Ohio’s marathon man, Craig Leon, barely misses Olympic cut

Craig Leon winning the Eugene Marathon. (All photos used with permission of Craig Leon)

As he made his way through the scenic town of Eugene, Oregon and up through the gates at famous Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, Craig Leon had to marvel at what he just accomplished.

“It was a weird feeling,” he said. “At no point during training did I think I was going to win that race, I just wanted to finish.”

Not only had Craig Leon just completed his first marathon, he had completed his first marathon in first place, and was just four minutes off U.S. Olympic trial qualifying pace.

Bobcat Lineage

Craig Leon is not the first athlete in the family to go to Ohio University. Bob Leon was a four-year letterman basketball player from 1975-1978. Craig grew up playing basketball, and it was his first love. Basketball is a winter sport though, and his mother, Marilyn, also a Bobcat, wanted Craig to be involved with something in the fall.

“They didn’t have a golf program at the junior high level, or I would have done that,” he said. “So my mom said why don’t you give this cross country thing a try, I think you’ll like it.”

Leon believes he would not have lasted long as a junior high cross country runner if it wasn’t for how the first practice played out.

“The very first day of practice we started at this park and then we ran two miles to Dairy Queen and we had ice cream, I thought we were going to do that every day. We never went again,” Leon said.

When Leon got to high school, he was an above-average runner, continually placing in the top 5 on a talented Van Wert High School cross country team. His junior season, he joined the track team which helped him to shave off a full minute from his personal best in the 5k and he placed 11th in the Ohio State High School Championships in both cross country and track.

Leon as a late bloomer, had limited scholarship offers, but he always knew he’d be an Ohio Bobcat. He walked on, joining Ohio’s cross country team. He was raw, but he improved as he made the rolling hills of Athens his newest friend. By the time Craig’s career was over, he was the team’s top runner, a MAC Cross Country runner-up and an individual qualifier to the NCAA championships. His biggest accomplishments lay in front of him, however.

The Internship

Leon graduated in the fall of ’07 with a degree in education, but he decided to stick around Athens in order to pursue a master’s

Craig Leon with one of his heroes, world champion Bernard Lagat. (All photos used with permission of Craig Leon)

degree in athletic administration in the College of Health and Human Services, as well as help out coaching OU track.

Leon also applied for and won an internship at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon thanks in large part to OU alumnus Mike Young, a sport scientist with USA Track & Field. Leon’s responsibility was to film all the action at Hayward Field, so the athletes and their coaches could go back and study their mechanics frame by frame.

Leon was in a lame-duck phase in his running career at the time. He was still running but not training for anything. He was at the point in his life where he had to decide if he was going to run professionally. The internship helped him make a decision that would shape the course of his life.

“Being out there re-energized me,” he said. “It was the turning point. It made me decide I wanted to do this. Had I not done this (taken the internship) I do not think I would still be running.”

Leon met the athletes he idolized on this field. Just two years later, coincidentally, he would be a champion on this same field and would call these athletes some of his best friends.

Still the Boy Who Wanted Dairy Queen

To pursue his dream, Leon didn’t have to watch his diet.

“I’m like a garbage disposal,” he said. “Actually travel portions aren’t big enough for me and I’m not going to pay for two dinners. There are some runners that literally count the number of calories they eat, I tell people I’m on a see-food diet, I see food, I eat it.”

While he does not sacrifice on food, he sacrifices a lot socially.

“I’m at the point of my life where I’d love to go out with my friends and live it up,” Leon said. “As a runner you’re so reliant on your body, you can’t really abuse it, like say a golfer.”

The sacrifices are ultimately worth it.

“I have traveled to 40 of the 50 states in the last 8 months,” said Leon, who answered this question in the heart of Piccadilly Circus in London.”It’s a pretty sweet gig.”

Marathon Man

When Leon arrived at Ohio University, he had never run for 60 straight minutes in his life. He had a successful collegiate career running times between 23 and 27 minutes. As a pro, however, he decided to focus on the marathon.

