Catching Up With 800m World Champion Bryce Hoppel

By Kyle Merber

March 20, 2024

The kid from Midland, Texas went to the University of Kansas to chase some big dreams and now Bryce Hoppel is a World Indoor Champion. It was won with experience as much as it was with fitness. It happens in the blink of an eye that the rookie becomes the veteran, but now Hoppel is in the prime years of his career. I hadn’t yet given my congratulations to him so I reached out to hear how everything was being digested since Glasgow.

Congratulations on the win! Where in the world are you right now and how are you?

I am in Texas, enjoying some downtime. I’ve just been doing some longer endurance workouts and easy running.

Do you take, like, legitimate time off after World Indoors or do you approach [all of track] as one big season?

Definitely one big season. I just take a week to kind of decompress after indoors.

Well, congratulations on Worlds! What was the initial impression after coming home and realizing you're world champ?

I was going into that meet expecting nothing less than a medal. Just with how the season and training was going, I was like, “I want to win it!” And so the mindset was more confident than ever and honestly stronger. But once you actually achieve it, it is just a different feeling. It's like, “oh wait, but did I just do that?” It’s a surreal feeling and seeing the excitement that it brings everyone else is special.

Bryce HoppelBryce Hoppel

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

When you go back and watch the race – and not to discredit it because you ran 1:44 – but were you like, “why did those guys run that way?” You were so obviously the smartest runner in the race as they were all over the place

I kind of know how some of those guys like to get rough and do unnecessary things. And so from the gun I was so happy to have lane six because you could let everyone else go do what they are going to do and I'm going to chill out here once it settles down. They were just making it hard for each other and I couldn't have had a smoother trip.

How do you view the indoor 800m differently than outdoors? Tactically the margin for error in the 800 at large is very slim, but indoors it's even slimmer.

I like the tactical-ness of it… not so much like the physicality because like some people just do some unnecessary things out there. But I do enjoy indoor a lot. If you can figure out those tactics, know how some guys run, or have a sense of how it is going to play out… like it's almost – I don't want to use a word like a “guaranteed” win – but those guys let me do almost the exact same thing all three rounds. It is going to be tough to beat me if you just let me sit behind the leader on the outside and pass you at the end stretch. 

While many 800 guys skip indoors entirely, your multiple medals and indoor titles have proven your ability to do both. How come you can get up for two championships each year while others struggle?

I don't want to give anyone the idea that I'm going to be a 1500 guy eventually, because I like the 800. But I feel like I'm not peaking. The workouts that I was doing, which was like exclusively with Hobbs [Kessler], and it’s a lot of longer stuff and I am not touching that feeling of lactic or pressing. We were at altitude so I was doing endurance work.

My coach's mindset is definitely to let me run indoors, but to keep training. It still feels like I have to wait forever until the Trials. And so, I just enjoy getting out and racing for championships.

Touching on your time with Hobbs and the Very Nice Track Club – maybe a loaded question, but who is your coach?

It’s still Michael [Whittlesey].

He gives me 99% of all my workouts and the plan. Then Ronnie Warhurst has been supplementing and making some tweaks here and there to get the most out of my training.

At this point you have been with Michael for how long?

It's been like seven years. We started in 2016.

Are you actively paying rent still in Kansas or are you bopping around?

I was there for seven months last season and I was reluctant to go back there – it was a last minute thing.

I was going to try to start transitioning to something and didn’t really have anything lined up then. But no, I don't think I'm going to go back to Kansas. I'll go visit, but not fully back there.

We see athletes stick around at their college program for a while. When, in your opinion, is it the right move for athletes to stay in that atmosphere vs. going to see what else is out there? It must be different the first year compared to a few years later.

I never had any problems with the workouts, but for me personally, I think it started to affect my mental and social side to where my relationship with running wasn't really happy.

There was almost a nonexistent excitement for workouts and I was just kind of going through the monotony, but not enjoying it. And so changing it up, when you need excitement to love running again – being with VNTC guys lit that spark for me again. I am getting better at physical training and it's exciting with Hobbs. That guy's amazing and I just needed a new change of scenery.

Was it like you were no longer getting nervous for workouts? I could see the situation where you’re just showing up knowing you could beat those guys.

