LIBBIE HICKMAN - A WOMAN WITH A NEW FOCUS
By Woody Green
Along with a new last name, Libbie Hickman, formerly known as
Libbie Johnson, seems to have a new focus. This Fort Collins, Colorado
resident has been steadily progressing since she graduated from
Colorado State University in 1988. She was an All-American there,
and she set a school record of 9:12 for 3,000 meters.
After college Libbie continued to run. She found success and showed
constant progress. She won the ARRA road racing circuit in 1991, and
while she has always run a fair number of road races, she saves her
best for the track. Track and Field News ranked her as the 8th best
American 3,000 meter runner in 1993, then the fourth best in 1994.
In 1995 she ran a PR of 15:28.27 for 5,000 meters at the US
nationals, good enough to qualify her for the World Championships
team that competed in Götenborg, Sweden later that summer.
Things seemed to set up nicely for 1996. Libbie was intent on
making the team for the Atlanta Olympics. She proved she was in
great shape when she ran 8:43.32 for 3,000 meters in Eugene a few
weeks before the Olympic trials.
In Atlanta for the trials, things seemed to be going well. She made a
strong move to the front late in the race and it seemed that a place
on the Olympic team was surely hers. Unfortunately for Libbie, Lynn
Jennings, Mary Slaney and Amy Rudolph all went past her in the last
lap of the race.
"I was shocked," Libbie says, "I thought I would make the team. Back
then it was hard to even talk about it. It was pretty painful."
Ultimately, she feels that race made her a more aggressive runner.
When she took the lead in the trials race, she made a small tactical
error and hesitated just a little instead of pushing on. That may well
have been what cost her the race.
Even with the emotional downfall of not achieving her ultimate goal,
the rest of her running year went quite well. She won several road
races and her 3,000 time from Eugene wound up being the tenth
fastest time in the world for 1996.
Not making the Olympic team may well have made Libbie a better
runner, and it seems that she has a new, clear focus on what she
wants to achieve.
If her race results thus far in 1997 are any indication of what is to
come, other American distance runners had better set their focus on
trying to figure out how to beat Libbie.
On April 27 she ran 20:08 for 4 miles the Trolly Run in Kansas City.
That time is a new American best for four miles on the roads.
"I was really happy for that," she said of the new record. "I felt good
from the gun, but didn't hear my splits. I figured I was running
5:10's or so and was very surprised to see my time at the finish."
The race fit in well with her preparation plans for the Bolder Boulder
10K on May 26, and the Track Nationals June 11-15. It was an
indication that Libbie's fitness level had reached a new high.
Libbie followed that effort with another indication of her fitness
level. She set a new course record (33:02) at the Nations Bank River
Run 10 K in Wichita. Next up would be the Bolder Boulder.
As Libbie talked about her plans before the Bolder Boulder, her voice
grew excited. "I've been dying to do it, but it usually doesn't fit into
"How long has it been since an American woman has won that race? I
don't even know," she wondered. In fact, it was in 1983 when Ellen
Hart won. "I'd like to see an American winning some races."
When informed that Rich Castro, the man in charge of recruiting elite
talent for the race, picked Libbie as the favorite, she said, "he really
said that?" She then rattled off a few names of top runners likely to
be in the race and humbly indicated that she was not sure how she
would fair against such a tough line-up. Finally, she laughed and said,
"I hope he's right!"
Boulder provides an excellent opportunity for an altitude trained
athlete. She planned on using that to her advantage.
"The worst thing is to go out too fast at altitude. It's an extremely
tough course. I plan to be with the leaders at the end and kick."
Those three sentences turned out to be the script for the race. Early
on, Libbie was behind the leaders by seventy meters or more. Frank
Shorter, doing the commentary for local television, counted her out of
the race. She kept the leaders in her sights, however, and picked off
one runner after another until she caught leaders Delillah Asiago and
Jane Omoro just past the four mile mark.
Soon, Omoro couldn't keep pace and it was just Libbie and Delillah,
with Libbie hanging on the Kenyan's shoulder. It began to look like
the two would be running in tandem straight to the finish, but just as
the two passed under the 9 kilometer banner, Libbie put in the
afterburners and it looked like Asiago was running backwards.
Running smooth and strong up the final hill leading to the stadium
finish, Libbie looked like she was on the track and kicking home. The
crowd was going absolutely crazy as she did the final half lap of the
stadium infield. As she crossed the finish she threw her arms in the
air and a smile appeared on her face and seemed to remain there for
the rest of the day.
Her time of 33:25 was impressive in the high altitude of Boulder, but
more impressive were her bold tactics and awesome fitness level.
How does an athlete continue to develop, and even make a huge step
forward, at age 32?
"I have patience and a well rounded life. My husband, Walter, has
added stability in my life. He has helped me both with the training
and emotional part of my running." Libbie is quick to add, "he's also
Another part of her new focus is a move up in distance on the track.
When she travels to Indianapolis for this year's track and Field
Nationals, she will attempt to make the world championships team at
10,000 meters instead of her traditional 3-5,000 meter distance.
"I've always seen my destiny as a longer distance runner," she tells
us. "I'm glad to have run shorter distances early in my career to
build for longer races. Look at Ingrid Kristiansen, she was a 8:31
3,000 meter runner and she turned out to be a pretty great
Marathon, you say?
"In the back of my mind I think about the marathon. I'm planning on
running the Chicago Marathon this fall."
While it's clear that Libbie is focused on some major goals this year,
her ultimate goal will be the 2000 Olympics in Melbourne. After that,
she says she'd like to get into coaching, perhaps at the college level.
Whatever may be in the future for Libbie Hickman, don't look for her
to hesitate once she takes the lead.
ED: You can visit Libbie's world wide web site at <www.libbie.com>.