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NCAA 800m champion Michaela Rose is ready for big things in 2024

Michaela Rose after winning the 2023 NCAA Outdoor 800m title. (Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics)

In 2022, her first year at Louisiana State University, Michaela Rose missed out on qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships by 0.34 seconds. She competed at the meet as part of her team’s 4x400m relay, but she was disappointed not to qualify in an individual event.

At the NCAA meet, her coach, Houston Franks, pulled her aside after the 800m final and told her that she was going to return to the meet the following year and beat all of the women in the race. “I took that to heart,” Rose told Fast Women. “Because I knew that he believed in me.”

And he was right. One year later, Rose led wire-to-wire and earned her first NCAA title, in 1:59.83. “It felt absolutely amazing just to see everything [come] together,” she said. 

Earlier in 2023, she had finished third in the NCAA indoor 800m. Outdoors, she lowered her 800m best to 1:59.08 and her 1500m best to 4:11.98. LSU put her on a billboard. And she ended her season with a sixth-place finish in the 800m at the USATF Outdoor Championships, competing against professional runners.

Now a junior in college, Rose, 20, is hoping for even bigger things in 2024. She announced that she signed an NIL deal with Adidas last month. And she’s hoping to extend her track season all the way to the Olympic final. “That’s the mindset we’re going in with,” she said. “We know that it’s going to be a long season, and it’s nothing I’m surprised by. It’s what I want.”

Rose grew up in Suffolk, Virginia, and her Olympic dream started early. Her parents, Marcia (Rush) Rose and Michael Rose, met when they were on the track team at Auburn. One of the school’s coaches at the time, Dennis Shaver, is now the head coach at LSU. The Roses coached track before they had kids, so it was natural for them to have their first born, Michael Jr., try the sport. Rose wanted to follow her brother when she was even younger, but her parents made her wait until she was three or four to enter the sport. She remembers running her first mile race at age four. “I told myself, ‘I’m four, I can run four laps.’” 

Her two younger siblings, Michail and Michailyn, also became track & field athletes. She was competitive right off the bat because she hated losing to anyone in her family. “We knew how to win and we knew how to lose, because we raced against each other,” Rose said.

When she was eight or nine years old, she knew she wanted to run for a living. It was partially a byproduct of growing up in a home where her family would watch all the major track & field championships. She remembers thinking God gave her a talent, and she wanted to take it as far as she could go. She began taking practice very seriously and started doing an intense core routine.

Rose’s father coached her until she got to college. And while she put in plenty of hard work, he made sure that she didn’t overdo it. “He’s seen the talent that has risen and fallen so quickly because of burnout,” she said. “In AAU and club teams, you see all these talented girls, and by the time they hit high school, they burn out and don’t want to do it anymore. So he really had a way to coach his team to where running was still just fun.”

Rose was homeschooled, so she couldn’t compete for a school team, but she raced for Faith in Action Athletics, which was affiliated with her church. As a sophomore, Rose won the 800m at New Balance Nationals outdoors in 2019, in 2:04.38, and she finished second to Britton Wilson in the 400m hurdles, in 58.86. She missed out on a lot of racing her junior year due to the pandemic and her senior year due to a stress reaction in her foot.

(Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics)

Rose began at LSU in the fall of 2021, and the adjustment to college academics and athletics was a process. As a biology major, going from homeschooling to having a lot of exams and deadlines was a challenge. She sat out that first cross country season, which helped her build the fitness she needed. While she didn’t qualify for NCAAs in an individual event, she ran a personal best of 2:02.49 for 800m and was the runner-up in the 800m at the SEC championships. 

After the collegiate season was over, she earned a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia. Rose doesn’t think she’s done with the 400m hurdles, but this year, her focus will remain on the 800m. 

Some 800m specialists shy away from running cross country, but Rose sees it as important base training for track season. “And even though it’s base training, I’m very competitive with it,” she said. “So I give everything for that season.” Rose was LSU’s second runner in most of the meets she ran during the fall, and she finished 18th at the NCAA South Central regional meet.

Her cross country training includes 800m-specific workouts. She extended her long run to 11 miles this past fall, but it’s not as far as some of LSU’s distance specialists go. She trained 45–48 miles per week, compared to the 37–43 she does during track season. 

“I really think I’m much stronger than I was last cross season,” she said. “That says a lot because last season, I was surprised with what I was able to produce in cross country, and that correlated well with track season. So this year, I’m expecting much better things.”

Outdoors, she’ll focus on the NCAA season first, but she’ll also keep the Olympic Trials in mind. Franks is structuring her training a little differently this year, so she has the strength to run well far into the summer. “Last season, I probably peaked early, but it was the collegiate season so it wasn’t a problem,” she said. “I just have to build myself stronger to where I last longer, and I think we’ve been hitting the important points right now so I won’t die out throughout the outdoor season.”

At last year’s USATF Outdoor Championships, Rose competed in the senior category for the first time. She was the only collegian to make the final. “It was something I was definitely prepared for, but the feeling 100 percent is different, because these are ladies I have looked up to and cheered for,” she said. “I knew that this was the place I was supposed to be at, and these were the girls that I needed to compete against. [But] racing with them was definitely a surreal moment.”

And she felt very supported by her competitors. Raevyn Rogers and Charlene Lipsey both had kind words for her. And Athing Mu, who raced the 1500m but is the reigning Olympic champion in the 800m, gave her a hug and told her she was proud of her. “They are so supportive of the new generation,” she said.

Rose’s generation of NCAA athletes is the first to have the opportunity for financial support from companies in the form of NIL deals, and it’s allowing more of them to stay in the NCAA for longer. Rose always planned to return to the NCAA this season. But her NIL deal with Adidas will help her start saving for the future while preserving her collegiate eligibility. And it’s an opportunity to build relationships that will help her in her professional career.

Being at a Nike school, Rose will wear Nike products when she competes for LSU and Adidas at the Olympic Trials. “Adidas has been my favorite brand for as long as I can remember, so just to see it happening, this is a life-changing moment for me,” she said.

Balancing college with being a top athlete is not always easy, but Rose is approaching the track season with gratitude. “This is a dream of mine that is being fulfilled right in front of my eyes,” she said. “Of course you want to hit your goals, but the journey itself is what you have to live for. This journey of preparing for my first Olympic season, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge that I accept and I will give 100 percent for it.”