(WTNH)–When the gun sounds at the women’s 800-meter final in Rio on Saturday, members of the Yale track and field community will have a familiar face to root for.
Kate Grace, who graduated from Yale in 2011, will be standing in Lane 1, just two lengths of the track and seven of the best runners in the world separating her from gold.
The Santa Montica, California native qualified for the final after running a new personal best (1:58.79) in a semifinal race on Thursday. Grace knew she would need to run a personal best in order to qualify, and she did it, starting off aggressively and shadowing favorite Caster Semenya of South Africa the entire way.
Yale coach David Shoehalter says he’s not surprised by Grace’s accomplishments.
“Nothing she does surprises me,” he said. “But that doesn’t take away from her accomplishment. When she was at Yale, it was clear that she was a special kid.”
“It’s not the typical route from the Ivy League to turn pro. She had all kinds of other options open to her and she chose to do this because we thought this was a possibility [ending up in Rio],” Shoehalter said.
As a collegian, Grace broke four school records and qualified for NCAA national championship races in both the 800 and 1,500-meter runs. She turned pro after graduating, and now trains with a group in California.
“She was incredibly competitive and incredibly clutch,” Shoehalter said. “The more important the race was, the more you knew she was going to run well.”
Shoehalter doesn’t think she’ll be fazed by running in an Olympic final, either.
“I don’t know what’s going on on the inside, but externally she’s unflappable,” he said.
“I wouldn’t put anything past her. There are some tremendous women in this race, but if she’s close with 200 meters to go, I wouldn’t put anything past her. She can finish with the best of them.”
A number of Grace’s former teammates have made the trip to Rio to watch her run.
You can catch the women’s 800-meter final on NBC at 8:15 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.