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Avon Lake's Nate Brannen headed to third Olympics

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    Avon Lake's Nate Brannen is making his third trip to the Olympics.

    SARAH MILLER

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It’s a bit naive to say the third time looks to be the charm for Nate Brannen. His journey to a third straight Olympics has been rough, but it has also galvanized his resolve.

The Canadian-born distance runner and Avon Lake resident qualified for the 2016 Rio games with a third place in the 1,500 meters July 6 at the Canadian Olympic Trials.

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Avon Lake's Nate Brannen is making his third trip to the Olympics.

SARAH MILLER Enlarge

Brannen’s hopes at London in 2012 were dashed by some bad luck in the semifinals. He clipped the heel of Germany’s Carsten Schlangen 850 meters into the event, stumbled and fell to the track. He immediately got back up and caught up to the pack, but ultimately failed to qualify.

A jury of appeal looked at a video of the race. It clearly showed Brannen clipped Schlangen’s heel, ending his chance for reinstatement in the next round.

“It was the fittest I’ve ever been,” Brannen said. “I think I won nine out of the 10 races I ran that year leading up to the Olympics. Confidence-wise and fitness-wise I was on fire. Unfortunately, one bad move took me down and took me out of a chance for a medal. It’s been a tough four years after getting tripped in London and trying to come back from that.”

As a result of the fall, Brannen finished 14th in 3:39.26 and missed making the final by two places.

“It’s one of those things I’ll never get over,” Brannen said.

“I still have it on my DVR — the 2012 race — and I’ve never watched it on our TV at home. I’ll never get over it but, I’ve moved on from it. It was just bad timing and bad positioning. It was wrong place, wrong time for it to happen. There’s nothing you can really do. I don’t dwell on it. When I go to a race I don’t think about it. I may go down again, but I try to block it in my mind and use it as motivation.”

Brannen’s return to the Olympics has been riddled with injuries. But all that really matters was that he was healthy when it counted most — now.

Brannen broke the navicular bone in his left foot in 2015. The year before he tore his left Achilles tendon.

“My left leg is my inside leg so logically there’s a lot more stress on it,” Brannen said. “Both of those injuries took 4-5 months to heal properly. The broken foot happened in August of 2015. I didn’t run again until Jan. 1, so I had all fall doing rehab to get it better. It just took forever. I still had some residual pain up until May. Luckily now it’s pretty much gone.”

Brannen made his first world championship team in 2001. He turned pro in 2005.

“To put 3-4,000 miles on my legs each year and that amount of steps translates to a lot of wear and tear,” he said. “People don’t understand how much pounding it is. My body is definitely feeling it.”

A top-3 finish at the Olympic trials wasn’t the only obstacle for making the team. Team Canada has a series of requirements, starting with hitting the Olympic standard of 3:36.20 which Brannen did by running 3:35.42 last summer in Heusden, Belgium.

“My federation, Athletics Canada, requires athletes to also hit a fitness standard the year of the games to prove fitness and race ready,” said the fourth-year St. Edward cross country coach. “They set my standard at 3:38.00. This year I’ve raced the 1,500 four times and my times were 3:36.82, 3:37.55, 3:38.04, 3:38.35.”

Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop — 2008 Olympic gold medalist — and Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman, are projected by Track and Field News magazine to win the gold and silver at Rio. Defending Olympic champ Tsoufik Makhloufi of Algeria is picked for the bronze. Souleiman medaled at the world outdoors and is the 2014 indoor world champion at 1,500 and also the world indoor record-holder for 1,000 meters.

Brannen isn’t letting TFN’s prediction slow his efforts.

“The 100 and 1,500 are kind of the premier track events at the Olympics,” he said. “Everyone in the final has a shot to medal. Two of the guys that medaled at London I beat multiple times that year, both (USA’s) Leo Manzano and (Morrocco’s Abdalaati Iguider). I beat Manzano both before and the first race after London. I also beat Iguider in the first race after London. I also beat the fourth-place finisher (USA’s Matt Centrowitz) from London.”

Makhloufi won the 2012 London Games in 3:34.08. Manzano took the silver (3:34.79) followed by Iguider (3:35.13).

“It’s one race where there’s so much tactic and everyone is so close when it comes to talent level,” Brannen said. “My goal is to make the final and see what can happen from there.”

Kiprop, Souleiman and Makhloufi are all favorites, but not without controversy.

Kiprop’s agent, Federico Rosa, was arrested July 8 and released on bail because of doping charges. Souleiman and Makhloufi’s coach, Jama Aden, was arrested in a major doping bust in Spain in late June.

“I have yet to beat these guys but if we just based things off rankings there wouldn’t be a need to race at all,” Brannen said. “They are the favorites but I guarantee they do not take the first three positions at the Olympics. After three rounds, a lot of things change in the final and there are always upsets.”

Theresa (Feldkamp) Brannen couldn’t be more proud of her husband.

“Nate is one of the hardest working, strongest athletes I know and I’m not just saying that because I’m his wife,” she said. “He always pushes himself to the point of breaking which is why he has always had to overcome some setback each season, whether it’s a minor injury or major one. He has the mental capacity most people wouldn’t be able to get through injuries like he has. It makes him hungry for more.”

Nate Brannen clocked 3:56.11 as he finished behind Charles Thiboutot (3:55.75) and Justyn Knight (3:56.00) at the recent Olympic trials. It was a tight field as the next four runners finished within 1.48 seconds of Brannen, who was the oldest runner in the field.

“Most guys in the 1,500 at the Olympics don’t have two kids under the age of 5 and probably aren’t married,” Theresa said. “Nate sacrifices a lot to try to be the best he can be at running as well as spending time with his kids. Not many people know but when Gianna was born back in 2011 he left when she was 6 weeks old and was pretty much gone the entire first year of her life getting ready for the London Olympics. I encouraged him to go and put 100 percent in making the Olympics because most people only dream of such a feat. It was hard, but we managed and he got in the best shape of his life.

“Then the fall happened, which was devastating because he sacrificed so much and missed out on milestones in Gianna’s life. He didn’t want to do that when we had Grayson so he hasn’t traveled as much as he should have this time around.”

Nate is a stay-at-home dad while Theresa works as a pharmaceutical sales rep.

“I told him he needs to put 100 percent of himself into Rio since it’s his last one, but he didn’t want to miss out on the kids’ lives or being at home with me,” Theresa said. “His running career in the scheme of things is such a short time of his life, even though he’s been competing professionally since 2005, you almost have to sacrifice because at the end of the day 11 years goes by so fast.”

Nate insists there’s one main motivating force.

“Most of the motivation I have is a wife and two kids at home,” he said. “They get to watch dad on TV for the third time at the Olympics. One day they’ll understand what that means. That’s my motivation now, not so much redemption from 2012. I don’t care so much about redemption, just coming back and finishing off a pretty successful career.”

Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.



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