It has been a year of changes for Suzy Hamilton since she graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1991.
The days spent fishing, ice-skating or riding her mountain bike to a local movie theater in Madison, Wis., a town in which a fourth of the population is students, are memories.
She was married in May and moved to Malibu shortly thereafter.
Art and running, two of her favorite pastimes, however, still remain.
“I can paint forever and never get bored,” said Hamilton, 23, a graphic arts major. “Photography is great and I love running. I hope I’m still doing it in my 80s. It’s something I can do wherever I am.”
Lately, however, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in New Orleans in June has been foremost in her thoughts.
The 5-foot-3 1/2, 108-pound Hamilton is one of the favorites in the 1,500 meters after winning her second consecutive national title at The Athletics Congress championships in June. The top three in New Orleans will qualify for the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Hamilton advanced to the 1,500 semifinals in the 1988 Trials.
“I was awe of the other competitors and star-struck my first time,” said Hamilton, who has a best of 4 minutes 6.13 seconds for 1,500 meters.
“In order to win, you have to be confident. I feel I have a chance now. I don’t feel any pressure, but I think there are a lot of expectations for me to come through.”
Those expectations are well-founded.
As Suzy Favor, she won 23 Big Ten championships and a record nine NCAA track and field titles at Wisconsin.
As a senior in the 1990 NCAA outdoor championships, she won the 800 and 1,500 meters in meet-record times to become the first woman to win those events in the same season.
She broke her own record in winning the 1,500 for the fourth consecutive time in 4:08.26. No other woman has won four times in the same event. Hamilton also won the 800 in 1:59.11--the first time that a woman had broken two minutes in a collegiate race.
Hamilton was awarded the Honda-Broderick Cup, given annually to the top collegiate female athlete of the year, and a billboard was put up in Madison to honor her selection.
In her hometown of Stevens Point, Wis., about 100 miles north of Madison, she won 10 state high school championships in track and cross-country. She also won three national junior (age 19 and under) 1,500 titles. A life-size portrait hangs in the school’s gym.
Hamilton, though, is hardly noticed during a recent training run along San Vincente Boulevard in Santa Monica.
“It’s so different,” Hamilton said about Madison, a city where the mayor once proclaimed “Suzy Favor Day.”
“Back there, track is the big thing and everybody knew everybody. There were the Brewers and the Bucks in Milwaukee and the Packers in Green Bay, but there weren’t as many big sports figures. Wisconsin was great. I had the time of my life but I needed to move on.”
The move to California forced her to sever ties with Wisconsin Coach Peter Tegen. Although she still consults with Tegen, Hamilton now trains with Pepperdine cross-country Coach Dick Kampmann.
In addition to her usual 50-55 miles a week of running and weightlifting, Kampmann has incorporated swimming into Hamilton’s training regimen.
Hamilton said the hardest adjustment was being away from a structured collegiate program for the first time.
"(Tegen) has helped me and I owe him credit for what he’s done and teaching me race tactics,” Hamilton said. “He’s really busy with the college team and I’m not the kind of person who can run on my own. I need someone out there with me to monitor how I’m feeling.”
Hamilton wasn’t feeling very well last summer.
Weakened by the lingering effects of food poisoning suffered while in Europe, she did not make it out of the first round in the 1,500 in the World Championships in Tokyo.
After returning in September, she discussed the possibility of coaching cross-country as a volunteer assistant at Pepperdine, where her husband, Mark, attends law school.
The experience proved to be a perfect diversion for Hamilton, frustrated by her performance in the World Championships and in the need of a break from racing. Pepperdine, does not offer scholarships in cross-country or even field a track team, but Hamilton was impressed by the athletes’ enthusiasm and hopes to return next season.
“The students want to train for pleasure and it’s a different attitude, they love what they do,” Hamilton said. “It’s like a family. It’s a good experience and I’m learning a lot.”
When she is not coaching, much of her time is devoted to interviews and promotional work for Reebok. She signed a three-year contract with the shoe company last year. Hamilton would like to try broadcasting and plans to enroll in communication courses within the next year at a local college.
But for the moment, running is her primary occupation.
“There are more commitments now and I want to help the sport, but there are some times when I have to draw the line,” Hamilton said. “People are really supportive and understand. Training got me here in the position I am now and there is a drive inside to achieve success.
“It’s become my job, but it’s the greatest job in the world.”