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Why Cole Hocker Decided To Leave Oregon And Turn Pro After A Stellar 2021

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At 20 years old, Cole Hocker has put himself atop the United States middle distance scene. I profiled him for Sports Illustrated last July after he outkicked reigning Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz for the win in the men’s 1,500 meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials – which was one of my favorite races to watch of the whole trials. Hocker’s finishing speed is world-class. He went on to run 3:31.40 for sixth place in the Olympic 1,500 meter final.

In September, he signed a professional contract with Nike and now sets his sights on his first professional indoor season, which includes headlining the men’s 3,000 meters at the Millrose Games. In this episode, we discuss his plans for the new year, the decision to turn professional after just one full NCAA campaign at Oregon, thoughts on American records and much more.

If you enjoy this episode, it pairs well with our previous episode with Cooper Teare, who also turned professional and will be training with Hocker in Eugene, Ore.

Catch the latest episode of the podcast on Apple Podcasts. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.


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Photo by Justin Britton/@justinbritton

SHOW NOTES AND NOTABLE QUOTES

Coaching and training plans after turning pro and signing with Nike:

“Right now I’m a volunteer coach at Oregon and staying under my current coach Ben Thomas. That’s the plan. Cooper (Teare) agreed to that as well. It’s working. We’re just trying to limit the variables right now while we’re shifting to this being our career.”

Going back to August/early September, how did the process to turn professional turn out:

“That was a weird time and a little weird among teammates. Not really weird. I knew they would support me in whatever I decided but heading into a team-based season like cross country where I was hoping to be a big contributor on our team, I was trying to time things as best as I could. Me, Cooper and Charlie were just talking about it the other day about just how long that process takes with negotiating an offer and then turning it into a physical contract that you can sign and date. Among doing that and just deciding for myself that I want to go pro and there would be no going back from that, it was kind of drawn out longer than I had wanted but for good reason. There were a lot of considerations. I reported on the same report date as all of Oregon cross country. I was in Eugene and ready to do the season but I was keeping it to myself that I was in the midst of deciding and working out contract kinks.”

What ultimately made you decide to go pro?

“The team aspect was a part that was pulling me toward Oregon. I’ve made such great friends here. Everything was just clicking teammate-wise and racing-wise. Really what it came down to is I saw my goals. I was on the fence before heading to Tokyo. After Tokyo, I kind of proved to myself what kind of athlete I was. I don’t know if I surprised myself but I had proof right there of where I rank in the world…I want to be really reaching for far goals within the NCAA and my goals just laid outside of the NCAA and turning professional was the way that I would achieve those.”

What are some of those goals? How big picture are we thinking?

“Placing sixth place in the Olympics, there are only five places better that I can achieve in all of my career really. Now my goal is focused on number one. I don’t understand why I’d shoot for less than that. Of course, the 1,500 is stronger than it’s ever been depth-wise. Everyone is so talented right now but I see myself right up there right now. I just want to win everything.”

How did he approach the Olympics having never been at a global championship stage before?

“There was an aspect of it where I was trying to make it low key and simplify it in my head but it kind of did that on its own. Thousands of Olympic athletes were around. It seems like it was so hyped up in my head and so big that when I got there, it was very hard for it to live up to that extreme level of hype and intensity, which I was really happy about. No one wants that extra stress that comes with it. Part of that probably comes from the fact that it was an empty stadium, which definitely changes it. I just simplified it in my head where each round I thought, ‘OK, get through this round. That’s not what I came here to do. I don’t want to just race one race and come all the way to Tokyo.’ However, if I would’ve said that last season, I would have been happy about that regardless. But when I was there I thought ‘I want to take advantage of this opportunity because we all know how few shots at Olympic Games we get.’ Round by round and the next round, I thought: ‘Do whatever you can to get to that final.’ That was my big overarching goal going in. I wanted to make that final. That’s what everyone sees. Unless you’re really into the sport, people don’t really watch the first two rounds. The world watches the final. I just knew I really wanted to get there and just treat this like it’s going to be your last race and just send it if you have to.”

How did you approach the actual tactics of the final?

“The final was tricky just because everyone watching and everyone in it knew it was going to be fast. There was no getting around it. This was not the year for a tactical 1,500. It did not go that way. I was aware of my fitness and where I was at in the season. I was super confident going into the final and aware of what I could do. I didn’t feel burnt out or any of that. I think I timed it pretty well and I was proud of that. The idea was just get in there, get on the rail, don’t use extra energy and see what you can do. I was able to do that. I got onto the rail. I think the field may have gone a little far out which I guess was inevitable. When it’s a 3:28 or 3:29 race – the fastest 1,500 at the Olympics ever – I was pretty happy with a two-second PR beating the previous day. Looking back on it, I don’t think I could’ve asked for more tactically. That was just a race that was so much faster than any race I’ve ever been in.”

For more from Cole, including his responses to listener questions. Listen to the full episode of the podcast.


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