Photo By: Carol Chen
By Adam Weyer
At the 2022 NCAA Championships Olin Hacker won the 5,000 meters in 13:27.73 joining his father, Tim Hacker, as they became the only father-son duo to both win an NCAA title in Cross Country and Track and Field.
This isn’t the first time the Hacker duo has made history. Last year Olin joined his father in breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. They are the 14th ever father-son duo to accomplish this feat.
As a parent, Tim never pushed Olin to become a runner. He wanted his kids to have opportunities but to make their own decisions, explaining that running is too hard. Even though they might have a talent in it, you really have to love the journey. “You have to be able to embrace the training and if you don’t like it you're just not gonna do it and everybody suffers,” Tim explained.
Like many other runners, Olin started off as a soccer player. He first realized he could be successful in running when he won the 3rd-grade mile in gym class. “I was like ‘woah, I’m good at running.’ At that point I knew my dad was a very successful runner and so I was like maybe this is something I’m good at. But at the time I was playing soccer and really really loved soccer,” Olin said.
It was ultimately watching his older brothers, Sam and Wilson, succeed that inspired Olin to forge his own name under the Hacker dynasty. “By the end of 8th grade I knew I was ready to stop playing soccer and go out for the cross country and track teams in high school.”
Olin followed his father’s footsteps all the way to the University of Wisconsin, but he wrote his own story on the way there.
“Once I got to high school and was able to start competing myself, I feel like then it was always my own story. Every race really is your own race, you have your own result along with a team result. Everyone has their own story in running, how they are progressing race to race and year to year. I’ve followed in my father’s footsteps to Wisconsin, but at the same time I've obviously had my own progression, had my own successes, my own failures, I feel like I have my own story,” Olin said.
In the first chapter of his college story, Olin started to understand that things wouldn’t always go right as he battled injuries and disappointing races, even when training was going well.
“In high school I had a very linear progression. Every year I got better than I was the year before. In college for the first time that didn’t happen,” Olin explained. “In the last year it really feels like everything has come together for me. I feel like I know the balance. Things have just been working.”
“Growing up at my parents’ house in our stairwell there’s a picture of my dad winning the 1985 [NCAA] Cross Country Championships and I feel like you see that as a kid and you’re like, ‘wow that’s really cool,’ but you don’t really understand what it takes or what it means. Getting into college I had a greater appreciation of how hard that is and how rare that is,” Olin said. Individually, Olin didn’t even see a title as realistic until running well enough in the past year.
“I’ll tell you how to win an NCAA title. Here’s the secret… honestly, it takes a lot of luck,” Olin said as he echoed a concept his father mentioned many times. “Things have to line up for you.” Olin’s learned it takes perseverance, patience, luck, talent, putting in the work, and most importantly believing in yourself and putting yourself in the position to win even when you’re hurting. “In terms of the work it's not actually anything special, it's just showing up day in and day out and just doing it,” Olin said.
Tim and Olin share their drive, mental preparation, and most noticeably, a similar racing strategy that Olin learned from his father more than anyone else. “I would win races primarily by a kick; there's not many times where I was out legging everyone else earlier in the race,” Tim said.
“My base on how I approach races is really from my dad. Obviously my high school coach Tom Kaufman, and Nick, Gavin, and Aaron, all my college coaches have taught me a ton. It's about covering moves and being in the right position. Something [my dad] really impressed upon me for my entire running career is pop last. If you’re the one to make that last move, normally people can’t hang with that. That's how he raced and I feel like a lot of the time that's what I try to emulate.” Olin’s words reflected his father once again.
Tim believes that his son is more of a versatile runner. “I’ve seen him win in the last year in the last 80 yards but also seen him take races with 1000m to go and just put the screws to everybody and run away from people,” Tim said.
Although Tim has never tried on any super shoes, however, as an avid track and field fan he has no doubt that he and his competitors would’ve been able to run faster, a fact which makes his 3:34.66 1500-meter personal best all the more impressive.
“I have not talked to an athlete or coach that does not think they’re an advantage. Everyone universally says that they’re easier on your body,” Tim said. “It probably would’ve allowed me to train harder and get faster.”
