“When we lost, I couldn’t sleep that night,” Boldon told the Gazette. “Just losing, I can’t handle it. It’s not part of my fiber.”
As the new head coach of Penn’s men’s and women’s cross country program, Boldon will try to infuse that winning attitude into his runners. And considering the kind of pedigree he has, the runners will almost certainly listen.
After a mediocre start to his own track career – the Iowa-born Boldon said he wasn’t very good in high school and didn’t even make the travel team for regional championships when he first got to Missouri State University – Boldon emerged as one of the top distance runners in the country, placing in the top 10 at the United States Track & Field Championships four times and joining the elite fraternity of men that have run a mile in less than four minutes.
“I wasn’t an extraordinary athlete,” the 31-year-old Boldon said. “I made my living on beating people I probably I shouldn’t have. I was never an Olympian but any time an Olympian lined up next to me, I had a good shot at him.”
His own underdog story will certainly serve him well in his new role, especially when he has to break the news to a runner that they’re not making a trip for a big meet. His competitive drive should also be a boon to the program – although Boldon realizes there has to be a detachment when you’re coaching and not competing. That way, he’ll still be able to sleep, even after tough losses.
“If I’m losing sleep right now, it’s not because I’m worried about losing,” Boldon said. “It’s because I’m excited about where we are headed.”
Judging by the school’s growing commitment to cross country, the program is likely headed in the right direction. In the past, the cross country teams have been coached separately by the men’s and women’s track coaches, but this year, for the first time, only one person – Boldon – will coach both squads.
Boldon, who has previous coaching experience at Florida State, Iowa State and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (where he was a head coach), was hired as a distance coaching specialist for the Penn track teams last year, before being promoted to run the cross country teams on July 18.
“The key is having a mentality that cross country is a team sport and building a group that becomes something more than people that run together,” Boldon said. “The idea is building a team, a program – and that excited a lot of people.”
Boldon already has enjoyed a good deal of success at Penn. The highlight was mentoring Penn junior Leslie Kovach, who had a breakout campaign last spring, setting school records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and becoming the second outdoor All-American in the history of the Penn women’s track and field program.
In addition to helping Kovach become an even better college runner this year, Boldon also hopes to help her train and perhaps qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. As someone who just missed out on being included in the 2008 Olympic Trials – despite a frustrating appeal process that, in his mind at least, was unfair – Boldon has a unique knowledge on United States Track & Field’s sometimes-flawed qualifying system.
“I will have been through all that and I will know how to navigate it,” he said. “Maybe she and I are in Eugene, Oregon next summer getting ready for prelims in the women’s 5k.”
Either way, just being around talented athletes – and trying to shape their futures – will fill a much-needed void in the runner’s life.
Said Boldon: “Being here, being around tremendous athletes, seeing the direction we’re headed in as a team – it’s all very exciting.”