For Chris Giesting, handing over the relay baton to US 4x400m teammate Patrick Feeney at last month’s world indoor championships felt as normal as passing a spoon at the breakfast table. From high school rivals to world champion teammates, the Notre Dame graduates have become closer than the 0.02 seconds that separate their 400m personal bests.
Did we just become best friends?
Chris Giesting, 23, and Patrick Feeney, 24, first met in 2010 at a regional meet in Connersville, Indiana. A high school senior at the time, Feeney’s “man, who’s this guy?” moment was a bittersweet one.
“It was our first time racing each other. I don’t know whether we actually officially met afterwards either, because it was kind of too upsetting of a race,” he laughs. “As you might have guessed, he’s the one who beat me at that competition.”
Giesting, a junior, won that day – 48.08 to Feeney’s 48.27. However, the tables quickly turned. “The next week we raced again at the State Finals,” recalls Giesting. “That was the final time we would have met in high school and he [giving Feeney an evil stare] ended up getting me at that meet. So he beat me when it really counted.”
The pair’s trend of trading wins and records was set.
The Irish Revolution
After graduating from New Palestine High School, Feeney joined the University of Notre Dame as a science major. Sprints coach Alan Turner told him about a guy from Batesville, Indiana, he was recruiting. “I knew exactly who he was talking about,” says Feeney.
Coach Turner knew that there would be instant chemistry between the two quartermilers, who grew up less than an hour away from each other.
“It was funny,” says Giesting. “I remember when the coach came down and was recruiting me, he told me my student host [for a campus visit] was gonna be Pat. He just put us together and was like ‘oh this will work out, you guys know each other’ and so it was kind of his plan to win me over I guess.”
The novel approach worked, and the following year Giesting joined the Fighting Irish sprint revolution, which Feeney says “was lacking in depth” at the time.
Under the guidance of Coach Turner the pair prospered. In 2013, Giesting ran 45.90 to break the 30-year-old school record. The following April, Feeney improved it to 45.56, only for Giesting reclaim it a month later with a 45.53 clocking (in 2015 Feeney bettered his PB to 45.51, but had graduated by then).
Their competitiveness goes beyond competition. “We definitely get competitive in training,” says Feeney, while Giesting adds: “Sometimes Coach’s got to reiterate to us ‘don’t go any faster than this time today’. If one of us edges ahead, the other one is not gonna let it happen and it just turns into a snowball effect.”
Despite graduating in 2014 and 2015, both athletes still live in South Bend and train under Coach Turner, now head coach at Notre Dame. Having lived together for a year in college dorms, the pair moved into a house share post-college.
“Now we’re finally back together,” laughs Giesting, who admits their competitive streak continues during every day life.
Speed versus endurance
While constant competition is part of their success, feeding off each other’s strengths (and weaknesses) is another. Giesting, who is 6’3” tall, comes from a cross country high school background, while Feeney has natural speed on his side.
“It really is perfect because we both have different styles of how we run and fitness levels,” explains Giesting, who admits “Pat would kill me in a 60 or a 100”.
Feeney is quick to add: “I think he is definitely better at the longer distance training. I’m usually up there for most of the reps, but sometimes at the last one I start to die.”
Go west, find gold
Following solid performances at the US Indoor Championships, the pair earned spots on the US 4x400m relay at the World Indoor Championships. It would be the first time that both would wear the USA jersey at a major global championships.
“This indoors, making that world team was big – especially both of us making it was a really cool experience,” says Feeney.
In the heats, Giesting put in the groundwork in third leg (45.68) before Feeney safely carried the baton over the line on anchor (46.60). In the final, Giesting’s 45.34 third leg set the USA team up for their 3:02.45 gold medal run, beating experienced relays like the Bahamas in the process. The college buddies were now joint-world champions.
“I was really, really nervous,” admits Giesting of his international debut. “But all of the coaches and the other runners were trying to calm me down and saying ‘look, the fans will be cheering for USA, so make sure you get excited and use the atmosphere’.”
“I mean I just ran in the heats, but I remember the instant when I got the baton, the crowd going crazy before I’d even started running,” adds Feeney.
Throughout college, their parents would often meet up and drive to meets together. Shared rides out of convenience turned into a friendship.
“Our moms and dads have become super-close,” says Feeney. “That’s the main reason my mom tries to come to so many meets, so she can hang out with his mom,” jokes Giesting.
As ever, both sets of parents were watching on as the pair took on – and beat – the world’s finest athletes in Portland. Feeney admits having the support of their parents there “definitely makes it easier for both of us”.
Don’t go changing
Fresh from their indoor success, the pair now have their sights set toward the US Olympic Trials in July. Both made the decision to stay put in South Bend so as not to disrupt their tried and tested methods in such an important year.
“When I graduated, I was debating about going elsewhere, but every year I was in college I ended up PR-ing [running personal bests], so I thought ‘why change what’s already working?’,” explains Feeney.
“Coach Turner still is the head coach, so he has a lot of responsibilities with the team already, but he’s gone out of his way to help when he can. He’s just doing that on his own time really which is a huge, huge help for us,” he adds.
Giesting, who graduated with a major in business entrepreneurship last May explains: “You never want to change too much about what you’ve been working on for the last four years, so we were really lucky that we have a university that was helping us with whatever they could to allow us to continue train there.”
And why change a winning formula? Giesting adds: “The work we put in these past few years is the one that’s gonna carry us through.”