The road to athletic success in the United States isn’t easy— especially in the field of distance running, a field which runs deep with talent. Even though Alexi Pappas is one of only a few that can qualify for the Olympics, based on time standards— reaching one of the top three spots to qualify for the national team could come down to a millisecond.
“I can see so many athletes who trained for years and are definitely fit enough to compete on the world stage, but they don’t get the opportunity,” Pappas said. “It comes down to, why am I doing this sport? For me I want to inspire as many people as possible while competing at the highest level—and be at my highest athletic performance when I’m doing that.”
For that reason, Pappas— who specializes in 5,000 and 10,000 meter races— set out to get her Greek citizenship, which she qualifies for based on her grandparents’ Greek birth. Last week, she announced that she’d be competing for Greece.
Pappas’ grandmother emigrated from the island of Rhodes in 1953, where she still has extended family.
Her move wasn’t just for athletic competitive reasons, but one that connects her to her Greek heritage.
“My father and his sisters grew up speaking Greek at home. My father raised my brother and me on his own (my mother passed away in 1995, when I was four years old) – and having grown up with profound involvement from my fathers’ side of the family, including my godmother Aunt Irene Pappas, who is a Greek citizen, I was always very close to my Greek heritage,” Pappas said in her announcement.
The Greek Athletics Federation welcomed Pappas with open arms.
Pappas, who turns 26 this month, ran for Dartmouth College until 2012, then transferred to Oregon. Since graduating, she’s run a 32:02.22 for 10,000 meters and last month ran a 9:05.12 for 3,000 meters indoors (her first attempt at the distance). She needs a 9:00.00 to qualify for the IAAF World Indoor Championships, which begin on March 17, in Portland, Oregon. She’ll be going after that standard this weekend at the “World’s Last Chance” meet in New York and if she achieves it, hopes to be selected to her first Greek team.
Pappas already has beaten the 32:15.00 Olympic qualifying time in the 10,000 meters, but will need to run that time again as a Greek athlete to make the team competing at the Rio Games in August. At the 2012 Olympics, Greece had no women qualified to run the 5,000 or 10,000 meters.
“I am not going to the Olympics yet, but that is the goal,” she said in Runners World.