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Staring Down London

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Courtesy of Daniella Zalcman '09, Columbia College Today
Photo Credit: Fabio Ferrari, AP Photo

Eighty-eight hundredths of a second. It’s barely enough time to draw breath — and it’s also the interval that separated Erison Hurtault ’07 from qualifying in his 400-meter heat at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

But no matter, Hurtault is just getting started. The young sprinter is one of the best runners to come out of the Ivy League in recent years, having won the 400-meter dash in all eight Ivy championships of his college career. This summer he ran races in Denmark, Brazil, Germany, Colombia and Italy, just to name a few, and already is making plans for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“Running in the Olympics had always been a dream of mine, and I would say that my expectations were very high,” says Hurtault, who decided to run for Dominica — the homeland of his parents — after not qualifying for the American team. “I was not disappointed in any way. Getting in the [starting] blocks with 91,000 watching, and lining up against the best in the world, was everything I ever dreamed of and more. Waiting for the gun to go off as a capacity crowd waits in silence and then erupts as soon as we begin is incredible. Though I wanted a better result, I know I’ll always carry this experience with me.”

The New Jersey native came to Columbia to study econom­ics and could have easily jumped into a career in investment banking upon graduation, but chose instead to pursue his passion for running.

“Why not running?” Hurtault asks. “Being able to compete at major championships is a unique opportunity. I knew I couldn’t really leave and come back to it later in life. I was running well my senior year and decided to get out there and give it a shot.”

Hurtault’s Columbia classmates and mentors have only good things to say about their solemn, studious friend, but for Columbia track and field coach Willy Wood, Hurtault also was a model athlete and teammate.

“Erison possesses remarkable natural ability, an unmatched desire for complete actualization of his potential, an untiring work ethic and an unwavering belief in our training system,” Wood says. “I worked daily with him over the course of a four-year period and there was never one moment that I observed that I thought that he could have been doing something better or something more.”

Wood goes on to recount one of his favorite memories of Hurtault, moments before the 4x800m race at the 2007 Penn Relays (video of race courtesy of is embedded below). Wood had decided to place Hurtault on the relay team over the Columbia captain, but Hurtault refused the position. “Erison said that unless he was going to be the critical difference between us winning or not, he wanted to give up his spot on the team to our captain,” Wood says. But the coach insisted, and Hurtault went on to take his teammates from sixth place to first (third leg) — making Columbia the first Ivy to win the event in more than 40 years.

Daniella Zalcman's complete profile on Hurtault can be found in the November/December 2008 version of Columbia College Today.

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- A.S.