|Alysia Montano poses with her daughter Linnea after winning the women's 800-meter final at the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field on June 28, 2015 in Eugene, Ore.
EUGENE, Ore. – A year ago, Alysia Montaño ran the mother of all races at the national championships.
Nearly 8 months pregnant, she competed in the 800-meter and ran a respectable time of 2 minutes, 32.13 seconds with her belly jutting out like it held a volleyball. She did not advance past the first round.
On Sunday, Montaño won the 800 at the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships, then celebrated with her 10 ½-month-old daughter in her arms.
“Amazing,” Montaño said of her unexpected win. “I’ve had a couple of ups and downs with my post-partum journey, but I knew that I’d be able to make it back with a national championship. I didn’t know it would happen this soon.”
The win was Montaño’s sixth in the 800, tying the legendary Madeline Manning for most wins in the event.
However, it wasn’t that surprising considering that Montaño won the 600-meter crown at the U.S. indoor championships in early March. “It was a confidence builder,” she said.
But Sunday, Montaño had stiff competition from a tough field that included her two teammates from the 2013 world championships, Brenda Martinez and Ajee’ Wilson.
Rather than shooting into the lead like she usually does, Montaño stayed in second or third place before moving in front on the final backstretch.
With a final burst she then held off Martinez, the reigning world bronze medalist, 1:59.15 to 1:59.71. Wilson, the defending national champion who lost a shoe during the race, was third in 2:00.05.
While Montaño, 29, said her bounce back was mostly mental, running without that extra 30 pounds certainly made a big difference. She did wear special blue tape on her midriff for core stability, which had been affected by her pregnancy.
“I wanted my daughter to see her mom put her best foot forward and just understand it really isn’t about winning,” Montaño said. “It’s about being your very best and bringing that to the table, and sometimes a win comes with that. I’m just so grateful to have her on the other side to be able to see that.
“She’s not going to remember, but there will be plenty of video for her to be like, ‘Oh, I was there,’ and knowing she was part of the process.”
She certainly was. Linnea Dori, born Aug. 15, was the Riley Curry of the track meet, adding the “cute” factor to her mother’s press conferences, just as Stephen Curry’s daughter did in the NBA. Linnea didn’t see a microphone she didn’t want to touch.
She also shares her mother’s affinity for flowers. While Montaño’s signature is wearing a large artificial flower in her hair — Sunday it was yellow — Linnea wore a headband of smaller flowers, each a different color.
“She has more style than I do,” Montaño said.
Linnea is also fast, said her mother, and began walking a week shy of nine months.
Montaño is still breastfeeding and has scaled back a lot in her training.
“I have to be really careful,” she said.
Montaño also has to have confidence that going slower in training is not necessarily a bad thing.
“I think that that’s tough sometimes for athletes,” she said. “We want to be able to hammer all the time and I just really haven’t.
“I think honestly what’s given me this championship is just being able to have perspective and faith in my ability to just compete. Not knowing where my fitness is, (but) just going out there every day at practice and giving it everything I’ve got.”
Montaño’s only medal at a major event is a bronze at the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships.
She was fourth at the 2013 and 2011 world championships and fifth at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“The goal is next year (at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games),” she said, “and I’m just really, really grateful to have an opportunity to just have a base of what I’m capable of.”
Nick Symmonds, who won the men’s 800 title after sitting out last year’s nationals, said he and Montaño probably both had the same thought: ‘Can I get back to that stage?’
“Last year she was fully pregnant and I was on the couch,” he said, “and here we are both winning titles and going on to represent our country. I’m so proud of her.”
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.