Record-setting Utah track star Josefine Eriksen has sights on NCAAs, European Championships
Eriksen, the Utes’ record-holder in the 800, will join teammate Cara Woolnough at nationals at Oregon’s famed Hayward Field
Although she just broke the University of Utah school record in the women’s 800 meters, sophomore Josefine Eriksen considers herself an underdog in the event at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week in Eugene, Oregon.
“I think we can surprise some people at nationals,” Eriksen told the Deseret News last week, referring to herself and senior teammate Cara Woolnough, who qualified in the 5,000 meters.
Whatever the case, it is a historic happening for the women of Utah, who are sending multiple individuals to the national finals being held this year at the reimagined Hayward Field in Eugene for the first time since 2012.
Woolnough posted a run of 15 minutes, 50.8 seconds in the 5,000 a few weeks ago at the West region preliminaries in Fayetteville, Arkansas, while Eriksen was second in her heat and third overall with a school-record run of 2:02.49 in the 800.
“That is awesome to be going as teammates,” said Eriksen, who is wrapping up her first year at the U.
“It is so cool because the University of Utah has been looked at as an underdog, but we have really good athletes. … I don’t think people are paying attention to the University of Utah. I think we can do a really good job there.”
Woolnough was featured in a Deseret News article last month because she graduated in biomedical engineering with a 4.0 grade point average.
The run in Arkansas marked the first time in six years that Eriksen had broken a personal record.
“Just working hard, listening to coaches and being patient (was the key),” she said. “It is really about patience and believing in what coach does.
“So yeah, work hard every day and things work out.”
Eriksen broke the school record set by Bountiful’s Rosalie Waller — a former walk-on — in 2014. Waller ran 2:03.27 in the Pac-12 championships eight years ago.
Breaking school records is nothing new for Eriksen, who grew up in Norway and spent her first year of college at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
She had a solid freshman season for the Vaqueros, winning two individual events and a silver medal at the WAC Championships, but her coach quit and she decided to enter the transfer portal seeking a bigger school to attend.
“Utah just looked really nice, with all the nature and everything,” she said. “The campus looked great and also I was looking at my teammates’ times, and they were pretty good.
“I was also looking at their Instagram pages, and it looked like the team was really funny and a good group. That’s why I chose Utah.”
Growing up in Stavern, a small town in Norway, Eriksen began learning to speak English in elementary school.
She began working with an agency that places top foreign athletics in American universities her senior year and settled on the school in Texas because she wanted a warmer climate.
“I was really tired of the cold in Norway,” she said. “Competing in the states and going to school here was something I thought would be cool, just an adventure.
“I didn’t want to say ‘what if,’ so I made the decision and I am glad I did.”
Under the direction of former Oregon standout Rebecca Rhodes, hired by Utah last November, Eriksen broke Utah’s records in the 200 (24.24), 400 (54.01) and 600 (1:28.27) in the indoor season last winter.
Ironically, she went into the preliminaries thinking her best shot at qualifying for nationals was in the 400, not the 800.
“That was really shocking, because I thought I was going to set the record in the 400, not the 800,” she said of the meet, “because basically I am a 400 runner.
“It feels like I need to run more of the 800 from now on.”
After nationals, Eriksen will return to Norway and compete for her country in the Norwegian Championships and European Championships as part of her country’s 4x400 relay team.
“I am really excited. I am really motivated for nationals. I really want a medal. That would be sick,” she said.
“Also, it is like the last meet in the States, and I am kinda like happy to be done because I am tired.”
The 800 is a grueling, difficult distance notorious for being in that middle ground between distance running and sprinting.
It takes a special kind of athlete to handle it, Eriksen says, crediting Rhodes for devising some “super hard” workouts to get her ready.
Some runs in the mountains above campus were especially taxing.
“I don’t really feel the altitude that much anymore,” Eriksen said. “I remember the first week I got to Salt Lake, and I was trying to have a jog, and it felt like I was in really bad shape because I couldn’t breathe.
“Now I don’t feel it that much.”
Although homesickness has afflicted some of her friends, she hasn’t felt it that much because she talks to her parents and boyfriend, Cornelius, almost every day via telephone.
Does her boyfriend run as well?
“I can beat him for sure,” she said. “He’s not fast. I can do that in my sleep, beat him.”
Because the Pac-12 championships were held at Hayward Field, Eriksen and Woolnough are familiar with the venue and ready to show the world what they have, Eriksen said.
“It is a big, big stadium,” she said. “I am not scared of that. Some people might be afraid of big stadiums, but I have competed there before. I think that is a good thing for nationals.”
Even for the supposed underdogs.