It was nice to know that I was out there racing with those athletes. I knew I had to run faster than I ever had just to be competitive — and I did.”
All of which is made even more amazing given Landwehr’s outlook coming into her senior year.
“At this time last year, I had broken two bones and I was still almost two months away from being able to run,” she said. “It’s crazy to think that I wasn’t even running this time last year, then here I am running at the Olympic trials.
“That was a really hard moment when I got injured last summer. I had a lot of goals going into my final year at Michigan State, and it wasn’t how I wanted or expected it to start off. It made everything I wanted to do a lot harder and a lot more complicated, but it just meant I had to work harder to make it all work out.”
Landwehr, who won a state title in cross country her senior year at Tippecanoe High School, claimed a Big Ten championship in the steeplechase in her senior year with the Spartans, running a 10:08.59 back on May 14. She also competed at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in her junior year and finished 119th, and she ran a career-best 20:37.2 that season at the Big Ten Championships to finish 17th. Coming off of her injury to start her senior year, she was 24th at the Big Ten Championships, finished 12th at the Great Lakes Regional and finished 86th at the NCAA Championships.
That final collegiate race at the outdoor track championships simply wasn’t the finish she wanted, though, so she did something about it.
“I don’t have a lot of complaints,” Landwehr said with a laugh. “I’m very happy with myself and proud of myself for everything I accomplished in my career. From making it to the NCAA finals and the disappointment there, then coming back and doing even better at the Olympic trials on an even bigger stage, it was great.”
Now Landwehr is headed to Europe, where she will compete in a Diamond League event in London on Aug. 22-23.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” she said. “I still feel like I’m in good shape, and I’m going to be in Europe anyway. It’s a good opportunity, a huge deal and a really big honor. I had planned on the Olympic trials being my last race, but it’s a really cool and exciting opportunity to go out there and see what happens. Then I’ll come back in the early fall and see what the next stage of my life is.”
Because nothing ever truly ends.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
Michigan State’s Katie Landwehr, a Tippecanoe High School graduate, competes in the 3,000 steeplechase preliminaries during the 2016 College Outdoor Track and Field National Championships at the University of Oregon. Landwehr recently returned to Hayward Field to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.