When the Pressure’s On, Raevyn Rogers Leans on Faith
The world championships 800-meter silver medalist has changed coaches and coasts—and now she's competing at her first Olympics.
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When Raevyn Rogers lined up to compete at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials at the recently renovated Hayward Field, she raced under her own likeness—in a giant way. The new 10-story tower on the University of Oregon track pays tribute to the program’s biggest legends: Bill Bowerman, Steve Prefontaine, Ashton Eaton, Otis David, and Rogers, a six-time NCAA champion for the Ducks and now a 2021 Olympian in the 800 meters.
“I never would have thought that I could say that I’d be on a tower, at age 24, especially not being from the west coast at all. It’s a constant reminder that nothing is impossible,” Rogers says.
Rogers won the silver medal in the 800 meters at the 2019 world championships, then went on to shake up everything in her life. She left her Philadelphia-based group and training partner Ajee’ Wilson, moved to Portland, Oregon, and joined the new Nike team training under Peter Julian, who was a coach at the former Oregon Project.
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“To go into the Olympic year with a new coach, I’m sure it was a lot of pressure on him as well, but I mean, we’ve been growing in our relationship,” she says. “He’s just been really reassuring throughout this whole process—he believes in me at every practice and it’s always good to have somebody that even on down days, they’re making sure that you’re reminded of the goal.”
Leading up to the Trials, Rogers got to test out the new Hayward Field facility, racing 800 meters at the Grand Prix, where she finished third in 2:03.89. Going into the Trials, she raneds third, behind Wilson and NCAA standout Athing Mu. The trio made Team USA, with Mu finishing first (1:56.7), Rogers second (1:57.66), and Wilson third (1:58.39). From here on out, it’s all about keeping the mental game in check.
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“I do check-ins with my sports psych, which helps with this pressure,” Rogers says.
The 800-meter first round in Tokyo is schedule for 9:25 p.m. Eastern on July 29; the semi-final is 7:50 a.m. Eastern on July 31; and the final is 8:25 a.m. Eastern on August 3.
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Event: 800 meters (1:57.66)
Training tip: While preparing for the 2021 Olympic Trials, Rogers knew she had to work on her race tactics a little more, after a year away from competition. So she told Julian she wanted to try the 1500 meters at a meet in mid-May—not an event she had ever raced before (“On the starting line, I’m like, ‘So is this like a two command? Are you just supposed to shoot across when they pop the gun?’ I had absolutely no idea.”) but one she knew might teach her a thing or two. She finished in 4:14.25.
“I hadn’t done well tactically in the races before that and I wanted to get comfortable running in a group. Most of my workouts I train by myself, so I learn a lot in my races. What better way to get out there and really be among a group of women, just seeing how to maneuver in this pack instead of getting so comfortable and in my habit of settling in the back. There was so much pushing and scratching and tripping. It was like a video game. That was clearly an out-of-body experience trying to finish that race.”
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Favorite workout: Anything that involves 200-meter intervals. She divides the 800-meter race into 200 meters at a time, so she’s become an expert at knowing what the distance feels like at varying paces. Sometimes the session is 12 x 200 meters with 90 seconds rest and other times she does a ladder of varying interval distances up and down, but it always involves some 200s.
“I love everything about 200s,” she says. “I’ll go really hard and the boys are always shocked.”
The worst part of race day: The anticipation and the nerves, though at the 2019 world championships, Rogers says she found herself unusually calm.
“But I feel like that anticipation just comes from some sort of outside pressure that’s making its way into your mind to try to shake you up,” she says. “I usually try to catch that before it grows and grows and grows.”
The best part of race day: The preparation. Hair, makeup, putting the racing kit on. “Getting ready to go out there is my favorite part,” Rogers says. “I really enjoy the process and getting into the spirit to go out there and perform.”
Trials success: Whether she moved on to Tokyo or not, she wanted to treat her Oregon fans to something special. “I want to make them proud. It’s almost like an ode to them as well and to the new stadium.”
Last words on the starting line: She leans into her faith. “Based on my relationship with God and the gift that I’ve been blessed to have, I just know that nothing’s impossible, that I’ll be able to take it as far as God allows me.”
Sage advice: Rogers likes to remember what her grandmother told her: “Just like a duck, let it run off your back.”
“Even in the midst of these recent times where I’ve been trying things out and this adjustment period with [Julian], I’ve been holding that really close. Just let it run off and really stay true to the process. Trust Pete. Take things day-by-day, round-by-round and trust the process.”
Pandemic pastimes: Between relocating from Philadelphia to Portland, switching coaches, and adjusting to her new routines, Rogers didn’t have a typical COVID year. When she left Philadelphia in June, it was at the height of civil unrest and protests against police brutality.
“Philadelphia was going up in flames because of all the protesting. A lot was happening,” she says.
But when her training group migrated to Arizona in the winter months, she and her roommate, Alexa Efraimson, binged a popular Netflix show, “Bridgerton” (“Man, that was great,” Rogers says), as well as “Ratched.”
Editor’s Note: This article was part of a series leading up to the 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials, highlighting many of the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find all of our coverage here. It has been updated and edited for the Tokyo Olympics.