I'm never really getting nervous, but it was most like I was dreading running. It was like, “I guess I'll go for my run today,” rather than loving what I’m doing that day. I was thinking of it like, “let me get this running out of the way so I can just enjoy the rest of my day.”

Has that evolved in racing in any way as well? Previously you were traveling to meets as a lone wolf and now you have a set group to do pre-meet and go through the motions with.

I don't think the nerves got to me all that much, but it does just set you at ease. And like, I'm comfortable to have those guys around me. You think less and it’s just like you’re hanging out rather than in your own mind.

What was the race that you were most nervous for in your whole life?

Oh man, the Olympic Trials. I've still never felt anything like that. The night before the final, I was just a pool of stress. My stomach made it difficult to sleep. I'm hoping it's not going to feel like that again this year.

You have run 1:43, lots of 1:44s, and you can go 1:45 in your sleep. What do you have to do to run 1:42 this year? That’s the shape those other guys will be in so what’s your path to getting there.

The endurance side is where I have not reached my potential, and I got a taste of that indoors. I was doing what needed to be done to win, but I was coming off those races like, “that's it?” I think last year I was struggling with not having that strength at the end of races. I didn't really have that close at the end and even in like 1:44 high or 1:45 races, I was just stiffening up. Now I ran that 1:44 and it felt like nothing.

Last year I wrote an article basically calling the men's 800 boring right now. Part of the reason for that was there's so many guys that on any given day that seemed liked they had the opportunity to come in and be the best guy. It seems like the pool of potential medalists has started to thin out a bit more, but would you have disagreed with that? It’s more exciting when you see the same faces, compared to showing up on the line wondering who are these guys.

I agreed with that article. I think a lot of us were doing subpar of what we could actually be doing. As for the 800, it was like one of those events where we're not you're not seeing any world records. You had David Rudisha for a chunk of time where he’d always lead the charge. I think Marco [Arop] is kind of stepping up, and he's been around for as long as I have, but he’s starting to run 1:42 and making it look like… I think seeing his round in Budapest, I was like, “no one’s beating Marco.” It’s moving in the direction where now we have some guys starting to push that and dragging everyone along. With an Olympic year, I think we’ll see some fun stuff.

Marco might be too nice of a guy to start some off track beef with too.

I mean, I love the guy. Like, I could never have any beef with him.

On that topic, it's not just about time as much as a big pool of guys. But I think time is an interesting thing because it feels like the 800 hasn’t become faster at the same pace as every other race. We see that in the NCAA too. Do you have any theory why? Like is it just no Rudisha, do the spikes not help as much, are pacing lights not as effective as in the 10K?

I think the pacing lights are a little irrelevant and don’t really help us. As for spikes, and I don't want to get myself in trouble, but I don't think they've taken any great leaps for the 800 specifically. But I think the thing that draws the most excitement out of a specific event are those stars. Like you have Noah Lyles in the 200, or Grant Holloway dominating the hurdles, but I think the 800 is lacking that right now.

That could be you! You could turn up the celebrations a little bit – enough of the humility.

Yea, that’s true! It's hard, like at Worlds I am thankful to have that moment, but also… should I show off a bit more?

From an athlete's point of view, what’s it like watching what Noah is doing to put that much personal responsibility on marketing the sport? There's a reason why so few people do it as you're always a moment away from having everything fall apart. Do you see that as a responsibility of athletes to shoulder?

It definitely is partly on us. But if you are not ready for it and can’t handle it then you don’t want it to take away from the competing side. I definitely feel like I am to blame in my own aspect of it – I have to put some personality out there and give the people a reason to watch and follow me specifically. But it’s hard, like I am not an awkward guy, but I am not going to be dancing out there.

Off the track, do you ever watch other guys' workout videos? Like, Marco and Clayton [Murphy] are very active on YouTube. What do you take from that?

I had no idea that Marco posts on YouTube – I'm going to check that out. But I think it’s cool to see. I’ve watched a lot of Clayton’s and we’ve become pretty good buddies competing with each other over time.

Do you ever see a workout and think, “I can do that”?

A little bit… yeah. It's like, “oh, wait, that's all you're doing?”

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.