Jacobs, Regina 1963–
Regina Jacobs 1963–
Track star Regina Jacobs has had a love for running since she was a child. She is a three-time U.S. Olympian who has broken records in the 800-meter, 1,500-meter, and 5,000-meter track events. Though Jacobs has accomplished much, she was a virtual unknown throughout most of her track career.
Jacobs was born on August 28, 1963, in Los Angeles to Cecilia Jacobs. She attended Argyll Episcopal Academy for Girls. When she was four years old, her mother, who was feeling sluggish, decided to jog around the block. Jacobs begged to tag along, and her mother made her promise to keep up. According to Runner’s World, Jacobs never tired. She began racing the other children in the neighborhood. Jacobs pestered her mother to join a track team. Her mother told her to get her grades up first. She brought home straight A’s.
Her mother asked Argyll’s principal to allow Jacobs to join the track team, but a team did not exist. This did not deter her. Jacobs joined the Los Angeles Track Club and soon began winning races. At 13 she ran 440 yards in 56.2 seconds, breaking the record for that age group. In 1980, when she was 16 years old, she ran the 800 at the 1980 Olympic trials. She finished in fifth place.
Jacobs won a full scholarship to Stanford University. Though many African Americans are known for winning most short-distance track events, Jacobs excelled in distance-running. Her training got off to a rocky start, but she persevered. She became All-American in track and crosscountry.
Though she was a great runner, Jacobs had her ups and downs. She won her first national title in 1987 but didn’t place in the World Championships later that year. It was then many began to think of her as a “head case”—someone who performs well but whose personal problems get in the way of their performance. Jacobs also wasn’t focused on track as she was busy earning her MBA from University of California-Berkeley.
In 1992 Jacobs met Tom Craig who, despite the negative buzz surrounding her, agreed to coach her.
At a Glance…
Career: Middle- and long-distance runner, 1980s– Institute for the Study of Sport and Society, Boston, MA, researcher.
Selected Awards: Won 22 national titles; three-time U.S. Olympian; two silver medals, World Championships; set and broke many records in the 800-meters, 1,500-meters, 3,000-meters, 5,000-meters, metric one-mile, two-mile and three-mile events; first woman to break four-minute barrier with time of 3:59:98, 2003; second woman to rank among the top ten from the 800 to 1,500 meters on all-time U.S. list.
Addresses: Home —Los Angeles, CA. Office —One RCA Dome, Indianapolis, IN 46225-1023. Website —www.reginajacobs.com.
She began intensive training, only needing a few days to recover between each session. Jacobs finished last in the national championships in 1993. It was an extreme disappointment not only for her, but her coach and trainers as well. She decided to visit her mother to lick her wounds. Her mother, while channel-surfing, ran across a nutritionist. She recommended that Jacobs schedule an appointment. Jacobs reluctantly agreed. The nutritionist ran tests and discovered that Jacobs suffered from severe iron deficiency. It was corrected by taking iron and other supplements.
Jacobs and Craig, who had become her husband, began to train again. She won many races in 1994 and 1995 and in 1996 she was ready to compete in the Olympics. However, Olympic gold was not meant to be. In the finals, she placed tenth in the 1,500 meters. She told John Brant of Runner’s World, “I was very disappointed in the Olympics, of course.” The Olympic loss was soon a memory. Jacobs won her first Grand Prix title with a time of 4:01:77, her second fastest time. She won another Grand Prix event and finished 1996 ranked fourth in the world.
Though 1997 was full of obstacles, including a viral ailment, her grandmother dying, and her passport and purse being stolen while overseas, Jacobs continued with her season. She competed in the World Track and Field Championships in the 1,500-meter race. The race was not without controversy. Anita Weyermann, the Swiss runner, crashed into the pack. Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan grabbed Jacobs to keep her balance. Though she started going backwards, Jacobs shot out of the pack and was in the lead. She ran out of steam and was passed by Portugal’s Carla Sacramento. Jacobs ended up placing second and was very angry. After the race she shoved Sullivan. The anger was replaced with joy as she focused on the fact that she’d just won the silver medal. No American had won a medal in this event since 1983. She exclaimed to the San Francisco Chronicle, “I love doing this, I have a blast.”
