It’s not often that someone from St Andrews rises to the very top of their sport: Andrew Lemoncello was brought up on Tail End and sea air, and is now competing for a spot at the 2012 Olympics. He was kind enough to speak to the Saint about his experiences in St Andrews, and his hopes for the summer and beyond.
James Gray: Andrew, You grew up in St Andrews, and went to Madras College. Was your hometown a big part of the reason you now find yourself running professionally?
Andrew Lemoncello: I think the biggest part it had to play was that my local club, Fife AC, and the coaches there helped me to enjoy the sport so much that I still enjoy it as much now. I know professional runners who don’t enjoy themselves and only run because they’re good at it and I think that is a shame. Madras was always very supportive and a good team to run for because there was always the older guys to push me on.
JG: What was your favourite place to run in Fife?
AL: That’s an easy one. My favourite run is along the Old Course and then back along the West Sands. No matter how tired I am I always enjoy that run. I make sure that I run that route every time I come back to St Andrews.
JG: Do you often make it back to St Andrews for a bit of nostalgic training?
AL: I get back usually a couple of times a year and always make a point of heading down to the track to see the club coaches and team mates. It always makes me smile seeing the same faces out there, and the young kids out there training hard together because I remember what that was like. I love to watch Ron Morrison coaching his group because he gives them the same rubbish about not running fast enough as he did to me when he was coaching me!
JG: You won a scholarship to Florida State university, so like a lot of British sportsmen and sportswomen you moved to the US. Why do you think the life State-side is so attractive to athletes from the UK?
AL: Facilities and opportunity are the biggest draw. They spend a lot of money on sport in the USA and the universities have facilities that you wouldn’t believe. To spend a million dollars on a new gym is nothing. I came out mainly because of the opportunities to run against great athletes every time I raced which I knew would make me a better runner. The competitiveness of the collegiate system here ensures that you can never slack off as you are treated as a professional runner and they expect you to run well every time you put your running vest on.
JG: You’ve run in major championships in a variety of disciplines: 3km Steeplchase, 10km, and the marathon. Which would you say is your favourite, and why the changes between events?
AL: I really enjoy the marathon but I still haven’t gotten it right so each time I have finished I have known I could run better. That is why it is such a draw to me because i’ll always want to run faster. I’ve still never run a bad 10km on the track so maybe that has been the most enjoyable. I am really suited as a track runner as I have good speed and running in front of a packed stadium is always really exciting.
JG: So, less than 100 days to go to the 2012 Olympics, will you be running the marathon in London?
AL: The marathon trials were at the London marathon this year and there wasn’t enough time to be prepared enough for it. I tore my hamstring tendon in December and had a procedure in January to fix it and it is a slow process returning from that (I am still fighting the pain). I am able to run outside now so hopefully I have enough time to be fit enough to fight for a place on the 10km squad.
JG: How much do you think your experiences from Beijing will help you? And how big will home support be, both in London, and at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014?
AL: My experience from Beijing is that I think I was really fit too early. I have learned a lot since then about how my body responds to certain types of training so I think I will be able to peak a lot better. Anytime I get to run in the UK whether it’s a championship or a local 10km I always enjoy it. The support is incredible and that is why this year has been such a big draw to everyone. The thought of running in Glasgow in front of a packed stadium is really exciting so I want to be the very best athlete I can be on that day.
JG: On the subject of the Olympics, where do you stand on the BOA lifetime Olympic ban for athletes who have been caught taking banned substances? Would you let Dwain Chambers run in London?
AL: I definitely think that if you cheat you shouldn’t be allowed to run. The athletes who cheat are taking away places from clean athletes who have been training their whole lives to make one of the 3 spots available to run for their country. Personally I think that taking drugs in sport should be criminalised as I think that would deter a lot of people from considering going down that path.
JG: There has also been a lot of press coverage on the subject of ‘plastic Brits’ in the Olympic team, such as Tiffany Porter and Yamila Aldama, with your fellow distance runner Mo Farah lashing out at the media for using the phrase to describe overseas-born athletes. How do you feel on the subject?
AL: I’m not too bothered about it to be honest as I can understand both sides of the story. Athletes only have a limited time in their sport and want to make the biggest impact they can so if it means getting to the Olympics for a country other than your own, then so be it. Every athlete wants to do everything they can to be on those teams.
JG: What are your goals and ambitions for the next two years?
AL: First of all get healthy and be able to run pain free! Of course I want to try and make the Olympics but then I want to run a fast marathon and put myself in a good position to medal at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. I have lots of things I still want to do. You would be here all day if I listed them all!
Favourite race venue? New York City
Favourite training run? Mesa Trail in Boulder, Colorado