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Gators at Olympics: Genevieve LaCaze Gregson

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Shelby Houlihan (USA) races Genevieve LaCaze (AUS) during the women's 5000m final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange.

Is the third time the charm? 

Genevieve LaCaze Gregson certainly hopes so. 

The former Florida standout first qualified for the 3000m steeplechase at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She finished ninth in the heats. Four years later, she traveled to Rio de Janeiro. The long-distance runner achieved second in the first round and made the finals, where she ended in ninth. 

Now, Gregson returns to the summer games and looks to finish top five in the steeplechase. 

“It’s obviously really exciting, but a little scary too,” she said. “I’m not an amateur anymore. I must expect to be experienced at this. I improved from 2012 to ‘16 and expect the same this time.” 

She’ll have to withstand that pressure without her biggest fan. 

During the 2012 games, Gregson (then LaCaze) met Ryan Gregson, a fellow Australian long-distance runner. The two hit it off and married in 2018. Ryan competed in the 2016 Olympics in the 1500m and became the first Australian to make the final in the event. However, he failed to qualify for Tokyo. 

Due to IOC pandemic rules, family members are not allowed to join athletes in Japan. 

“It will be really hard without him,” Gregson said. “It’s my first major championship without him. He’s the person I lean on the most.” 

Both Ryan and Genevieve help each other reach their peak because they are so different, Genevieve said. 

“As an athlete, he was the missing key for me. I was talented but not as professional as I should be,” she said. “He showed me how much more it needed to take, while I showed him to relax and have some fun because he’s very type A.” 

“We have that common ground, which is athletics, and with our personalities being so different, we can piece it together for the perfect combination.” 

Although Ryan will be absent, Gregson won’t go at it alone. She spent some time preparing for the games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, with former teammate and fellow Olympian Cory McGee. 

Gregson never intended on going to school in America, but her parents knew U.S. colleges could bring the training and academic structure she lacked in Australia, so she headed across the Pacific Ocean to UF. 

At UF, she emerged into one of the best long-distance runners in school history and became the first woman in SEC history to rack up wins in the 1500m, 3000m steeplechase and 5000m at the conference meet. 

“So many things came from my time at UF,” she said. “It got me to the Olympics in 2012. It developed me into an athlete, while also introducing me to friends for life. Two of my bridesmaids were my teammates.” 

Gregson arrived in Tokyo last Thursday. She is witnessing a role on the Australian track team unfamiliar to her as she is one of the most senior members of the delegation. 

“When you go into a team feeling young, you feel like you can rely on everyone else,” she said. “But when you are an older athlete, you should be helping the young ones.” 

Being a mentor brings her happiness, as she remains grateful for the athletes who showed her the ropes in 2012. 

Like in many Olympic events, experience provides benefits. Veterans are used to the nerves that accompany the games. However, Gregson said many of her fellow competitors share her wisdom. For example, steeplechase favorite Emma Coburn ran in 2012 and won bronze in 2016. 

“It is very different to flat running,” she said. “It’s a combination of aerobic ability mixed with anaerobic. If you’ve done it a lot, you dodge falls because you know where those falls are.” 

Since Rio, Gregson suffered multiple injuries from 2017 to 2019. When she returned, her races in early 2020 were “just average.” 

The extra year allowed her to work through her kinks and polish her game. 

“I turned down the intensity and made my training more sustainable, which I think allowed my body to get stronger and fitter,” she said. “I was able to experiment and see what worked, and if the games were in 2020, I would have carried those pre-COVID mistakes into the games.” 

The examining seems to have paid off as Gregson ran her second and third fastest times in 2021. 

“I have big goals, and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t achieve what I think I am capable of,” she said. “I’ll never take this for granted as I’m coming in at a better place than ever. I am ready to race.” 

Round one of the 3000m steeplechase commences Saturday at 8:40 p.m. EST from the Japan National Stadium. The final is Aug. 4 at 7 a.m. EST.