Craig Leon running for Ohio University. (All photos used with permission of Craig Leon)

“Ultimately, the marathon is where I’m going to have my most success,” he said. “There are about 5 or 6 guys who have separated themselves, but then the difference between 8 and 40 isn’t much. If we were going to run a 5k on that track I wouldn’t even be in that top 40.”

Leon is admittedly not a world-class sprinter, but he makes up for it by honing the skills that the best marathons need to be elite, skills that have little to do with your athleticism. The key skill is patience, he said.

“Patience in training (because) you won’t see return on investment tomorrow. It will be months, years. Patience even in the race (because) it’s a 26 mile race. If you get too excited, too early, you can really get yourself in trouble the last three or four miles. There is a certain blue-collar toughness, running twice a day, running twice a day on Christmas, running twice a day on Thanksgiving, I also think there is this element of confidence, a belief that you can push your body farther than maybe it would go. I don’t think we were put on this Earth to run as hard as we can for 26 miles. I feel awful for 10 days after it. It hurts to walk.”

Enjoying Running

Growing up playing basketball, Leon understood that the only way you get better at running is through practice. Now, he mixes speed and strength training into his regimen, but at the end of the day there is only one way to improve as a runner.

“When you go to the gym to play basketball and you work on your dribbling, shooting, different drills,” he said. “With running, you go running. There is not another way to become a better runner than to go running, so you have to find a way to make it fun.”

Most people cannot wrap their heads around running for fun. Leon somehow makes a career off of it.  Competing and goal setting are the only ways to enjoy it.

“You’re going to have days where it’s not fun, but every once in awhile you get these runs that just bring you back, whether it be a nice day or if it’s a crappy day and you make it through it and it’s not that bad,” he said. “The thing for me with running is, this is what my next big goal is and knowing that every little thing I do from now until that time whether it be a month, three months, six months, a year, working toward that goal and makes it so much more meaningful and fun for me.”

Minnesota and the Olympic Trials

After Leon realized he was just four minutes away from qualifying for the Olympic trials, he set that as his next goal. He attempted to do that at the 2010 USA Marathon Championships, held in Minneapolis.  To accomplish that goal, Leon needed to run under 2:19:00 or finish in the top 10.

“At mile 25, I was in 10th place and I knew no one was catching me and that I was way ahead of the time I needed,” he said. “For a mile I got to truly soak in what I did. It’s very rare in any sport where can you soak in what you have just accomplished and all the work you put in as you’re doing it.”

Next up for Leon was the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas, where he finished 26 of 121 racers, 26 of which did not finish. Leon ran a time of 2:15:42, almost three full minutes faster than his time in Minneapolis. Oddly enough, that same time would have placed him 22 at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

What’s Next?

When just three men can qualify to run the marathon each Olympics, and the Olympics come around just once every four years, Leon has to wonder what will define his career.

“If I stopped running today, and asked myself from where I started would I ever accomplish this much I’d say no, but I know I can do so much more,” he said. “There are certain things I think about that are top things. I want to have top-10 finishes in the major marathons. I’m doing Chicago in the fall or the Boston marathon or the NYC marathon and the US championships. And at the end of the day, I don’t know how I will quantify, but those are the races that are important to me. And if I can continue to do well with that, and I like to think I can continually improve, and as long as I see that improvement over the last few years, then I’ll say hey you did it right, and you had fun.”

Athens Native Returns Home from Olympics with Lifelong Memories

From small town aspirations, to international success. That has been the formula for Grenada national swimming coach Hollie Bonewit-Cron.

The 34-year old Ohio University graduate and Athens native coached Esau Simpson to a Grenadian best time in the 100-meter freestyle at the Games. Simpson finished first in his heat, but failed to advance in the competition.

“I am taking with me the memory of Esau’s preparation for the Games and his specific race,” said Bonewit-Cron. “It was so great to watch him win his heat in the morning and achieve a personal best time, new Grenadian National Record, as well as a new Grenadian Olympic Record.”

