When the gun goes off, Ohio State distance runner Cory Leslie puts his competition in the rearview mirror.
At the Jesse Owens Track Classic on April 24, Leslie’s closest competition was the OSU outdoor record in the mile race. Leslie finished with a time of 4:02.57 — more than nine seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, and just shy of the school outdoor record.
At the Penn State National Invitational on Jan. 28, Leslie broke the OSU indoor record for the mile race, with a time of 3:57.97.
Thanks to his record-breaking performance during the indoor season, the junior has proven to his coach that he’s among the elite in the Big Ten.
“That he’s our No. 1 guy we’ve ever had indoors says quite a bit,” coach Robert Gary said.
Now, Leslie is looking to make noise at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
“(I’m) just trying to be a Big Ten champion,” Leslie said. “You know, there’s just so many goals you haven’t accomplished yet that … you hope to achieve.”
Leslie has an insatiable appetite for competition. Aside from running the mile, Leslie also runs cross country. During track season, he runs the 1,500 meter, the 3,000-meter steeplechase and occasionally can run the 4-by-400-meter relay.
“He gets mad when he only runs one event,” Gary said.
Leslie has set himself apart by being a leader for the distance runners at practice.
“It’s no coincidence,” Gary said. “Your best performers are your best leaders.”
Teammate and 4-by-400 relay runner Aaron Roberts is equally impressed.
“He’s really coming around as a runner,” Roberts said. “You know, having to replace someone like Jeff See, Cory’s really done a great job with that.”
Leslie deflects the credit his coach and teammate gave him. He’s a confident runner, but he believes much of his success isn’t his own doing.
“You’ve got to give most of the credit to coach Gary and the program he set up for us and then … with teammates you love to train with every day,” Leslie said.
The life of a distance runner isn’t easy, and Leslie’s training regimen is rigorous.
“Right now, since we’re getting into what we call ‘championship week’ with the Big Ten and national meet,” he said, “(I’m) just kind of running around 70 miles a week with just a few workouts.”
Despite the brutal workouts, Leslie said it’s the atmosphere he trains in that keeps him motivated, and he doesn’t have much difficulty staying focused.
“With the group of guys we have, it’s not too tough,” he said. “We’re all working toward the same goals. We’re all trying to get better every day.”
Leslie has seen improvement in his favorite event, the 3,000-meter steeplechase. At the Akron Invitational in February, Leslie bested his old personal record by 1.97 seconds, finishing with a time of 8:49.06.
Although Leslie has reached new heights in his breakout season, he said he knows there’s room for improvement and what it will take to get better.
“A lot more work … hopefully just a couple more good years of training,” he said. “I know coach Gary; he’ll help.”
Leslie’s next step will be this weekend at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships. Although he has individual goals, his top priority is to help his team win a championship.
“(I) definitely want to get there and score as many points as I can in my event,” he said, “and help put the team in position to win a Big Ten title on Sunday.”