Notre Dame's Olivia Markezich On Her Breakout 2023

The CITIUS MAG Podcast

December 12, 2023

"It was the best way I could have ended college cross country. The podium has been something that we've worked toward the past three seasons."

Notre Dame senior Olivia Markezich just ran 8:40.42 for 3000m at Boston University's indoor track, which is the second-fastest in NCAA history.

It’s been a fantastic year for her. In the spring, she won the 2023 NCAA title in the steeplechase and then finished fourth at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She returned to South Bend for one more full year and capped her final cross country season with a third-place individual and fourth-place team finish for the Fighting Irish. She also signed an NIL deal with On earlier in the fall.

I’d say she’s certainly a contender to make the U.S. Olympic team in the steeplechase and might even win the whole thing next June.

In this episode, we chat about her rise in the NCAA ranks, how she found the steeplechase, why she returned for one more year, how she’s continually surprising herself in these races and her hopes with the Olympic Trials on the horizon.

Notre Dame Women's Cross CountryNotre Dame Women's Cross Country

Johnny Pace / @PacePhoto

The following interview has been edited lightly for clarity and space. You can listen to the full interview with Olivia Markezich on the CITIUS MAG Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your shows.

CITIUS MAG: How did you approach (the 3000m at the BU Season Opener)? What did you think you were capable of? Did you surprise yourself at any point?

Olivia Markezich: I didn't have a time in mind going into the race. I just wanted to get a PR and win. My goal was just to focus on racing the people around me. And then obviously getting a PR is always a fun thing to do… I finally figured out how to not fall back and have to use my kick to catch back up. It was definitely a fun race.

CITIUS MAG: I'm curious about your own experience in Charlottesville (for the NCAA Cross Country Championships). You were always in it. What was happening in that chase pack? How did you approach that race?

Olivia Markezich: I approached that race with the mentality of just sticking my nose in it and trying to give it my all. I didn't have an idea of what place I wanted to be because that can add a bit of stress and anxiety on top of racing if you're set on getting a certain place. I just wanted to see what I could do, especially with being sick that week leading up to it.

CITIUS MAG: There were so many teams getting sick. What was going on with the virus on the Notre Dame team?

Olivia Markezich: It was kind of crazy. I got (sick) far enough out where I was like, ‘okay, I'll feel normal by race day...’ But when Andrea (Markezich) got sick, I was like, ‘this isn't good.’ We needed her for our team to do well. So going into the race, I thought we were probably not going to podium as a team. A top ten finish would have been fine… Having that the week leading up to nationals, it was really the mentality of being gritty and going out there and sending it. We had nothing to lose at that point. We just had to go out there and give it our all.

CITIUS MAG: As one of the upperclassmen on the team, are you the one who’s calming the team down?

Olivia Markezich: People would ask me, ‘how are you feeling?’ And at that point all you can say is, ‘I’m fine.’ You don't want to worry people. You don't want to stress them out. It also convinces you that you're fine. It’s really just a mental thing of being like, ‘I’m okay like this. My head is pounding with every step that I run, but what can I do about it?’

CITIUS MAG: When Parker (Valby) took off, what were you thinking?

Olivia Markezich: I was focusing on the next pack and sticking up there with Katelyn and the two Alabama girls and trying to stay neck-and-neck with them. Like I mentioned before, I have a habit of sometimes falling back a little bit and then having to kick to catch up. So I've been working on staying mentally strong and being like, ‘this is my group, these are my people. I'm not going back. I'm staying here and working with them.’

CITIUS MAG: The team ends up finishing fourth to match the preseason ranking. It’s the third podium finish in school history and second highest finish in program history. How special was that?

Olivia Markezich: It’s the best way I could have ended college cross country. The podium has been something that we've worked towards the past three seasons… It's definitely been something in the back of our mind, especially being ranked fourth during the preseason. We were like, ‘this is actually possible. We can do it…’ I try not to focus on the rankings too much. In the end, they just don't matter. All that matters is what you do at Nationals. So I tried to just focus on what we could do as a team to be better everyday.

CITIUS MAG: How have you seen the (Notre Dame) program change and evolve to get to this point where you guys go into a season expecting to make a podium?

Olivia Markezich: It's definitely different from my freshman year… The team culture and the team has evolved so much every single year, just being able to develop this team where people are working together and having more depth in the middle. We're all working together in the race instead of having just one frontrunner and then people sprinkled throughout like it was my first couple of years (at Notre Dame).

CITIUS MAG: What is Coach Sparks’ training philosophy?

Olivia Markezich: He always talks about racing in your window. He's very logical about his pre-race talks and telling you what you're able to do. He'll just say, ‘based on these workouts, you're able to run between top ten and top 20 in this race.’ That gives me a lot of peace going into races because I just have this logical approach to it. It’s like, ‘I’m able to do this and that’s a fact based on my workouts.’ His training is really aerobic-based. He always aims to be the most aerobically fit team in the country.

CITIUS MAG: The 2021 Olympic Trials must have been a formative experience since it was one of the first times you’ve been up against these women that you’ve looked up to.

Olivia Markezich: It was insane at the time. I was definitely starstruck being in that race… It was a good experience, learning how to be in such a competitive race at such a high level. Even if I wasn't trying to race at the front of it, it was a really cool experience realizing for the first time that I can race these people that I've been looking up to.

CITIUS MAG: The (2024) Olympic Trials are looming seven months from now. Are you excited? Is a little part of you nervous that it’s the Olympic year?

Olivia Markezich: I’m really excited for it. I'm not putting any pressure on myself because there's still so much time before then and I still have to focus on the NCAA indoor season and outdoor season… I’m going to give my best shot at it and not put any pressure on myself and we'll just see what happens.

CITIUS MAG: The fourth place finish at last year's USAs — when you walked off the track, were you disappointed? Were there some tears of sadness from just missing out on a World Championships team?

Olivia Markezich: It was definitely only happy tears. I think fourth was the best place for me to be in because pushing my season to Worlds would have been really challenging for me to come back for cross country (season). So I'm super excited with how my season ended. It was a really great PR that I'm happy with and fourth place is nothing to be upset about, so I think it worked out perfectly.

CITIUS MAG: Final question that I've got is how we ended the press conference at the NCAA Cross Country Championships: What are you majoring in and studying in college? And how does it help with your running?

Olivia Markezich: My Master’s (degree) is challenging, so it's definitely teaching me to push through the pain, buckle down, and get stuff done. I feel like that’s shown a lot in my racing, just being able to embrace the pain, that we're going to get through this no matter how hard it is. I also did a minor in studio art just for fun. It was relaxing and enjoyable. So I also like to just have fun with my races and training and not take it too seriously. Honestly, running should just be fun. If you're not having fun with it, then why do it?

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Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.

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