March 9, 2006
By Joe Meginnes, SID Student Assistant
The NCAA track and field scene is peppered with student athletes from all over the globe, representing countries as diverse as Uganda and Chile. The University of Notre Dame squad, no exception to this phenomenon, gets perhaps its most distinct international flavor from junior middle distance star, Thomas Chamney. Hailing from Ireland and recognized for his fast times both on and off the track, Chamney has recently added a new characteristic to his profile — the charismatic, well-traveled harrier is a BIG EAST Conference champion after winning league titles in the 800 meters and 4×800-meter relay on February 18th and 19th in Akron, Ohio.
Chamney will look to continue his season success this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. Running the 800 meters, the 1,200-meter leg of the distance medley relay (along with teammates Ryan Postel, Adam Currie, and Kurt Benninger), or both, Chamney will have a very realistic chance of attaining the first All-America honors of his career. Not bad for someone who has historically overlooked the indoor campaign.
“Traditionally I’ve been a little sluggish indoors,” Chamney says. “Outdoors is always the focus. No one really remembers who the world indoor champion is, and I have to race the NCAA outdoor season until June before going home to race the European season through the end of July. For the sheer length of the season, my main concentration lies outdoors.”
“But,” he adds, “I’m in the best shape of my life going into nationals right now.”
Chamney’s strong start to 2006 validates a difficult decision that he made at the end of the 2003-04 school year. After a disappointing sophomore season, he opted to take a year off of school to prepare for the European Under-23 Championships in Erfurt, Germany, with the support of the Irish Track and Field Federation.
He explains, “I just felt like I didn’t run very well sophomore year. I found that you really had to make a decision between living the student life and living the athletic life, and I got into kind of a rut, training-wise.”
During his time off, Chamney first traveled to Colorado for two months to train with fellow Irish athletes at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo. After a stint back at home in Dublin, he returned to South Bend to train with his Notre Dame teammates and compete in the Alex Wilson Invitational, where he ran a then-personal best of 1:48.73. At the outset of the outdoor season, Chamney was back in Europe for a full season of Irish national and international competition.
At the aforementioned European Under-23 Championships, Chamney took an impressive fifth in a field that included several professional competitors. Among his other summer accomplishments, all in the 800 meters, were the Irish under-23 title, a silver medal at the Irish senior championships, and a fifth-place effort in his Irish senior team debut at a European Cup race in Leiria, Portugal.
One of the more memorable moments of Chamney’s summer of competition resulted from his appearance at the IAAF Grand Prix meet in Seville, Spain.
“I showed up for the meet in Seville and stayed in a five-star hotel with these huge fountains in the foyer,” Chamney states. “There were a bunch of world famous athletes like Hicham El Guerrouj (world record holder in the mile) all over the place, great Kenyan runners just hanging out in the lobby. The meet took place in front of 15 or 20,000 people in the Olympic stadium. I was just glad to get the experience.”
Despite his extensive list of achievements reached while training abroad, Chamney retreated to South Bend this past fall anxious to resume his Notre Dame career. Though he gives up some freedom with his training, he finds other benefits to working out with the team.
“I think I do my best training in South Bend just because there are not as many distractions,” Chamney reflects. “Also, our group of 800-meter runners has a really good vibe, and school contributes to your routine. It helps me personally to have everything regimented day in and day out, so for me South Bend is a good place to train.”
That Chamney wound up clicking so well with Notre Dame may be due in part to a two-fold luck of the Irish. Taking the initiative, Chamney contacted several American universities during the latter part of his high school career hoping to garner an athletic scholarship.
“Irish runners will just wait until someone comes to them, but we decided that if I was going to go to the States, we would do a little research and pick a place that was good academically as well as athletically,” Chamney explains. “We looked at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Notre Dame, and Boston College. Notre Dame wasn’t really recruiting me all that heavily, but my dad kept in touch with Coach (Joe) Piane and updated him on how I was doing. Then, I got accepted and Coach Piane gave me a time that I needed to run to get a scholarship.”
It wasn’t until late in his senior year that Chamney managed to reach this goal time, and the circumstances around the performance still bring a smile to his face. In a meet the day after his senior year final exams and a spirited celebration that night, Chamney ran nearly a 2.5-second personal best that bettered Piane’s stated mark. “I called up Coach Piane and he said to come on over, we’d love to have you,” Chamney states.
“It was a great way to round up my high school career.”
Chamney arrived at Notre Dame for the fall semester of 2003 and received a bit of a surprise. While he knew of the school’s academic reputation, he had been unaware of various aspects of the school’s culture — namely, the visibility of its Catholic heritage in everyday campus life.
“It was a huge culture shock that I’m only getting used to now,” Chamney says. “I’d been to New York, but I came over for school and there were priests everywhere and rules like parietals. I was convinced that it would be full of cheerleaders and frat parties, and then I show up and it was different altogether. But it’s been great, and it’s probably better that way.”
Though his adaptation to other aspects of Notre Dame life was gradual, Chamney wasted no time in asserting himself on the track. In his first season under the Dome, he became the team’s top 800-meter threat, thanks in no small part to his smarts and instincts on the track.
His father, John, explains: “He is a real competitor and that shows in his racing. Somebody else might run faster over 200 meters, but he is a racer and he is very intelligent. There aren’t many people that are going to outfox him on the track.”
There aren’t many collegiate runners with as much popularity as Chamney, either. This season he has started posting running journals on trackshark.com, a highly frequented track and field web site. While many other contributors submit straightforward, minimalist entries, Chamney has taken to writing lengthy, humorous, and largely fictional posts whose style is inspired by a popular column in Dublin’s Sunday Tribune.
“Usually training journals are like, `yeah, I did 10 miles today, it felt good,’ and I’ve pretty much stopped talking about that kind of stuff,” he says. “I like how mine has storylines woven into it, and it’s just something different. Most people seem to get a chuckle out of it.”
He doesn’t know how long he’ll keep writing entries, but for at least the foreseeable future, Chamney will continue to satisfy his ever-growing reader base.
“They (the entries) take a long time to write, but it’s worth it at the end of the day if people enjoy it,” he notes. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, so I’m going to keep it going.”
Chamney possesses a similar outlook on his future in running — he’ll keep going as long as he is still competitive. His immediate post-graduation plans may involve a year of full-time training in Ireland or graduate study in Dublin City University, with a potential switch in specialty to the 1,500 meters.
As for his long-term plans, Chamney has several goals in mind.
“Definitely, I want to keep making the Irish senior team,” he says. “In terms of competitions, there’s really only the European Cup each year and whatever major championship takes place that summer. I’m more likely to focus on the European Cup.”
However, right now it’s first things first for Chamney. He’ll be representing the Irish — the Fighting Irish — in the NCAA Championships on Friday and Saturday, looking to build on an already strong resume and perhaps obtain some new material for his training log. Beyond that, it’s impossible to know what he will be up to next.
And that’s all just part of the fun of being Thomas Chamney.