Uhl celebrates homecoming at US championships

Updated: June 18, 2013, 6:38 PM ET
Associated Press

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By LUKE MEREDITH

AP Sports Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Lisa Uhl's high school experiences at Drake Stadium were largely defined by heartbreak.

Nearly a decade later, the Fort Dodge, Iowa, native returns to that familiar blue oval in strong position to qualify for the world championships.

It'll also be a short commute for Uhl, a three-time NCAA outdoor champion, an Olympian and one of the favorites in the 10,000-meters Thursday at the U.S. championships at Drake Stadium. For the past 10 months, Uh has been living in Des Moines and training with her former Iowa State coach, Corey Ihmels, after an unpleasant two-year stay in Oregon.

"Ever since I've been back, it's been really great for my attitude and my happiness," Uhl said. "I'm really excited to race at Drake."

When Uhl -- then known as Lisa Koll -- shipped off to college in 2005, few thought she'd ever return to Iowa as one of the world's top distance runners.

Uhl never took won a state title at Fort Dodge High, but she was good enough to earn a roster spot at Iowa State. After redshirting as a freshman, Koll blossomed under the tutelage of Ihmels.

Uhl was an All-American in 2007, her first season of competition, and in the spring of 2008 she won her first NCAA title in the 10,000 at Drake Stadium. Uhl swept the Big 12 indoor and outdoor titles in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters the following year and did the same at the NCAA meet as a senior in 2010.

Uhl decided to pursue her pro career in Oregon, where so many American distance runners have developed into international standouts.

Things never really went that way for Uhl.

Uhl was barely able to compete in 2011 because of lingering foot injuries. She bounced back in 2012 and qualified for the London Games, finishing 13th with a personal-best of 31:12.80. Yet Uhl never shook the feeling that Oregon wasn't for her.

"I wasn't really happy, personally or athletically, in Portland. I felt like I wasn't progressing the way I should be athletically -- and I don't think it was so much because of the coaching or the training situation," she said. "I just wasn't happy there. I was really far from my family, and for some reason I just wasn't fitting in well. I just needed to be back in my roots and in my element."

Uhl reached out to Ihmels shortly after returning from London. By September, she and her husband had moved back to Des Moines, with Uhl taking a job as a volunteer assistant at Iowa State.

But Ihmels won't be sticking around in Ames much longer.

Last week, Ihmels surprisingly announced he was leaving Iowa State for Boise State. Even Uhl didn't know his departure was a possibility until just before it happened.

Uhl plans to continue to live and train in central Iowa, working with Ihmels remotely and taking a few trips a year to Idaho to run with her former college coach.

"It takes some processing. I'm really just trying to focus on competing this weekend," Uhl said. "It doesn't really change anything, I think ... he's still willing to coach me and I told him, `You're not getting away from me that easily."

Uhl is likely slotted behind Amy Hastings and Nike teammate Shalane Flanagan as favorites in the 10,000. Uhl's recent training has been hindered by a minor car accident that left her with a bruised femur, though she said she'll be fine to run Thursday.

But like fellow Olympian and Iowa native Lolo Jones, she'll be the main attraction in her event. Uhl's main goal is to finish high enough to qualify for the world championships in Moscow. But a win would certainly make her move back to Iowa seem all the more worth it.

"It definitely adds more pressure, but I also embrace that pressure," Uhl said. "I just hope I can use that to put on a good show."

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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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