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Alysia Montaño stays humble

Former Canyon track star deals with new Olympic fame

Posted: December 18, 2013 10:39 p.m.
Updated: December 18, 2013 10:39 p.m.

Canyon graduate and Olympic runner Alysia Montano will make an appearance at the Westfield Valencia Town Center to sign autographs, answer questions and take pictures next Thursday.

 

Alysia Montaño has never made so many public appearances or signed so many autographs in her life.

But the Canyon High graduate wants to make it clear that she’s the same person she was before competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“I do think the Olympics has changed so much on how people perceive your athletic ability,” Montaño says.

On Dec. 27, Montaño will hold an event at Westfield Valencia Town Center where she’ll sign autographs, take pictures and chat with fans beginning at noon.

Through her years of success as a collegiate and professional track and field runner, Montaño has hosted team-building exercises and smaller events at Canyon High School. Next week will mark the 27-year-old’s most public appearance in the SCV since she left after graduating from Canyon in 2004.

The idea, she said, is to give back to the community that once knew her as Alysia Johnson, the stellar high school runner.

“It was a huge motivation for me and my team to really make sure that we were able to have a substantial event for the Santa Clarita Valley,” says Montaño, who lives in Berkeley with her husband Louis Montaño. “It’s a city and community that has given so much to me over the years.”

She’ll sign as many autographs and answer as many questions as she can, because her fame is never something she wants to take for granted.

“I think she really just realizes that this is going to be short window of time and you really have to appreciate the abilities that you’ve been given and that you’ve worked so hard for,” says Louis, who was an old high school friend at Canyon.

The two have been married for close to three years.

In the 800-meters, Montaño won a state high school championship in 2004, two Pac-10 championships with the University of California, Berkeley, five U.S. titles (the first one in 2007) and a bronze medal at the 2010 indoor world championships.

But nothing launched her into the public eye more than her appearance at the 2012 London Olympics, where she took fifth place in the 800-meter finals.

“You’re doing those same things, but all the sudden this matters so much more than everything else,” Montaño says of the Olympics.

The American media told her story to the massive TV audiences.

They talked about her overcoming her foot injury in 2008 that kept her out of that year’s Olympics and out of commission for two years.

They told the story of the flower she always wears in her hair during competition.

The truth is, she started wearing the flower well before her professional career took off. Back in high school, she had to tie it on her shoe or somewhere out of plain sight because runners weren’t allowed to wear any accessories during races.

The tradition was born from an incident in fifth grade when a boy from the neighborhood tried to tell her she couldn’t play football with everyone else because she was a girl.

Montaño said she tackled the boy, grabbed a nearby daisy and tucked it in her hair.

“And I’m a girl,” Montaño recalls telling him.

Over the years, the flower that has become a part of the Alysia Montaño brand and a symbol of feminism, equality and perseverance.

She now sells flowers on her website. After the Olympics, so many people ordered them she couldn’t keep up with demand, which has forced her to look for a company that can mass produce them.

She’s well known beyond the SCV now.

Montaño hates to use the word celebrity — almost as much as she hates talking about failure.

But she admitted things have changed since London.

“I’m obviously the same person that I was five years ago,” she says. “Obviously with some more growth and experience. ... It’s not like, oh, now I need limos and oh, I can’t come back to my home town. It’s really not about a status. It’s all about understanding where you came from and never forgetting that.”

Coming off her Olympic year, Montaño has maintained peak performance in the 800 with her fifth career U.S. title in June and a fourth-place finish at the world championships in Moscow with a time of 1 minute, 57.95 seconds.

That’s about six-tenths of a second off her lifetime best. It’s clear she’s still in her prime.

Look out for her to possibly make the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She’ll be the one with the flower in her hair.

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