Bonewit-Cron was named the Grenada swimming coach after Simpson asked her to coach him in the Olympics. Bonewit-Cron coaches Simpson at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, where she is the head coach.

Athens native Hollie Bonewit-Cron coached the Grenada National swimming team at the 2012 Olympics. Photo Credit: NCAA.com

Even after being part of the biggest sporting event in the world, Bonewit-Cron is grateful for her hometown.

“I have often thought about my experience with growing up in Athens and feel that I am grateful for being part of such a great community,” said Bonewit-Cron. “But also having the initiative to achieve my goals, all of which I learned from growing up in a smaller town like Athens.”

Bonewit-Cron began swimming at the age of six after watching her brother compete. Bonewit-Cron was a three-time All-Mid-American Conference first team selection during her four years at Ohio University. She was a 17-time MAC Champion and during her junior season, was named the MAC swimmer of the year.

Following her time in Athens, she became the assistant coach at the University of Florida, before starting the program at Nova Southeastern.

“I could relate to athletes and learned to coach through my mentor,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to continue down the coaching road during my first year at Florida.”

Bonewit-Cron said she will always remember taking part in the Opening ceremony.

“I am so grateful to Grenada for selecting me to walk in the opening ceremonies,” she said. “The electric atmosphere as we walked out of the tunnel and into the stadium is indescribable.”

The Athens High School grad also said she thinks this will not be the peak to her career and wants the opportunity to coach at the Olympics in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.

“If Grenada allows me the opportunity to coach for them in 2016 in Rio, I will definitely be there,” she said. “They are such a great country that welcomed me with open arms as an American.”

Bonewit-Cron plans to return to Athens and Ohio University this fall, when she will be inducted into the Ohio University Athletic Hall of Fame during Homecoming weekend in October.

 

Former Bobcat goes from business to broadcast

By Melissa Wells

LONDON – Women’s Basketball analyst, Debbie Antonelli, said she doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I love my life and I am very blessed to be where I am right now,” she said.

Antonelli has been a lead television analyst for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big XII Conference, Southeastern Conference and CSTV’s coverage of women’s basketball. She has also called numerous Division II National Championship Games and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association High School All-American Game on ESPN2.

Before joining the broadcast team in Charlotte, Antonelli served as a FOX Sports Net national television analyst during the American Basketball League’s first three seasons and was the analyst for the ABL’s Columbus Quest regional television package.

Debbie Antonelli played for NC State. (Photo via NC State Alumni Association)

Before her broadcast career jump-started, Antonelli was a three-year starting guard for North Carolina State Women’s basketball team. She helped guide her team to four NCAA appearances as well as two Sweet 16 appearances.

At NC State she graduated with a double major in business management and economics. She  earned her master’s degree in sports administration at Ohio University. It was also at Ohio University where she met her husband of 20 years, Frank.

“The athletic director at NC State handed me the Ohio University directory my senior year of college,” she said. “When I went through it and saw all the jobs in there, I knew getting my master’s from OU was something I wanted to do.”

After her nine-month stay in Athens, the Cary, N.C., native then traveled to Kentucky to begin her career. However, it was not in broadcasting where she got her start.

“I knew I wanted to work in sports. I just didn’t know how,” she said. “When I was in college, if you would have told me I would work in broadcast someday, I would have been surprised.”

Antonelli went through school thinking she wanted to be an athletic director, but her love for basketball took her career somewhere else. In Kentucky, she was the director of marketing for the University of Kentucky. The first year she was there, a local cable company asked if she would help broadcast women’s basketball games. Antonelli’s boss thought she could do the job. In the fall of ’87 she started. She stayed at Kentucky for four years then moved on to Ohio State University.

“When I got there, OSU did not have a local TV package,” she said. “Being the director of marketing in the athletics department at OSU, I went to the local cable company in Columbus and I asked them if they could produce sports and they weren’t sure.”

Antonelli found the cost of doing eight women’s basketball games, and sold advertising to pay for the production.

“I loved doing the games because basketball is my passion,” she said. “However, I knew I couldn’t do both.”