After her medal at the World Championship, Jacobs went on to become a three-time U.S. Olympian. She began running longer distances and was a favorite in the metric mile at the World Championships. She set a record for the 5,000 meters in 1998. In 1999 Jacobs became the first woman to win both the 1,500- and 5,000-meters events in the same year, at the USA Track & Field Championships. She set another record in the 1,000-meters race. Jacobs also ran her personal best in the 800 meters at a later meet. According to the Daily News, she was ranked among the top ten from the 800 to 1,500 meters on the all-time U.S. list. She is only the second woman on the list.
Jacobs was on point to race in the 1,500 and 5,000 in the 2000 Olympics. She smashed the American record in the 5,000—her own record—at the Olympic trials but a setback occurred. Jacobs, who is asthmatic, contracted a respiratory infection and bowed out of the competition. Some questioned her withdrawal, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, she didn’t fully recover until after the Olympics. Undeterred, Jacobs set her sights on the 2004 Olympics, where, she told John Crumpacker of the Chronicle, “… I’m thinking of ending my career in Athens…. That’s where I won my first outdoor (World Championship) medal.”
Considered America’s best middle-distance runner in the 1990s, Jacobs, who had already won two silver medals in the World Championships, set a record for the 3,000-meter event in 2001. Jacobs planned on racing in the 1,500 and 5,000 at the 2001 World Championships, but a foot injury scrapped those plans. She pushed through and broke another record in the women’s two-mile at the Boston Indoor Games in January of 2002. She’d also won the Fred Lebow Women’s Mile for three consecutive years.
Jacobs continued to amaze people in her late thirties. She posted a world indoor best in the three-mile run at the Mayor’s Trophy meet in New York. Jacobs won her 21st national title in the mile event in 2002 and in February of 2003, she won her 22nd national title, becoming the first woman to break the four-minute barrier in the indoor 1,500 meters, coming in at 3:59:98. She won $25,000 and a gold medal at the Boston Indoor Games. Mary Wittenberg, executive vice president of the New York Road Runners Club, told Sports Illustrated Women, “No one in track has been as good for as long as Regina.”
Jacobs’ main focus has been track, but she found time for other things. She learned to knit. She also likes needlepoint and cooking. Jacobs speaks fluent Spanish, has studied photography, and conducted research for the Institute for the Study of Sport and Society in Boston. She has begun writing a book to help women improve their running. Jacobs also helps to foster in children a love for track, particularly the middle- and long-distance events. “We’re not just sprinters. Like white kids are not just distance runners…. The message I’m trying to get through to kids is that your race, age or sex shouldn’t determine what you think you can or can’t do,” she explained to the Los Angeles Times.
Jacobs counts among her role models U.S. runner Mary Slaney, who holds records in the 1,500-, 2,000-, and 3,000-meters as well as the mile. She is also inspired by her aunt, Yvette LaVigne, who began running after turning 40, and set a record in the metric mile in the 60-and-older age group. With Jacobs’ twenty-odd year career still going strong, she has proven that adversity and opinion should never be a deterrent to achieving one’s dreams.
Birmingham Evening Mail, (England) July 22, 2000, p. 46.
The Boston Herald, February 2, 2003, p. B25.
Daily News, (Los Angeles, CA) August 10, 1999, p. SI; July 18, 2000, p. SI; September 14, 2000, p.
S9; June 25, 2001, p. S13.
The Houston Chronicle, March 3, 2002, p. 12.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 6, 2001.
Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1996; July 19, 1998; July 22, 2000.
The Mirror, (London, England) August 6, 1997, p. 34.
The New York Times, February 24, 2002.
Runner’s World, August 1995; June 1997; September 1999; July 2000; May 2002.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 1997, p. A1.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 28, 2002, p. D6.
Sports Illustrated Women, May 1, 2002, p. 76.
Biography Resource Center Online. Gale Group, 1999.
—Ashyia N. Henderson
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