Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Villanova Track Stars Come from Near and Far

London 2012: Villanova duo to run in Olympics
July 25, 2012


Sometimes, it begins with an e-mail. Other times, a current athlete will give a tip about someone from her home country

Whatever the case may be, Villanova women’s track coach Gina Procaccio has always tried to make it a priority to recruit runners from around the world. And that commitment to global recruiting has not only helped Villanova maintain its lofty status as one of this country’s great programs for distance running, it’s also established an impressive tradition on the world stage – one that will continue this month.

At the 2012 London Olympics, two Villanova women’s track alums – Sheila Reid and Marina Muncan – will be the latest in a long line of Wildcat Olympians. And both will represent different countries, with Reid running the 5,000 meters for her native Canada and Muncan running the 1,500 meters for Serbia.

It all stems from the school’s pledge to bring some of the planet’s best young runners to the Main Line, no matter where they come from originally.

“I think it’s important,” Procaccio said. “I always like to have at least one international student on the team. I think it’s really helped us. Even for the American kids, it’s good for them to meet kids from other cultures and see how they live.”

Led by head coach Marcus O’Sullivan, an ex-track star from Ireland, the Villanova men’s track program has made a similar commitment. And Adrian Blincoe, a ’Nova men’s track alum and current assistant coach under O’Sullivan, would have been the third ex-Wildcat runner at the 2012 Olympics – representing a third different country.

But after qualifying for the 5,000 meters with the New Zealand team, Blincoe was forced to withdraw from the Games last week because of what he called a “pretty significant tear in my peroneal tendon.”

When Procaccio heard the news, she felt terribly for her ’Nova coaching colleague.

“The Olympic Games are a big deal and he’s been training really well and he was really fit,” Procaccio said. “That’s devastating to an athlete. It only comes along every four years and I know he’s been training well. That’s really disappointing to hear.”

Despite his own disappointment, Blincoe took the time to remark over email, just one day before New Zealand issued the press release announcing his withdrawal from the 2012 Games, what it means to have so many Olympians who went to Villanova. On top of the runners, ’Nova alum Andrew Sullivan will compete in the Olympics for Great Britain in men’s basketball and Lisa Karcic for Croatia in women’s basketball.

“Villanova University is an institution which encourages cultural diversity and that manifests itself in several ways,” Blincoe said. “In these athletes, Villanova has a presence at the biggest sporting event in the world. Each of them will know the history that Villanova has had at the Games, and they’ll also feel the support of the tight-knit Villanova community cheering them on.”

Originally, it looked like as if the Villanova community would not get the opportunity to cheer on Reid at the Olympics. Despite leaving Villanova a couple of months ago as one of the school’s greatest all-time runners and winning the 5,000 meters at the Canadian Olympic Trials, she didn’t qualify for London at first because her time didn’t meet the Olympic “A” standard, and she didn’t meet the “B” standard time twice as required.

But after two appeals, Reid was – finally, thrillingly – named to the Canadian Olympic Team two weeks ago due to the country’s “Rising Star” provision. Basically, Canadian Olympic officials decided what Villanova already knew: Reid is a star.

“We’re just thrilled that it worked out,” Procaccio said.

For Reid, the women’s 5,000 meters will be held at Olympic Stadium from Aug. 8-11. That’s when the former NCAA champion will set her goal on adding to her running legacy – although medaling in her first Olympics may be too much to ask.

“I think she’s got a bright future,” Procaccio said. “I think she’s someone who can possibly challenge for a medal in four years. What we’re looking for this time around is we definitely want her to get that experience, just to see what it’s like to sit in the call room for 20 minutes before you race with the competition. Her goal is to try to make it to the finals. That would be a huge achievement to make it to the finals.”

Muncan – whose 1500-meter heats begin Aug. 3 – will also have the odds stacked against her as she makes her Olympic debut. But the 2006 ’Nova grad, according to her college coach, just has a knack of running her fastest when the pressure is on.

Like Reid, Muncan may be laid-back off the track but is a fierce competitor when she’s on it.

“Marina has always been a big-meet performer,” Procaccio said. “She would always rise to the occasion and run her best races at the NCAA Championships. I’m really excited to see how she does.

“The thing with the Olympic Games is you never know,” the coach added. “People go in there that you’ve never heard of and they become heroes overnight. That’s the spirit of the Olympic Games.”

Villanova certainly knows about the spirit of the Olympics. The school’s women’s program has had an Olympic representative in every Summer Games since 1988, including multiple-Olympians Vicki Huber (1988, 1996), Sonia O’Sullivan (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004) and Jennifer Rhines (2000, 2004, 2008). O’Sullivan won a silver at the 2000 Olympics.

And the Villanova men’s program also has a rich tradition, sending runners to every Olympics from 1948 to 1992, winning 10 medals in that span.

“It’s definitely a streak we want to keep going,” Procaccio said. “My whole philosophy here is to develop athletes in the collegiate system and leave them with room to go on and run professionally. That’s always been the Villanova tradition. I ran professionally. Marcus, the men’s coach, ran professionally. So I think we attract those caliber of kids – who wants to see how far they can go and run.

“And putting kids on the Olympic team is part of that tradition.”

Email Dave Zeitlin at and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.

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