Kassi Andersen is one of the nations top runners and a looks to lead the Cougars into the 2004 season. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
What started out as a way to keep her brother company on his early morning high school runs has transformed into a collegiate running career.
So far the results include one cross country national championship, the NCAA steeplechase record and Olympic rumors for Kassi (Kathryn) Andersen.
Andersen, a 5-10 junior from Provo, first started running when her older brother, Jacob, joined the Provo High School cross country team. Jacob need a running partner for his early morning runs and it seemed Kassi was the perfect candidate.
For Andersen, crawling out of bed to run was difficult at first. "I hated it and it was so hard," Andersen said. "Running is painful and not always fun, but I was good. I could run. I wasn't amazing, but I could tell I could do this."
Even though Andersen was quickly able to recognize her own running ability, she was not sure she wanted to pursue it.
"As a freshman in high school I was debating between volleyball and cross country," Andersen said. "I was going through all of the tryouts at volleyball and really liked the coach. Plus, all of my friends were playing volleyball. But I thought, 'you know, I think I just want to run.' "
Almost immediately it appeared she made the right decision. By the end of her freshman year, Andersen was the top runner on the cross country team and finished third at the state championships. She went on to win state in cross country as a junior and a senior, the Utah 4A state championship in track her junior and senior seasons, and eight individual state championships in track.
Despite her natural athletic ability, Andersen says she did not give much thought to her future running career. "I didn't think about running in college, I just didn't think I was capable. But I knew I was coming to BYU. It was my dream growing up.
"I wanted to come to BYU, and to be on the team would be perfect. I felt like it would be such an honor to be on the BYU team with all these girls that I raced against and I grew up with. To be a part of that would be amazing. Then I started getting recruited, and I realized it could actually happen."
Andersen was spotted by BYU Cross Country Coach Patrick Shane and recruited in the 800m race in track.
"She was a very talented middle distance and cross country runner. Her potential was, and still is, off the charts. She has a level of performance other people only dream about." Andersen was unsure of her cross country running ability, but thought she could be successful if she simply worked hard.
"And of course you can do anything you want if you work hard at it," Andersen said. "Coach Shane told me I was talented and that I have a lot of potential. That was what I needed and it was really encouraging because I didn't know what was in store for me."
Andersen redshirted her first cross country season, but competed immediately with the track team. In her first year of competition she had ten top-ten finishes, including a lifetime-best in the 1,500m at the NCAA Outdoor Championships where she became an All-American.
"Coming into this I didn't expect anything," Andersen said. "I had no idea what I wanted to be or what exactly I wanted to do. Things just happened. I was at the right place at the right time."
With such a successful track season under her belt, many were looking at Andersen as she began her competition with the cross country team.
"My first cross country race was muddy and wet," Andersen recalls. "I had no idea what was going on. I didn't know who was good and I had no idea who these girls were. I just thought 'I have trained for this, I am ready, let's just do it and see what happens.' That was how I started my first race and that was good, because when you are expecting nothing you are always surprised when things turn out well."
Her second place finish at the Great American Cross Country Festival got her off to a good start, and helped set the tone for a winning season. The team continued to run well and so did Andersen. She won the Mountain West Conference Championships and helped lead the team to its fourth National Championship, finishing second on the team and sixth overall.
She returned to competition with the track team in 2003, adding a new event to her schedule. After being urged by Coach Shane, Andersen began to run the very technical 3,000m steeplechase.
Andersen competed well throughout the season and saw a gradual improvement at each race. As the season went on, she improved her time by nearly 30 seconds, and by the time Andersen reached the NCAA Track and Field Championships, she was feeling more comfortable with the still-new event.
Andersen went into the race with hopes of simply doing her best, and was shocked when she passed BYU's Michaela Mannova's 2002 NCAA Meet record by a second, and won her first national championship in the event. Even more shocking was that she turned in the third fastest time in U.S. history (9:44.95).
"It is crazy because one race determines so much and so much attention is given to it," Andersen said. "If it was the next day it could have been different. Whoever feels their best that day can win. Records are made to be broken and I got my chance this year. I won and was able to break the record, and that was my turn. And if someone is better than me next year than they are better. Someone else can take their turn. Next year things will be different and I don't expect certain things to happen."
With her record-breaking time at Nationals, Andersen also qualified to compete in the US Track and Field Championships. There, she competed against athletes from across the country and finished in second place.
"The fun thing about the steeplechase this season was that with each race I got better," Andersen said smiling. "Coach says my form is terrible and that I still have lots of room for improving. It gives me hope for next year because, if I can get his technique down than I will hopefully get better."
After her performance in the steeplechase, rumors began stirring about Andersen's potential for a professional career and Olympic competition.
"She has the ability, and she will complete in the Olympics if she chooses to," Coach Shane said. "It is down the road, but she is capable of being truly great."
Because the steeplechase is new to women's athletics, it will not be an event in the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. That means Andersen will have to wait until 2008, five years, when the event will be featured in the Beijing, China games, before she can compete.
When asked, Andersen shies away from the topic.
"It is crazy because I have only run the steeplechase one season. I still have at least two or three years left at BYU. I am only looking at one year at a time. Of course if I am still wanting to run and healthy, I will compete. It would just fit my goals for improving. The more I improve, the higher the races will be and the Olympics would be the top. It is very crazy to think about, but very cool."
As for the more immediate future, Andersen says she just wants to work hard and do her best to improve. "I am not a concrete goal person. I have small goals that I want to accomplish. It started with just wanting to be good enough to get a scholarship, then I wanted to make the cross country team. After that I wanted to go to nationals, and with the steeplechase I thought, 'lets just see what happens.' That's how I work, and it seems to be working for me.
"I am so glad I chose to run. The little decisions I was making were so important and I didn't even know it. And now this is so right for me, this is what I want to be doing. I am just glad it all worked out."
From the beginning of her running career, Andersen questioned if running was right for her. It seems now she finally has her answer.