Playing Through

Sixteen-year-old Chelsey Sveinsson is on her way to becoming an elite runner

Chelsey Sveinsson
Chelsey Sveinsson (Photo courtesy of Bert Richardson)

I would happily watch Chelsey Sveinsson run backward. A year ago, competing in her first Texas Relays, the high school freshman leapt out among hundreds of other athletes, including several Olympians, and not because she won her race with ease but for reasons I can't quite explain.

"It was the way she ran that took your breath away," I wrote at the time (see "Playing Through," April 18, 2008). "It was just so beautiful." But what exactly constitutes that beauty? There are plenty of brilliant, record-setting runners who never provide that aesthetic frisson. It's a rare athlete who, just in the way she moves, whether she wins or loses, transports us as, say, a Keats ode transports us. Witnessing these people, it's like sticking your finger in an electrical socket: For a while there, you're not yourself. You feel like the molecules in your own body have somehow been rearranged.

Anyway, I'm here to predict that someday in the not too distant future, Sveinsson, a sophomore distance runner at the Greenhill School in Addison, will have that effect on a lot of other people. "What people see are those long legs just tearing up the ground with that natural flow and grace, and they think: 'Wow! That girl is different!'" says her coach, Mike Krueger.

Off the track, Chelsey becomes a pretty typical teenager – buoyant and bright but rambling about her running. When I caught up with her last week, she was a little stressed about finals, but she's looking forward to two summer jobs she has lined up, working at a dog kennel and teaching swimming to little kids. Of course, she'll also be running, starting with the Reebok Grand Prix in New York City next Saturday.

"After the Texas and Penn relays, I really wanted to get into an elite race, but I really didn't expect to get into one until next year," she told me. "But last week, my coach, he sent me an e-mail that was like, 'I got a big surprise for you,' and I was, like, ecstatic when I found out what it was. My heart was beating like it does when I'm about to run a big race, 'cause not only am I going to be in New York City, which is going to be awesome, but also I was reading on the Internet that this is going to be Tyson Gay's next meet. I was like, 'Yeah, that's where I'm going to be next week, too!'"

Chelsey hardly expects to win the 1,500-meter in New York – she's only 16, for God's sake – but she realizes that, in some ways, she may be more intimidating to the Olympians she'll be competing against than they are to her. "At first I thought: 'Oh, my gosh! They're so much older than me, so much more experienced.' But I can imagine them being nervous about me, sort of like when I compete against the boys. There are good nerves, and there are bad nerves, and this is definitely the good kind. I'm like, 'I'm ready to go; let's kick some butt!'"

The following weekend, June 7, come see what I'm talking about when Sveinsson runs in the Congress Avenue Mile.

Please write Mr. Hackett at

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Chelsey Sveinsson, Texas Relays, Mike Krueger, Reebok Grand Prix, Tyson Gay

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