The junior hopes to continue a strong season at the Pac-12 Championships
By Chris Hansen
MAY 15, 2015
Annie Leblanc spent her first two years at Oregon watching the clock, yearning for fast times and getting frustrated with her results.
As it turned out, she just had her eye on the wrong target.
The middle distance junior has made a name for herself this spring by chasing down and beating more acclaimed runners and will head into this weekend’s Pac-12 Track & Field Championship meet at UCLA’s Drake Stadium with a chance to deliver some significant points for the Ducks in their quest for a seventh straight conference title.
Leblanc is entered in the 800 and 1,500 and could also be on the 4x400 relay team.
“I’m ready for anything,” Leblanc said. “Honestly, I’m going to do whatever I can and whatever they ask me to do for my team. If I have to run one, two or three events, I will do it.”
To continue what has been a season long theme for Leblanc, she will not be aiming for a specific time this weekend as much as a specific result.
“The way we plan the race is to always have a target at the end,” Leblanc said. “When you have a target in front of you, it’s easier to push at the end. You have one objective and that’s to beat the person in front of you.”
That hasn’t always been the case for Leblanc, a 23-year-old from Repentigny, Quebec, who came to Oregon with personal-best times of 2 minutes, 3.41 seconds in the 800 and 4:15.92 in the 1,500. Both were set during the summer of 2012 right before her freshman season.
That she hasn’t improved those times was a source of endless internal angst the past two years for Leblanc, who is a two-time indoor all-American as part of the Ducks’ distance medley relay team.
“I was really PR oriented and I was really frustrated about that,” said Leblanc, who has collegiate-best times of 2:04.28 in the 800 and 4:17.64 in the 1,500. “If my split was too fast, I’d slow down. If my split was too slow, I’d freak out. … I just had to let it go and put my focus on something else.”
The result was Leblanc turning her attention to becoming a fierce competitor, not just a fast runner, and controlling the things she can control during the course of a race.
“One of the things we talked about at the beginning of this year was just to get the time aspect out of the way and put all of your energy and all of your emphasis on racing,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said. “ ... Do you what you need to do, play to your strengths and get the job done.”
It’s been hard to argue with the results.
Leblanc first grabbed the spotlight during the Oregon Relays last month when she won the 800 and 1,500 on back-to-back nights, taking down a notable professional in the process.
In the 1,500, Leblanc outkicked Mary Cain to win in 4:17.17, and in the 800, she blew past Treniere Moser to win in 2:04.49.
Cain was the runner-up at the U.S. Outdoor championships last summer and Moser is a five-time U.S. champion in the 1,500.
Both runners train with the Nike Oregon Project in Portland under the tutelage of Alberto Salazar.
“Obviously, they’re really good competitors but everyone has good and bad races and everyone is working on different things,” Leblanc said. “I learned that I can finish strong and I learned I can execute a plan. Now I know if I am in the right mental and physical state later in the season, I can do it again.”
A week later at the Penn Relays, Leblanc delivered what is surely her signature moment as a Duck when she rallied Oregon to a victory in the sprint medley relay.
Running the 800-meter anchor leg, Leblanc trailed Clemson’s Natoya Goule — the 2013 NCAA champion in the 800 — heading into the final 100 meters but she turned on the jets and beat Goule to the finish line.
“I knew she could do it because we had talked about it the night before how she has to be confident in her race strategy and running her own race,” said teammate Raevyn Rogers, who ran the 400 leg of the relay. “She definitely executed what she had talked about and what coach Johnson had planned for her. It was her mental strength that carried her through the race.”
Her physical abilities have been pretty good this season, too.
Leblanc credits the improvement in her finishing kick to her move last April from training with the distance runners to training with the sprinters, where she’s under Johnson’s watchful eye.
While training with the distance group, Leblanc said she gained strength and endurance. Now with the sprinters, she said she has regained her speed, and then some.
“That combination is just paying off now and I’m really pleased with that,” said Leblanc, who has the second-fastest times among entrants in the 800 and 1,500 this weekend, which could result in Leblanc attempting to chase down another race favorite.
This season, that’s just the way she likes it.