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Big 5 Track Invitational Credit: Alexandra Fleischman , Alexandra Fleischman

Penn women’s cross country phenom Leslie Kovach isn’t looking back.

During her sophomore track and field season, she was named both NCAA Outdoor All-American and NCAA Outdoor Finalist and set school records in the indoor 5,000 meters, outdoor 5,000 meters and outdoor 10,000 meters.

But Kovach doesn’t like to look ahead, either.

“I don’t have long-term goals,” she said. “I don’t really think that far ahead in the future, and coach [Blake] Boldon actually doesn’t agree with that. He was thinking NCAA Championships at the outset of the season last year, and I hadn’t even touched that until a couple of weeks before regionals [less than two weeks before the NCAA Championships].”

But while Kovach thrives on her “one day at a time” approach, she and Boldon hope to eventually help her train, and perhaps qualify, for the 2012 Olympic Trials.

Still, it won’t be easy.

“At the international or even national level, she’s very inexperienced,” Boldon said. “Compared to an athlete on the international level, her training age is relatively low, [as opposed to someone] in their upper 20s or 30s and who has been competing on the national or international level for more than a decade.”

Kovach agreed.

“I think I have a lot of development to get under my belt to consider [the Olympics] seriously,” she said. “I’ll take it one day at a time like I have in the past, and I’ll let coach Boldon worry about the big picture.”

It’s a picture that Boldon is all too familiar with, but it hasn’t been a pretty one. Boldon appealed but failed to be added to the 5,000-meter field at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., a dismissal he has since attributed to administrative shortcomings within the USA Track & Field bureaucracy.

“I know what it is to target these goals and take these steps,” he said. “I also know what it is to miss and then move on with life and training and competition.”

Instead, Boldon is handling all of Kovach’s logistics, including her travel arrangements and meet entries.

“She can be relieved of [the details] and just go compete,” he said.

The Olympic stage may not yet be in sight for Kovach, who finished first for Penn in its two cross country meets this season. But she has made goals that, if accomplished, will draw her nearer to the Olympic Trials next summer.

“I definitely have to get into the 15:50s for the 5k, and I guess break the 34-minute mark for the 10k depending on what I’m training heavily for,” she said.

Currently, Kovach runs the 5k in the 16-minute range and the 10k in just over 35 minutes.

Boldon hints, though, that Kovach’s underdog role could ultimately help her if she achieves her more immediate goals.

“When you start looking at the goals that are slightly out of reach, it gives you some excitement and encouragement to really pursue your best,” he said. “On the other hand, if the goals are too far out of reach, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment, so it’s a delicate balance.”

Having a coach who knows the system and a training regimen that knows no limits just may tip that balance in Kovach’s favor, allowing her to compete to qualify for the next year’s Summer Olympics.

But, as always, she’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it.

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