Last summer, Channelle Price crashed out the US champs at the 800m semi-final stage. She was supposed to be the US athlete of her generation: a great middle-distance hope. But since leaving high school, little had gone according to plan.
“I remember lying in the hotel room thinking: I have to stop. I can’t do this anymore.” Disconsolate and dejected, Price returned to her Iowa hotel room, flopped onto her bed, and hit rock bottom.
After a phenomenal high school career (she clocked 2:01 over 800m aged 17), her college and pro careers have been littered with frustration and underachievement. The disappointment of Des Moines felt like the final straw. After years of struggle, quitting felt like the only option.
Only a few months later, a newly-pursued relationship with God has transformed Price's life, removing the fear of performing badly and reconnecting her with the feeling she first experienced as a 9-year-old starting out in athletics.
“I was always so hard on myself,” she says. “Track was my God, and my everything. Looking back, my own self-worth came through how I performed on the track. Now God is at the centre of my life, I understand that the talent I was given is a blessing."
Born to a US Marine father and a parole officer mother, “there was no messing about in our house,” says Price, and sport played a major part in her New Jersey upbringing.
She began as a dancer, competing at a national standard. But it was on the school's fields that her natural gift for running first emerged.
“It was my soccer coach who first recommended I do track because I used to run all over the field. I just wouldn’t stay in my position,” she says, laughing.
The family moved to eastern Pennsylvania and by the time Price started high school, all other sports had fallen by the wayside.
She was selected to compete for Team USA at the 2007 World Youth Championships in Ostrava, and was tipped to return with the gold.
After easing through the rounds, she set off boldly in the final, front-running and confidently leading her opponents through the bell. Price entered the home straight in the lead but was pushed from behind, lost form, and ended up finishing a hugely disappointing sixth.
“I was devastated,” she says. “I was very, very upset at what happened. It taught me that when you are running at the world level with girls from different countries, it can get pretty ugly.”
Rough and tumble: Price suffers another trip at the 2008 US Olympic trials.
Upon graduating from high school Price headed west to the University of Tennessee, excited by the prospect of being coached by JJ Clark. Clark is accustomed to success: his sisters Hazel and Joetta both competed for the US over 800m, and his wife Jearl Miles Clark won world 400m gold in 1993.
Price describes Clark as a "coaching mastermind” – but consistent success eluded her due to a combination of poor discipline and self-imposed pressure.
“I was a bit of a head case,” she candidly admits. “I did not handle the pressure or expectation. I let it weigh me down. I had a lot of injuries and academic stresses. I ate mostly crap [pizza and cookies were her favourites] and my weight fluctuated. It got to the point where it wasn't fun anymore.
By mid-2013, Price was “mentally and physically burnt out” and considering walking away from her track career when God entered her life.
“I honestly now don't care what people think, I'm not running for anyone but God. The track is my sanctuary, the race is my cradle. I just leave the rest up to him. I have no sense of failure when running. I just feel so free. It is fun again.”
To further aid her new found track-life balance, Price has taken on two part-time jobs. One working as a sales assistant in a health food shop: another as a mentor to the students at the University of Tennessee.
“Some people think I‘m crazy for having two jobs [three if you include running], but not thinking about track all the time is really healthy.”
Chanelle Price has a sprinter's build and has spent time over the winter in the weights room, focused on improving her muscles' resistance to fatigue. She's upped her mileage from around 20 miles per week to nearer 35. Still “very low” she says.
Transformed by her new training regime, Price approached the indoor season aiming to reach the world indoor final in Sopot.
Chanelle N°1... Inevitable.
After finishing second at the US indoor champs in Albuquerque, Price took world indoor 800m gold with a trademark display of gutsy front running, practically leading from gun to tape.
“I don't like to sit and kick” she says. “I don't train all year to win in 2:04. It's no fun going through 400m in 62 secs with everyone pushing and shoving. I don't like that. I train extremely hard, and because of this I want to make sure it's worth it.”
The feisty 23-year-old runner is ambitious for the outdoor season. She hopes to lower her 400m PB to 52 secs, and is also targeting a sub-4:10 1500m. Winning her first US 800m title, performing well in the Diamond League, and success at the World Relays is also on her jam-packed to-do list for 2014.
Being the first American woman ever to win a world 800m title (indoor or out) in Sopot, was some way to kick-start her career.
“I’ve probably already watched the race about 50 times. I still can’t quit believe it,” she says. “The race unfolded just perfectly. I had a very emotional medal ceremony: it was quite the journey.”