Reporting from Des Moines, Iowa – She made the 2004 U.S. Olympic team sprint relay pool as a 22-year-old just out of Penn State, but even then Consuella Moore quickly was losing the joy of running.
Moore, who did not compete at the 2004 Summer Games, hung on three seasons, running slower and slower, before deciding to take a break after failing to advance from a first-round heat at the 2007 U.S. championships.
The break lasted until the fall of 2009, when a series of coincidences led the Chicagoan back to where she was Sunday: first across the Drake Stadium finish line in the 200 meters at the U.S. championships with a personal-best time of 22.40 seconds, fourth fastest in the world this season.
At 28, she has rediscovered what made her love the sport as a kid.
"I look at track as like a giant playground for adults, with all the events going on," Moore said. "One day I said, 'I really miss playing with my friends.'
"I had a lot of stuff going on in the past when I was running. I found out it doesn't have to be stressful. It's just like racing another kid to the mailbox back in the day."
April Holmes, the 2008 Paralympic champion at 200 meters, began to sense Moore missed the sport when they worked together on the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid.
By then, Moore had left her post-collegiate training base in South Carolina and returned to Chicago, where she was working at a Women's Workout World and doing clinics for kids as part of World Sport Chicago.
Each times Holmes saw her, she told Moore, "You should be running. Come out to California and be my training partner. You can live in my house."
Fate seemed to intervene when Holmes' coach, 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner, was changing planes at O'Hare Airport at the same time a Chicago bid group including Moore and Holmes was leaving for the International Olympic Committee's Oct. 2 vote on the 2016 host in Copenhagen.
Holmes introduced Moore to the effusive Joyner, who immediately began working on her to resume running. A month later, she went to live with Holmes and train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.
"One of the biggest fears after two years off was 'Can I still do this?'" Moore said. "A lot of people come back and then go [right] home and hang up their spikes."
Moore said Joyner's biggest contribution has been getting her to relax on the track. She was more stressed after the race because she has a paper due Monday for a master of business administration program at the University of Phoenix.
"I have to implement a program for training and mentoring an [imaginary] staff I hired last week," she said.
Moore's best time in her comeback before the national meet had been 23.12 seconds. Her former personal best — from 2006 — was 22.62. Sunday, she beat a field without the four fastest U.S. women of 2009.
"For her to come back and win after three years away is nice, but what matters are the world championship trials in 2011 and the Olympic trials in 2012," Joyner said. "What this does is give her confidence she hasn't lost it."
Another leading U.S. athlete, pole vaulter Jenn Suhr, had to feel similarly by regaining the form that made her national record-holder and Olympic silver medalist in 2008. After an injury-riddled 2009, Suhr won Sunday's vault at a world-leading height of 16 feet 1/2 inch, just 1 1/2 inches from her U.S. record.
High hurdler David Oliver also posted a 2010 world-leading (and personal best) time of 12.93 as the four-day national meet ended.