“I would love to put my dad in his prime in a pair of the super shoes and see what he could do,” Olin said.
The advances that Tim noticed have improved since his golden days in running include nutrition, equipment, physical and massage therapists that keep runners constantly recovering and preventing injuries.
“Most distance runners can train at about the same level but it's [about] how quickly you can recover to get another hard training session in, that's really the key.”
These days, mileage and volume have a higher focus compared to the shorter, fast-paced workouts that were popular when Tim was running.“I probably was averaging more in the 70 to 75 [mile range/week] but I would have higher intensity workouts on the track and even easier runs were shorter,” Tim said.
Olin believes the top end of the NCAA hasn’t varied much in quality over the last few years, but he has noticed increased depth, which he attributes to the enhanced resources that athletes can access. Tim described the difference in the facilities as night and day compared to when he ran at Wisconsin.
Olin also had some thoughts on early-season success, saying that “people run fast times in the start and middle of the season because they have really good guys to race. You don’t have to wait for the championship to race some really good competition.”
While facilities have changed, updated, or remodeled the team culture and camaraderie remains unchanged. “They’re still the same guys having the same fun and they’re totally behind each other,” Tim explained.
Olin focused on positioning in the weeks up to NCAA’s in practice and during the 5,000-meter race after some tactical errors in the NCAA Indoor 3,000 meters and a tumble in the 4xMile at Penn Relays.
“I thought about being on Beadlescomb’s shoulder over that last 200, being on Brian Fay’s shoulder, Nico Young’s shoulder or being in a group of those guys on the outside of that lane.”
After finishing the race in pure awe and excitement, the first person he went up to on the bottom row of the stand taking photos was his very own mother. “To be able to share that moment right then with her was just really special,” Olin said.
“It's incredible to watch your own kid doing it. It brought me a lot more joy than my own title in fact. You kind of understand, at least I have a better understanding now, what it all takes to get that kind of a title and to get to that result,” Tim said.
Tim finds it incredible for Olin to follow in his footsteps, joining him as one of the best runners in the NCAA and becoming one of the fastest father-son duos ever. “It’s a legacy now that no one can take away, there will be pictures in the locker room. Maybe his will go up next to mine”
As an expert in the sport, Tim has had to balance on the line between coach and parent throughout his running career. Olin, described by Tim as an information seeker, will typically ask his dad if he has any questions.
Tim explained that he tries “not to give advice except when asked; sometimes I give it anyways, [but] I don’t want to overstep the bounds of the coach or undermine him in any way. I can help with big picture stuff– not getting in the way of the coach but actually assisting the coach.”
Olin plans on running professionally and is currently in conversation with various professional training groups. “That's all sorts of secret there,” Olin said. “I’d definitely love to train with some former teammates; I do love that badger connection. I’m trying to be systematic, thorough, and really find where is the best fit for me and where I’m gonna be able to succeed. It’s kinda like the old college decision all over again. It’s been an exciting process.”
Olin is a physically young runner with the ability to be competitive for many more years in the sport. Not to mention he has the ability to train a lot harder according to Tim.
“The sky’s the limit. I don't see why he can’t make a world championship team. I think, if the timing is right (and you always need a little bit of luck), he could make an Olympic team.”
During his running career, Tim had the opportunity to run across Africa, Europe, Japan, South America, and his favorite, New Zealand, an opportunity he hopes Olin can experience during his professional career.
Tim emphasized that patience is key in reaching your full potential in running. “The biggest lesson any young runner should understand is that, nothing in running happens quickly and patience is really the key when it's really dark,” Tim said. “High school runners run four years and they think it's a long time. It's really not. You’d have to run another four or five years before you really understand how good you’re going to be.”
As a last note, Olin gave some advice for people who may be going through a rough patch in running.
“There was a point where I was considering if I wanted to continue running or not, if this was the right thing for me. It was really an easy decision. I knew I wanted to keep running. I didn't want to give up and it was because I just loved it,” Olin said. “If you love running and you’re enjoying it, just keep pursuing it and success will come. That’s my advice.”