It’s 5:30 a.m. in Montgomery, Vt.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre is milking cows and handling any other tasks needed on her family’s farm before showering and heading to school. After school, she trains and heads back to the farm, where she continues to help where she can. Working on the farm was an everyday routine for Purrier St. Pierre, who grew up on the family’s dairy farm her grandfather bought in 1994.
Her upbringing taught her the importance of hard work.
“I’m really lucky I grew up the way I did,” said Purrier St. Pierre, who begins her quest to make the US Olympic track team on Friday at the US Olympic track and field trials.
The farm isn’t the only place she works hard. Since graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 2018, Purrier St. Pierre has trained with Mark Coogan and Team New Balance Boston. Coogan said she has a work ethic second to none.
“I mean she used to do chores around the farm before school, and I didn’t get that growing up in Attleboro, I just got on the school bus and went to school,” he said while laughing, “you know, so she just knows how to work hard.”
Purrier St. Pierre, 26, specializes in the 1,500 meters. To qualify for the US team, runners have to finish top three at the trials, which run through June 27 in Oregon. Purrier St. Pierre’s 1,500-meter time of 3:58.36 is the fastest in the US this year by more than two seconds and fifth in the world. On paper, she looks likely to make the Olympic Team, but she isn’t looking past the trials.
When Purrier St. Pierre lined up at the starting line for the indoor mile at the 2020 Millrose Games, she had no clue she was going to make history.
She ran in fourth place for most of the race, and at 5 feet 3 inches, Purrier St. Pierre was hard to see behind the taller runners. With just more than 200 meters left, she kicked past the second- and third-place runners, then sped past the leader in the last 60 meters, crossing the finish line with her hands in the air at 4:16.86, an indoor American record.
“Oh my God!” Purrier St. Pierre shouted, stunned to see her time. “I wasn’t expecting to break the American record at all. I was just trying to be competitive,” she said. “It was definitely a turning point in my career.”
A year later, Purrier St. Pierre’s approach was completely different.
She led the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix two-mile race from gun to tape. In the final laps, Purrier St. Pierre made it look easy as she separated from 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn to cruise to an American record and the third-fastest indoor two-mile run by a woman (9:10.28).
“I would’ve been a little disappointed if I didn’t break the record that time, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world,” she said.
Purrier St. Pierre’s approach to the two races showed how much her confidence had grown as an athlete, Coogan said.
“I think she trusts herself now. She knows that she’s good enough to win a medal in the Olympics,” Coogan said. “Two years ago, she knew she was talented, but she didn’t see herself being world-class, but now I think she sees herself as a world-class athlete.”
Even with her individual success, teammates say Purrier St. Pierre is still a team player. Millie Paladino, who will compete in the 5,000 meters at the Olympic trials, said Purrier St. Pierre has been one of the best teammates she’s ever had.
“I think it’s really easy to get caught up in your own goals and dreams in this sport, and that’s not a bad thing, but I think that she’s always really supportive and really invested in all of our success, too,” Paladino said.
Purrier has the second-fastest entry time behind 1,500-meter American record holder Shelby Houlihan, but the Athletics Integrity Unit announced earlier this week that Houlihan was banned from the sport for four years after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.
The USATF initially ruled that she would be allowed to run until all her appeals were exhausted but reversed its decision Thursday and said it would not allow any banned athlete to compete.
“I really want to make this team,” Purrier St. Pierre said. “There’s a lot of pressure and expectations, you know, so I’m just trying to do it for myself and not do it for other people.”
Coogan is confident Purrier St. Pierre will make the team.
“I think the only way that she doesn’t make the team is if something disastrous happens, like, you know, like COVID messes it up or she gets tripped, and falls or something weird happens,” he said.
Purrier St. Pierre ran in the third heat of the 1,500-meter prelims on Friday and won in 4:11.78. The semifinals are Saturday at 9:40 p.m. and the finals are Monday at 8:05 p.m.
Kris Rhim can be reached at email@example.com.