We’re hoping to start a new series on Hepstrack.com this outdoor season where we try to present more of a inside view of the Ivy League through the eyes of the current student-athletes. We reached out to a number of student-athletes to ask them a series of questions regarding their college experience and showing more of the person behind the athlete.
The first athlete in our spotlight series is Connor Claflin, a middle distance runner for Columbia University. Connor is a graduating senior from Indianapolis, Ind., majoring in Information Science. He attended Lawrence Central High School and became an immediate contributor to the strong middle distance program at Columbia during his freshman year, only to grow as an athlete and competitor over the next three years. He has accomplished much individually and in various relay squads throughout his four years of healthy competition, belonging to the school record DMR squad (9:38.64), Heps Championship relay teams in the 4X800 (indoor 2012, outdoor 2013) and Heps Championship DMR team (2013). Connor is a member of three relay teams that rank amongst the top ten of all time in Ivy League track and field, (indoor 4X800, indoor DMR, outdoors 4X800) and a top-10 all time performer in the indoor 800 meters with the time of 1:48.67. He also captured his first individual Heps title in the 800 meters this indoor season (2015), and hopes to defend it in addition to the 4X800 title this outdoor season.
When did you start running?
I ran in my first track race in either kindergarten or first grade. My elementary school had a school-wide track and field meet at the end of every year on a grass track behind our school. I guess those elementary school track meets were where I first started running, but I didn’t start training or running regularly until middle school.
How did you end up competing for Columbia?
After my junior year of high school I started trying to figure out where I could have an opportunity to run in college. I got calls from a few schools, including Columbia, and after visits, talking with the coaching staff and guys on the team, I felt like this was the best fit for me. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Where is your favorite place to compete and why?
I think I’d have to say the Armory. We consider it our home track, and it’s always special racing there. It’s a quick subway ride from campus so we always have a great support crew there cheering us on. The Armory carries an authority with it, so there is a feeling of significance with everything we do in there.
Before your race, what do you mentally focus on? How do maintain focus during your race?
I try my best to focus only on things that I can control before a race: what time to warm up, how long to warm up, what to eat, and my individual plan for the race. Sometimes it can be tough to keep out thoughts about how the race will turn out, but in that case I try to visualize only positive outcomes.
Learning to maintain focus during a race has been one of the most important things I’ve learned in my collegiate career. I make a very conscious effort to relax during races, and to stay aware of what is going on around me in the race. Learning to consciously relax and focus came from practice, and I don’t think I really figured it out until towards the end of my sophomore year.
Do you have any meet rituals or superstitions? (Lucky underwear, pre-race meal, pre-race songs etc.)
I’m not really superstitious, but I do like to approach races pretty much the same way. I wear the same socks for most of my races, and I usually eat some sort of pasta dish the night before. I don’t like the idea of relying on a constant ritual or superstitious practice though. I try to make sure I can be prepared to run under imperfect circumstances, so I don’t feel the need to have everything go exactly the same way before every race.
If you weren’t an 800 runner, what event would you most likely do?
If I had a choice, I’d like to head down to the 100m and 200m, maybe some high jump; I think that would be pretty fun. Unfortunately, I was not built with the ability required to be competitive in those events, so most likely I’d head up to the longer distances. The 1500m and 3k Steeplechase would probably be where I’d end up.
Do you have any interests outside of track and field?
I’ve always been a fan of most sports, particularly basketball. If I didn’t run track I would probably be playing basketball. Outside of the sports realm my interests include movies, video games, board games, walking around outside, and computer programming.
What athletic performance are you most proud of? Non-athletic performance?
This indoor season I got my first individual Heps title in the 800m, that’s definitely the athletic performance I am most proud of. As far as non-athletic performances, in high school I did a musical production of a segment of Hamlet with a friend of mine for an English project. We crushed it.
What are your goals for the upcoming season?
I’d like to get an outdoor Heps 800m title to go with the indoor one, and I’d like to help our team defend our 4x800m title. I’ve never made the NCAA championship meet, so that’s definitely a top goal for me. I’d also like to take the school record in the 800m from my friend Harry McFann (1:47.91).
Describe your favorite Heps memory!
My favorite Heps memory probably comes from my freshman year, at 2012 Indoor Heps at Cornell. I was disappointed with how I had ran in the 500m final, but the coaches still put me on the anchor of the 4x800m. We ended up winning it along with the DMR before, and there was an incredible amount of energy in the building. It was a lot of fun.
What does the Heps mean to you?
The Heps is a chance to prove yourself in the league, get bragging rights over the rest of the Ivies, compete with some of the best runners, jumpers and throwers in the country, and to hopefully do something memorable.
If you could done with anyone who has ever existed, who would you dine with and why?
I would probably choose to dine with J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan and I think it would be interesting to talk with him about his thoughts on the work and how it developed.
Any recommended books? Movies? Music?
Movies: Cloud Atlas, The Land Before Time, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Warrior, Gus, The Naked Gun (entire series), Bottle Rocket.
Music (Artists): Al Green, Talib Kweli, Jurassic 5, Tears For Fears.
– Jenny Desouchet
top photo by Doug Austin; relay photo by Mary Boggs; Connor with corn provided by Connor Claflin