She had offers from ESPN, but her affiliation with Ohio State made it difficult to transition. She continued her marketing job for four more years before making the plunge. She got married in 1992 and had her first child in 1995. That’s when she chose full-time radio and basketball broadcasting.

“It’s really worked out,” she said. “I just finished my 24th college basketball season and my boys are 17, 15, and 10, life’s not so bad,” she said.

Debbie Antonelli broadcasting for ACC. (Picture via Debbie Antonelli’s twitter page)

Antonelli said she’s still known as a basketball junkie, but she doesn’t mind. She loves the game. She doesn’t cover other sports because it would take precious time away from her family.

“I can’t remember a time in my life where basketball wasn’t in it,” she said. “As a player, as a coach, as an administrator, and as a broadcaster, I’ve been able to see the game from different angles.”

She also said networking is important and has helped her get where she is today.

“I categorize things I do in three ways: building, serving, and attitude,” she said. “I have to be bettering myself by building my experiences. I must be serving by setting a good example in what I do, and finally, if you have the right attitude you will succeed.”

Ohio archer hits target winning silver at Olympics

Holly Moody and Olivia Arbogast ran into U.S. silver medalist Jacob Wukie at the training facilities in the University of East London before the U.S. men’s basketball practice. Wukie won one of the first medals for the U.S. in archery, knocking out the favored South Korean archers in the semifinals. See what the Massillon, Ohio native had to say about his recent success as the Olympics.

Olivia Arbogast: What feelings did you experience when you realized that you won silver?

Jacob Wukie:It was the greatest feeling. Jake (Kaminski), Brady (Ellison) and myself had trained a lot throughout the years, and we trained together and lived together at the center. So it really built up a good team just in the sense of being a team, and also learning the best technique that we could. So as a result of all that, we had a lot of confidence in each other because we had seen how hard everyone worked and knew they would give the most that they could. Going into the tournament, having kind of a sense of comradely helped just because we trusted each other, knew how to push each other and encourage each other. It’s tough being out there, in front of the stadium, in front of the cameras, in front of the world really and everything, and we were able to really perform well and work well as a team. That was one of the things that really helped us to perform at a little bit of a higher level, and the fact that we were able to have the teamwork.

Silver medalist Jacob Wukie talks to OU reporters about his first medal.
Archer Jacob Wukie won the first medal of the London Olympics with this teammates Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski, falling to Italy in a tense battle the first day of the Games, Saturday July 28.
Photo by Joel Pfahler (Athletes in Action)

So going in to win, especially with our semifinals match against Korea because they were ranked No. 1 – they had Nos. 1, 2, and 3 ranked individual archers. We kept getting asked questions if it was possible to beat Korea. We were asked if they were too much of a powerhouse, and so to go out there and perform well and beat them, it was really exciting to beat them, win that match and go into the gold medal match.

Knowing that we would be medalists at that point – it was really exciting.

OA: Was this your first trip to the Olympics?

JW: Yes, I was the alternate for the team in 2008, and then I was an official member this time around.

OA: Do you feel more pressure with this competition from the Olympics than your previous, other competitions?

JW: Looking back on it, I would say that it felt pretty similar. I would say that it came down to how I trained and just focusing on shooting – not thinking too much about where you are and what you are doing. Really the ranking round, which is what we shoot that puts us into a bracket and shows what individuals we shoot against and what teams we shoot against, I was almost more nervous there walking into the stadium with everyone watching. It was exciting, but I almost get more nervous in national tournaments than coming here. But I would say that I get more excited coming to this one.

Holly Moody: What would you say you have been looking forward to watching while you are here in London?

JW: I’m not really sure exactly – whatever I can get to. I am really excited to kind of run from event to event, trying to see as much as I can. I know that definitely I know some BMX-ers, so I am wanting to watch some BMX. My family is kind of a big wrestling family, so I am going to try to watch some wrestling. We’ll just have to see. I have met some people, so I have to see if they have already competed or not, so I can see if the people I met here are still competing. I would like to see them if they are, especially the people I have become friends with while I am here.

