In long run, timing critical to Coogans Marathon: Mark is in, but Gwyn takes up alternate plan to participate in Games

Olympic spotlight

June 11, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BOULDER, Colo. -- One of these days, Mark and Gwyn Coogan will get their hectic lives in sync. They won't be forced to juggle their training schedules with daughter Katrina's nap time. They won't have to tap-dance around each other's ricocheting emotions.

They certainly won't be under the pressure, and spotlight, they seem to be under now.

It has been building since mid-February, when Mark Coogan made his first Olympic team by finishing second to Bob Kempainen in the men's marathon trials in Charlotte, N.C. Coogan's greatest athletic moment came a week after Gwyn had just missed making her second Olympic team by finishing fourth at the women's trials in Columbia, S.C.

What made matters worse was the reaction from the couple's friends and family members, as well as from acquaintances and even total strangers who live in this running-crazed community. Especially from those who sent their congratulations to Mark while politely trying to ignore Gwyn.

"That's one of the problems," Gwyn Coogan said back in late March. "They almost see us as one identity. People who sent notes to Mark forgot about me. I really respect people who can say some thing to me and to Mark. I am happy for Mark. He's been working toward this for such a long time. Somebody said to me, 'I'm so sorry what happened to you.' I said, 'My husband's finally catching up to me.' "

It has taken Mark Coogan, a 30-year-old graduate of the University of Maryland, quite some time to catch up with his wife. And if Gwyn, also 30, has anything to say about it, she still might be one Olympic team up on her husband by the time the 1996 Summer Games begin next month.

"I think I'd enjoy it more if there wasn't the downside of her not making it," said Mark, sitting on the floor of the family room in their townhouse, 2 1/2 -year-old Katrina on his lap. "When she made the [1992] team, I was kind of a bump on a log. I felt good for her, but sorry for me."

Now it's Gwyn's turn. After opening up their home and lives to a steady stream of reporters and photographers before and shortly after the trials, the mounting tension has made the couple, Gwyn in particular, a bit out of sorts. After turning down a request from ESPN, Gwyn called her agent.

"She broke down on the phone," said Ray Flynn.

Though the trials were only her second marathon, Gwyn seemed to have a legitimate chance. Since she had won her only marathon, some considered her a dark horse. But like many others, Gwyn Coogan didn't believe surprise winner Jenny Spangler would go wire-to-wire. Had Spangler faltered down the stretch, Coogan likely would have made the team.

Now she will have another chance, in the 10,000 meters at this year's Olympic trials beginning Friday in Atlanta. "I love running on the track, and this gives me a good reason to get back on the track in a major way," said Gwyn, who finished second in the event at the U.S. Championships in 1994.

She is trying to be optimistic, but she is also realistic. She knows that stretching herself thin last fall ultimately might have cost her in the -- no pun intended -- long run this summer. While training for the marathon and helping care for Katrina, Coogan also was working on her doctorate in mathematics and teaching part time at the nearby University of Colorado.

The teaching duties have been dropped, the dissertation is nearly finished and Katrina now is going 15 extra hours a week to child care. And while her husband can take a moment's breath to savor his second-place finish -- and the $40,000 check he hTC received -- Gwyn Coogan forges on.

In retrospect, Gwyn Coogan should have learned from those in her field. Not other marathoners, other mathematicians. Her point of reference these days is a Princeton professor who proved a theorem that had gone unsolved for more than 300 years. To do so, the professor basically became a recluse.

"It took the total destruction of his life," said Gwyn, a Smith College graduate.

Her life is far from destroyed, but remains unsettled. Her parents back in Morrisville, Pa., constantly are asking her when she's going to give up running for more academic, as well as motherly, pursuits.

Even making the Olympic team wasn't as big a deal to them as her sister getting a doctorate in microbiology, or her brother becoming a lawyer. They still quite can't understand why she gave up a successful career at a computer firm in Boston several years ago.

"I have a couple of things I'd like to do," said Gwyn, who has been ranked in the top 10 in four different events. "But as long as you're improving [her times in running], you want to do it. It's definitely a harder decision for me. If I take another year off to have a baby, I don't know if I'd ever get back."

It's the opposite for Mark Coogan, who also has been in the top 10 in four different long-distance events. After a career that included finishing 10th in the 1992 Olympic steeplechase trials, this former college All-American has moved up several notches in the running world.

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