July 20, 2012
Being an assistant coach for the Ireland Track & Field Olympic team will be no small task, but three-time Olympian Mark Carroll has the knowledge and experience for the job.
Before he was the cross country coach at Auburn, Carroll competed in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Though he never received an Olympic medal, each trip brought new challenges and opportunities for Carroll to show his skill and leadership.
In 1996, just a month shy of heading to the Atlanta Olympics Carroll was having problems with his left shin.
“Being young and not stopping to think about it, I just trained so hard right through it,” said Carroll. “I ended up with a stress fracture and wasn’t able to compete, but was still on the team.”
Obviously disappointed by not being able to compete with his team, Carroll took a break after the 1996 Olympics to heal, but then immediately switched his focus to the 2000 Olympics.
Between the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, Carroll experienced many successes. At the European Championships in 1998, he received the bronze medal, and also he made the finals at the World Championships that same year in Seville, Spain.
However, these were just “stepping stones” to the greater stage- the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Leading up to this Olympics is when Carroll had many of his personal bests. One of them coming in the event that he would compete in at the Games, the 5,000m that he ran in 13:03.93.
“The relief I felt when I walked into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremonies was like, ‘Wow!’” said Carroll. “I made it there in one piece.”
There were mixed emotions for Carroll going into this Olympics.
“There was the relief part of it, and then there was the excitement of being there and meeting people from different countries and realizing that you’ve reached the biggest stage in our sport.”
Unfortunately, he narrowly missed qualifying for the 5,000m finals by one place, but it gave him a lesson that he passes on to all of his athletes to “never ease up.”
In 2002, Carroll competed in the New York City Marathon that he completed in 2:10:54, which solidified his decision to move into marathons. However, at the start of 2003 he fractured his pelvis in Albuquerque, N.M.
“It took about four months to heal, but even then I had an imbalance in my pelvis because my muscles weakened and as a result my pelvis had a twist in it,” said Carroll. “I would be able to run 13, 14, 15, and 16 miles, but then my right hip would lock up.”
That injury ended his marathon career, but he decided to go back to his old specialty- the 5000m. He qualified in 2004 for the Athens Olympics in the 5000m.
“To be honest, I had lost some of that pop and spring that I used to have,” said Carroll. “So, I didn’t make the finals in Athens, but it was good to be there.”
After the 2004 Olympics, Carroll ended his professional running career, but he had begun making the transition into coaching a few years earlier.
“My entry into coaching was not formal through the federation,” said Carroll. “Younger athletes would come to me and ask if I would help, and I had learned so much from my own coach, Jim Harvey, about the different types of training. It was just applying a lot of what I had already learned from him to these guys.”
Now, the Auburn University cross country coach resides in Auburn with his wife, Amy Rudolph. Rudolph is also quite an accomplished distance runner. She enjoyed a very successful career, qualifying for the Olympics in both 1996 and 2000. She was also the 2006 USA Outdoor 10,000m champion.
“Most of our neighbors know that we ran professionally for a while, but I’m not sure how much they know,” Carroll said. “Now for us, running is more about getting out the house and just enjoying it.”
Even some of the neighborhood kids will join in the couple’s runs and race them up and down the hill.
“Having somebody who understands what I did on a day-to-day basis helped both of us a lot,” said Carroll.
The three-time Olympian hopes to pass on to his athletes more than just knowledge about the sport, but to learn from his mistakes and to pass what they learn on to athletes they may train in the future.
“I tell the guys and girls all the time to not make the same mistakes I did,” Carroll said. “Yes you have to train hard, but it’s more important to train smart. And that’s what I try to teach my athletes.”