OA: Archery has taken off ever since The Hunger Games has come out. How do you feel about that?

JW: It has definitely been exciting. One of the things that they said, the clubs and everything, have said that a lot of new people are coming in and trying the sport. It is really exciting for us since it has become a lot more popular this year. Especially since we can get on national television – a lot of people are able to watch us from home. And it is something that we have never really had before, so it is nice to go in that direction from where we are as we get more into the public eye. It’s a lot more exciting for us as people watch us, and the more people means the bigger the sport will become. And it means a bigger competitive presence for us at these events, especially being in the public eye and being able to come here and perform in a higher level. You really come away happy with how you performed and how many people are excited about the sport.

OA: When did you decide to get into the archery, and how did you decide that you wanted to go the Olympic route with it?

JW: I started shooting with like 3D tournaments with a compound bow, which isn’t in the Olympics, and when I went to college at James Madison University, they actually had a team there. They had Olympic-style archers, so going there was when I decided to switch because I knew I was already interested in trying to make an Olympic team. So that was when I made the switch and learned the different skills, the different skill sets.

 

Olivia Arbogast wakes up viewers with Keith and Shannon

One of the members of the team has been speaking with 98.1 WKDD of Akron about her Olympic experiences. A few times during the week listeners can hear Olivia talk via Skype to Shannon about what sporting events she has been attending, what articles she has been writing and what areas she has visited in London. Make sure to tune in on Tuesday mornings, and WKDD can also be heard through the Iheartradio App on most Smart Phones.

Metro News journalist to Scripps London: I owe everything to Scripps

LONDON – Ohio University 2007 graduate, Cassandra Garrison, told Scripps students Friday that she will forever be grateful for her Scripps education.

“I owe everything to Scripps,” she said.

She told student how she got her current job, how she’s covering the Olympics alone and without full media credentials, and how to get the most out of their trip in London.

After four years broadcasting at a television station in Erie, Penn. Garrison chased her dreams to New York City where she began as an online journalist for Metro News.

At Metro, she convinced her boss to let her come to London and cover the 2012 Olympics. While in London she had breakfast with Michelle Obama, toured the USA house and interviewed high-profile athletes such as Tyson Gay.

“Don’t underestimate the power of a bobcat,” she said.

Photo slideshow by Kerry Crump:

WCOL 92.3 Columbus- Woody and the Wake Up Call with Dan E. Zuko

Kayla Hanley has been speaking with Dan E. Zuko about her experiences and travels in London so far during the Olympics. As the official Woodhead in London, Kayla has had a great time giving updates to the Columbus listeners back in the states. Stay tuned on iheart.com or listen live in Columbus at 7 A.M.

Olympic Journalists Encourage OU Students to Trust Their Talents While in London

LONDON – Three professional journalists told 15 aspiring journalists to trust their instincts as they try to find Olympic stories to tell.

“It is important to give the readers an idea of what it’s like to be here,” said Tim Warsinskey, a columnist and sports reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “People haven’t always followed these sports. The Olympics attracts new readers.”

Warsinskey joined David Nielsen of Scripps Howard News Service and Jay Cohen of the Associated Press to meet and tutor a group of student journalists from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University attending the Olympics as part of a study abroad program.

Cohen and Warsinskey are Ohio alumni. Cohen, a ‘99 graduate, said he, “lobbied, begged, borrowed, and dealed,” to get to the Olympics.

“I said I would do anything, even mop the floors if I can go,” he said.

Cohen was adamant about being enthusiastic about any opportunity a journalist receives.  Warsinsky, who graduated in 1984, had similar advice.

“I’m prepared to work 18 hour days,” he said.

He said he has worked hard to get to London. He was supposed to go to the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing but, due to the poor economy, The Plain Dealer could not afford to send him. He was devastated. His job this time around is to cover Ohio Olympic athletes and any other stories he wants to pursue.

Warsinskey said he started out covering high school Volleyball in Chillicothe, Ohio. He really emphasized, “trusting your talent”. That’s how he said he got to where he is today.

