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Most of Harvard’s graduating athletes will be leaving their athletic aspirations behind at the conclusion of the school year in favor of varied pursuits in the real world. But one need look no further than the coaching staff of the Crimson’s cross country and track squads to find a couple of exceptions to this trend. Far from hanging up their running shoes, Charles Gillespie ’10 and Brian Hill ’11 are now chasing Olympic dreams.
After standout collegiate careers, the pair has rejoined Harvard’s cross country and track teams as volunteer coaches. With their eyes set on the U.S. Olympic Trials, Gillespie and Hill will continue to train with the teams in their new roles.
Hill, who hopes to qualify for the trials in the men’s 800m run, concluded a hallmark All-American campaign for the men’s track team last spring with a spot in the NCAA national championships in the 800m. He also won the Battle of the Beanpot.
Gillespie, who goes by “Chas”, culminated a successful graduate year at the College of William and Mary last spring, utilizing his final year of athletic eligibility to continue running cross country. While with the Tribe, Gillespie was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Male Cross Country Runner of the Year. Last June, his time in a half-marathon qualified him for a spot in the marathon at the Olympic Trials in January.
Jason Saretsky, head coach of both the Crimson’s cross country and track teams, praised Gillespie and Hill for their work ethic, commitment, and passion for the sport.
“I thought it would be great for our team to be around these guys,” Saretsky said about his decision to invite the two back.
It seems the feeling was mutual, as both Gillespie and Hill view returning to Cambridge as a natural fit.
“There’s no better place [to train] than Harvard,” Hill concurred. “We have the facilities, coaching staff, and the teammates that anybody would die to have.”
Hill and Gillespie have taken less than conventional paths to their standings as elite athletes and Olympic hopefuls.
“We wouldn’t recruit somebody today who ran the times Brian did in high school,” Saretsky said. “For him, it really came down to his commitment. He was the first to show up and the last to leave. We had to kick him out at the end of practice.”
While Hill may not have been a star when he arrived on campus, he was one of the strongest by the time he graduated. He currently holds the school record in the indoor 800m and the 4x800m relay.
Gillespie’s career has been one of adaptation. He arrived at Harvard focusing on the mile, a relatively short race in the world of distance running. He soon realized that he was a stronger performer at longer distances and shifted gears.
“By my senior year, my best events were the 5000m and the 10000m,” Gillespie said.
“Chas’s key was consistency,” Saretsky noted. “He just continually got better.”
Gillespie, who has sported an engulfing beard since before the look was popularized by the likes of Zach Galifianakis, is propelled by a cool yet unassuming self-assuredness.
“I’ll never forget a meeting we had—I think it was Chas’s junior year,” Coach Saretsky recalled, “he told me he wants to be in a position where he can be our top guy in any given race. Now, we had some pretty good runners besides Chas at the time. But it just shows who he is as a competitor.”
Not content with his race performances last spring, Gillespie decided to attempt even longer distance events.
“Half-marathon was a natural progression,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie turned in a time of 64 minutes and 56 seconds, four seconds better than the 65 minute time needed to qualify for the Olympic trials.
“A lot had to go right,” Gillespie admitted, “but it was amazing.”
Hill and Gillespie are currently roommates living only a few steps from Hill’s old home in Quincy House.
“I see this current situation as the ideal one,” Hill concluded.
Olympic Trials for track and field will not be held until next June. By that time, Hill hopes to post an 800m time better than the soon to be announced qualifying time.
Meanwhile, Gillespie is training for the Marathon Olympic Trials, to be held Jan. 14, in Houston, Texas. It will be his first marathon.
“I wanted to attempt to approach the pinnacle of my capabilities,” Gillespie said, “I think that when you do something that you love, and you really give it everything you have, opportunities open up for you.”
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