KSU’s own Olympian

Thomas Gallick

Three-time Olympian brings his knowledge, experience to Flashes as cross country coach

Cross country coach Mark Croghan sits beneath a photo of his days on the Ohio State track team hanging in his office. Caitlin Prarat | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Even though he participated in the Olympic Games three times, one of the highest athletic honors possible, Kent State cross country coach Mark Croghan admits he sometimes felt a distinct sense of lack of recognition.

Not for himself, though — for his particular event, the steeplechase.

Croghan has needed to explain the concept of the event, which involves running a 3,000-meter distance race, featuring multiple barriers and water jumps, numerous times in his career.

“I used to be under contract with Adidas and had to make public appearances at schools and events like the Boston Marathon, and I had to explain what I did a lot,” Croghan said. “Now that I’m in a field focusing completely on running, people tend to know what I’m talking about.”

Croghan made the U.S. Olympic team three times in his athletic career: the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain, the 1996 games in Atlanta and the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia. Croghan said he sometimes talks with his runners about his Olympic experiences if he feels it will help.

“If I think there’s a situation I have gone through that parallels what a particular athlete is going through, I might bring up my time in the Olympics,” Croghan said. “It’s not an everyday occurrence.”

Croghan said he felt “a mixture of elation and relief” when he qualified for the Olympic Games the first time in 1992. He liked the selection process runners contend with because officials base it completely on actual race times, so politics are minimal.

Croghan made the Olympic team by winning the NCAA championship, and then competing in the USA Nationals track meet. The top three runners in the steeplechase made the team.

He said the most important steps a runner can take towards making the Olympics is setting new goals consistently. Croghan, who attended college at Ohio State, said his original goal was to win the Big Ten Championships, and he moved on from there.

Freshman Kassandra Meholick said Croghan excels at setting goals for the members of the cross country team as well.

“He’s a good coach because he gives us realistic goals that we can reach,” Meholick said. “He also shares motivational stories, and strategies he used in the Olympics to help us.”

Croghan said he experienced too many interesting times as an Olympic athlete to choose a favorite, but two do stand out.

“I think the first time I was there I was just trying to take everything in, but I do remember seeing the gold medal basketball game featuring the original ‘Dream Team,’ which was really impressive,” Croghan said. “I also loved running in the Atlanta Olympics with the home crowd pulling for me, where I finished in fifth place and close to a medal.”

Croghan said the opening ceremonies are one event viewers at home may actually enjoy more than the athletes.

“It’s definitely exciting when you’re actually in the stadium, but most of the time you’re just sitting around shooting the breeze with teammates,” Croghan said. He said although it was fun hanging out with the rest of the US team, he only saw a short portion of the host country’s entertainment while he was waiting to walk around the track.

Croghan also enjoyed his stays at the three different Olympic Villages. He said he liked the one in Atlanta on the campus of Georgia Tech most, because he could interact with English speaking volunteers and workers, and the village in Barcelona least, because of the stifling heat and lack of air conditioning.

Croghan said he would never discourage his athletes from setting the goal of participating in the Olympics, but he would remind them of the odds.

“It can be very cutthroat and if you screw up in one race, you’re done,” Croghan said. “You just need to put yourself in the position to run the race of your life once you get to that high level.”

Contact cross country reporter Thomas Gallick at [email protected].