By Sean Doerre
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
At the age of 16, Chris Gowell could be found on the golf course working on his short game in his native Newport, South Wales. Eight years later, a 24-year-old Gowell is running laps on a track in Waco, Texas.
Gowell’s improbable transformation from a 3-handicap golfer to a world-class 800-meter runner began at the age of 16 when his former coach, Ann Hill, discovered him at a high school skills competition.
“A lady came up to me and said I was talented and she wanted to coach me, so I gave it a go from there,” Gowell said.
And “gave it a go” he did as he represented the United Kingdom at the 2004 World Junior Championships and was the U-20 and U-23 800-meter champion in Great Britain. However, Hill passed away when Gowell was 21, leaving the budding runner without a clear direction.
“I was sort of at a crossroads in my life,” Gowell said. “I wanted to continue my education and my running, but the funding wasn’t available in the UK to do that. There is no system like there is in America.”
Searching for guidance and on the recommendation of a friend, Gowell sent an e-mail to Baylor’s assistant track coach Jon Capron and asked about coming to Waco to continue his pursuit of his track ambitions and a graduate degree.
“I just got really lucky because I can train to be a professional athlete and get a degree out of it, so it is a win-win situation for me,” Gowell said.
For Baylor Head Coach Todd Harbour, the decision to bring Gowell on board was a no-brainer.
“Chris loves track and field,” Harbour said. “He is a tremendous worker, to the point of perfection. He has been one of the most coachable athletes that I have ever coached. He is a tremendous competitor and a tremendous teammate. He is about as close to the total package as you can get.”
From the moment Gowell stepped foot on Baylor’s campus in 2009, he has been successful. He was a 2009 All-American in the 800-meters, Indoors and Outdoors, while clocking a lifetime best of 1:46.88 at the NCAA Outdoor final to take fourth place.
“He was pretty good last year,” Harbour said. “He took two All-American honors and wasn’t far out of the hunt for winning a national championship. He is definitely one of the best back in the UK right now, and he has great aspirations of trying to win a NCAA title here this year.”
This season, Gowell has dedicated himself to working to attain that NCAA title and is already turning heads in Indoor competition. Last weekend at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., Gowell broke his own record in the Indoor 800 with a time of 1:48.26 on his way to a first place finish. The time marked the fastest in the Big 12 and the third fastest in the NCAA this season.
“It used to be one of those things that just kind of happened, but I think I have gotten myself in such good shape at the moment that I know that any race could be a life-changing race,” Gowell said. “So it is an exciting stage in my career because I have never been in this kind of shape. “
Earlier this season, Gowell also established a Baylor record in the 1,000-meters with a time of 2:22.38. With all of his success, the 24-year-old still has to overcome obstacles.
“I am trying to be more positive lately because I have been having confidence issues – not believing I could win a race,” Gowell said. “But now I am starting to believe that I can. If I lose, I still have so many other things going for me, and it sort of takes the pressure off winning and losing. To me, it is so much more than running these days.”
Gowell credits Harbour for helping him develop mentally, saying that his coach has taught him to take all obstacles head on and be prepared to deal with the worst that could happen in a race.
Now with his busy track schedule and studying for his graduate degree in health education, Gowell finds little time to golf. Instead, he saves his shots on the links for trips back home.
As only the second track athlete from the United Kingdom to attend Baylor in Harbour’s ten years at the university, Gowell has left an impression on his coach.
“It just has been a positive experience for him and us,” Harbour said. “He is a great young man.”
If things go as planned, Gowell could be running a lot more laps in the United States as he looks to follow in the footsteps of former Baylor track greats Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner.
“My main goal is to hopefully turn professional, provided I do well this year,” Gowell said. “I would like to continue my education if I can stay in America and train professionally.”