“As a journalist, you must be disciplined and multitask to the max,” he said.

David Nielsen, a Texas Christian University graduate and deputy bureau chief and managing editor of Scripps Howard News Service, said he had an unconventional, yet interesting path to journalism.

He started as a business and finance major and worked in that industry for seven years. In the end, he realized accounting and business was not his fate.

Once he got his internship with Scripps Howard News Service, the rest was history. Now he was selected as one of six Scripps employees to travel to London to cover the Olympics.

He said his background made him more versatile in the industry and helped him have the opportunity to be in London for the games.

“It always helps to be good with numbers because not a lot of journalists are,” he said.

Kayla Hanley, one of the students, asked the journalists how to know which best points to include in a story when there are so many.

“Do your homework,” Warsinskey replied.

Cohen added that journalists know better than they realize what’s the most important.

“Don’t be trapped in the win or lose thing,” he said, “When you call home, what would be the first thing you would tell your friend?”

Q & A with a Bobcat at the Olympic Trials

Lauren Funk, a senior swimmer at Ohio University, is at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska preparing for one of the biggest races of her career. Funk will compete in the preliminaries of the 50 meter freestyle on Sunday morning, 11 A.M. EST. If she should advance, the semifinals would be that night and the finals would be on Monday evening. The Trials ultimately take 52 athletes (26 men; 26 women) when the eight days of competition are completed.

Funk will swim on Sunday at the Olympic Trials in the 50 Meter Freestyle.

Funk was named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America Honorable Mention after her performances this season. She hails from Springfield, Ohio and racked up five top-10 finishes at this years MAC Championships.

Lauren took some time to sit down with us a couple of days before her race and talk to us about her preparation and mindset going into the race.

When did you start to swim competitively and what got you interested in the sport?

“I swam in a summer league ever since I was nine, but then I started swimming year-round in the eighth grade. When I first joined a club team I was average, but in my second year doing club I shot forward and qualified for all these meets that kids training for 10 years hadn’t even qualified for. I got good at it and figured I would see how far I could go. I really enjoy it and it’s really fun.”

How did you get the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Trials?

“There is a certain time standard that you have to meet for each race. I got my time this Spring at Ohio University at a swim meet.”

What has your training regimen been like leading up to the Trials?

“Training has been kind of the same, but slightly different. We are training like it is any other meet, like the MAC Championship meet. Sadly, I am the only one from my team now that is at the Trials. So I have been training kind of separated from the group, but that actually fuels me more to work my butt off so good things happen at trials and I can go back to training with them.”

How does training for the Olympic Trials compare to training for a collegiate season?

“It is long course work compared to short course work. You have to get more yardage in, because it is a longer race no matter what you swim. But at the same time you have to work on better finishes and better starts to get those extra few seconds. Work on the little things.”

How do you deal with the busy and demanding training schedule involved in the sport?

“I have lost a lot of sleep since high school. It’s just time management. Freshman year is always hard, but after that you get a routine and figure out that you can’t watch television so long because you have to do your homework because you won’t have time tomorrow. It’s just a lot of time management. That is all you can do.”

What runs through your mind during the final stretch of a race?

“You know if the race is good enough from the very start. If the race is good and you feel good, the finish is just so easy. You kind of  blackout for a minute. At one point you are in the middle of the pool and the next you are on the wall and you see this amazing time and you jump up and down. It’s a really good feeling when you know you are swimming well.”

Fast forward to 20 minutes before the race on Sunday. What emotions are running through your head?

“I went out to the pool today (Friday) and my heart sped up just because it is a little overwhelming. I think it is good I am getting that out of my system now because on Sunday I will just be cool and collected behind the blocks, but at the same time I am really excited to swim amidst all of those people watching. The whole atmosphere is crazy so I am really excited to get started.”

How would it feel to to be able to represent your country on the biggest of stages in London this summer?

“I have no idea how I could even explain how I would feel. I am at the second biggest meet in a swimmer’s lifetime. It’s crazy how close I am to even going to the Olympics.”