PORTLAND, Ore. — Shelby Houlihan may be the best America has ever seen in her events, but when the Olympics were put on hold many wondered when she would get her shot against the world’s best. The 2020 Olympic stage was one Houlihan has been training her entire life for.
“This is real important to me. I have a lot of goals for myself,” said the Sioux City, Iowa, native. When the International Olympic Committee made the difficult decision to postpone the Olympics to 2021 because of COVID-19, Houlihan had to digest the bad news, literally.
“I immediately went to the store and bought a bunch of junk food, just like a pity party for myself for a week. In my mind I was like who cares anymore?” Houlihan said.
Once the sugar rush wore off, Houlihan rushed back to her training in Oregon. With many facilities shut down, Houlihan was sharing a local high school track with community members, counting steps on their Fitbit unaware who they were sharing the track with. “I respectfully had to tell people we kind of need lane one and they are just not about it and you have to run around them,” Houlihan said.
It wasn’t all so bad. Her Nike Bowerman Track Club found a way to create a sanctioned race between club members and a different piece of glory found Houlihan. She became the first American woman to run the 5,000 meters in under 15 minutes, setting a United States record. Houlihan said, “That was really cool to do and prove to myself that I didn’t waste this year. I did a good job.”
Houlihan’s habit for historic firsts could provide a glimpse for the future. In 2011, she became the first high school female to win three events at the historic Drake Relays. In 2014, she became the first Arizona State University student to win a national title in the 1500 meters. This summer in 2021, she could become the first American woman to win a medal in the 5k or first to win gold in the 1500 meters, two events she already holds U.S. records in.
“If I was able to win a gold medal, I’m sure I probably would get emotional again because that’s a childhood dream I’ve had since I was 5 years old,” said Houlihan.
Houlihan still holds the Iowa state high school record in the 1500 meters. She was a 12-time All American at Arizona State University. Houlihan finished 11th at the Rio Olympics in 2016 in the 5,000 meter event.