Monday, August 24, 2009

World-Class (And I Bet You Don't Know Her)

Shannon Rowbury just did something no other American woman has ever done.

She medaled in the 1500 meters at the World Championships. It's the highest finish ever for a female American in the 1500 at the Worlds (and Rowbury's 7th-place finish in Beijing was the high-water mark for an American woman in the Olympic 1500).

That's Rowbury in 4th place in the photo. She crossed the line 4th in Berlin but wound up with the bronze because winner Natalia Rodriguez was DQ'd.

What I find most remarkable about Shannon Rowbury is that she's become a world-class athlete in San Francisco. Our fair city has been famous for many things, but creating international track stars hasn't been one of them.

Rowbury grew up in the Sunset District, played a little youth soccer, did some Irish dancing, and then started winning 800 and 1500 meter races in high school. After Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, she headed off to Duke, where she won numerous NCAA titles.

And then--here's the shocking part--she returned to that hotbed of track and field, San Francisco. Rowbury's a Sunset District girl all the way; her blog lists a jeweler on West Portal Avenue and a bakery at 9th and Irving as favorite haunts.

World-class athletes, of course, spend a lot of time on the road. Rowbury's summer schedule has her in and out of European airports (track is still alive and well in Europe and it's where the big stars earn their keep).

She's becoming a bigger blip on the radar screen; with the London Olympics two years away, Rowbury will be considered a possible medalist. She'll no doubt spend more and more time training in exotic locations.

But it's heartening to know that the young woman with the nice smile next to you in line at Blue Bottle Coffee might be a homegrown athletic superstar.

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