Throwback Thursday

Sept. 23, 2010

Charlie Gruber (cross country, track and field, 1998-02)

Gruber was a five-time All-American cross country and track and field athlete at Kansas. After completing his eligibility, he went on to compete professionally and qualified for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team in the 1,500-meter run. Gruber won the 1999 and 2000 Big 12 Conference Outdoor 1,500-meter titles, and during the 2000 indoor season, Gruber took first in the mile five times, including at the Big 12 Indoor Championships. The Denver native qualified for the 2000 United States Olympic Team Trials in both the 800 meters and the 1,500 meters. At the 2001 NCAA Indoor Championships he completed the mile with a time of 3:58.51, becoming the Jayhawks’ second athlete ever to run the mile in under four minutes indoors, along with Jim Ryun. That same year Gruber was also part of the school-record-breaking and Big 12 champion distance medley relay team. Gruber also holds the school indoor 1,000-meter record of 2:21.72, which he set at the 2001 Jayhawk Invitational. In 2003, Gruber earned fifth place at the USA Outdoors, and was ranked sixth in the United States in the 1,500 meters. He was also the 2004 U.S. 4K cross country champion. In 2005, Gruber placed fifth in the 1,500-meter run at the USA Outdoor Championships and third at the USA Indoor Championships. Following his illustrious collegiate career at KU, Gruber earned a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team after finishing as the 1,500-meter runner-up at the 2004 Olympic Trials. He went on to place ninth in opening-round competition at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Gruber resides in a suburb of Denver, Colo., with his wife Courtney who also competed for the Jayhawks.

What have you been doing since you left KU?

“I got my undergraduate degree in 2002 from KU, and then I earned my masters degree in 2004 in business information systems. I continued running professionally for Nike until 2006 when I retired. I took an IT position with Ernst & Young in Kansas City. After that, I took another software position in the Kansas City area with Netchemia. My wife and I had an opportunity to move to Denver, where I am originally from, so we moved here about two years ago. Now I’m working for a software company in the suburb of Morrison, Colo. I got married in between all of my jobs – that’s a pretty important part of my life, too.”

What made you want to get into Track and Field?

“I grew up always playing soccer and basketball, those were my two main sports. For some reason I gave up on soccer and decided to focus on basketball. I decided in the fall of my sophomore year of high school that I would run cross country, purely as a way to get in shape for basketball season. I ended up having a pretty good season running, so I quickly gave up on basketball because I realized I wasn’t a very good player on the court. So I ran track all the way through my high school, and obviously college, career.”

What factors led to you choosing to attend Kansas?

“I grew up in Denver, and I was recruited by quite a few schools coming out of high school, but when I took my visit to Lawrence I just liked everything about it, from the coaches, to my teammates, to the education, just everything I had to choose from. I guess you could say it was just a gut feeling and overall comfort level that drove me to KU.”

Talk about winning the 1999 and 2000 Big 12 Outdoor 1,500-meter championships?

“The 1,500-meter race of any track meet is always the marquee event, so that was a big deal to win that, and in such a quality conference like the Big 12. Just being able to be a part of the team and contribute to the overall point total meant a lot to me. Certainly it was a big event and somewhat of a launching pad to the international level of my career, as well.”

What was it like competing at the Olympic Trials and qualifying for the 2004 Olympics?

“I actually qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials, but I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. Looking back on it, that experience was very valuable for what I was doing in the future. Considering they both took place in the same location, in Sacramento, Calif., I had a little better idea of what I was getting back into. When I got back to Sacramento in 2004 I knew what the drill was, and how I had to go about everything. When I qualified in the 1,500 meters, I finished second behind Alan Webb. A week after the Olympic Trials, I went to Europe for another race, simply because that is where the best races are. I spent a couple of weeks over there and ultimately got my qualifying time in a meet in Belgium. After that, I stayed in Europe and went straight to the Olympics.”

Describe your Olympic experience.

“When I got to Greece, I checked into the Olympic Village, which was a pretty neat thing right off the bat. After getting settled into the Village, we had the Opening Ceremonies, and that is obviously a great experience just being with not only the track team but the entire U.S. Olympic Team from the swimmers to the tennis and basketball players, and everyone in between. Marching into the stadium was a very neat experience. The thing I remember the most is walking into the stadium that first time and, literally and figuratively, having all the bright lights on you. After the opening ceremonies, the track and field team had training camp on an island off the coast of Greece. That’s where I had my final preparation for the race. Two days before my race, I returned to Athens and to the Olympic Village and finally had the race.”

What is your best memory from KU?

“Well, obviously I would have to say the Big 12 Championship success we had. My biggest running memory came in 2001 when we had a really good distance-medley relay team. I ran the anchor and that team qualified for nationals where we were able to beat an All-American relay team. Just being able to share that experience with some of my closest friends is something I will definitely remember for the rest of my life.”

What does being inducted into the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame means to you?

“First and foremost, it’s a great honor; it is certainly an elite group of people. My time at KU meant the world to me, and I will always consider myself a Jayhawk. To formally be a part of an exclusive group like this, and to be a part of the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame will always mean a lot to me. I have a huge group of people coming out to share this experience with me – and going back to my running career, the biggest enjoyment has always been being able to share it with so many people.”