Michigan fifth-year senior Ben Flanagan charged down the homestretch at Hayward Field in the men’s 10,000 meters and managed to catch Alabama’s Vincent Kiprop in the closing meters and cap off his final race in a Block M uniform with an NCAA title.
Flanagan, who last year battled a foot injury and sacral stress fracture in his lower back, threw his arms up in celebration at the end of his 56.96-second final lap to win in 28:34.54—just .46 seconds ahead of Kiprop.
Shortly after crossing the finish line, ESPN’s broadcast caught Flanagan’s exclaiming, “Where’s my mom? Where’s my mom? Mom! Mom!”
On Wednesday night, SI tracked down Michelle Flanagan and caught up with the newly-minted NCAA champion’s mother about Ben’s breakthrough race and her perspective:
Sports Illustrated: First off, we’re just two hours after your son won an NCAA title. How are you feeling?
Michelle Flanagan: I’m very excited and very proud of my boy. I’m very happy for him because he worked very hard this year and it’s just a lovely way to end.
SI: What’s your earliest memory of Ben running and were you one of the people that initially got him into the sport?
MF: Definitely not. He’s a very independent kid. I remember once, when he was 15, and he was representing Team Canada. He told me that he was going to run a race in Timmins, Ontario, which is very far from us. [The Flanagans are from Kitchener, Ontario, about eight hours away.] He said, “I’m going on this bus, mom. Don’t worry. There’s some nice ladies that will take care of us.” I’m like, ‘Hold up.’ He’s been like that from the get-go. He’s very independent. Usually, I’d be the last to find out about what he was up to.
SI: What’s it been like to watch his development as an athlete as a parent?
MF: It’s been awesome and a lot of fun. I’m not the crazy kind of athletic mom. I’m the proudly cheering from afar mom. I cheer in all his races without a doubt. I’m happy with his achievements but I’m also happy if things quite work out the way that he wants them to. My husband is definitely more enthusiastic in his way. I’m definitely more the mom.
SI: Tonight, where were you watching the NCAA championship final from?
MF: I was on the backstretch. The funny thing that happens to me when he races is that I scream a lot. Every single time that he came around, I yelled. The people around me were so fantastic. At one point, Ben smiled while coming around the stretch. The girl behind me goes, “He’s smiling at you!” These two lovely gentlemen beside me turn and said, “You must be the mom.” I replied, “Oh my God. I’m so embarrassed. I am the mom.” My husband, Ron, and his twin were here with us as well. They weren’t saying anything but told me, “Yell at him again!” So I did yell a lot. So I think I ended up yelling every one of the 25 laps.”
SI: That’s a lot of laps to be yelling.
MF: Yeah, it is. Typically, Ben runs a very fantastic race when he’s disciplined and strategic. I was a little bit concerned but wanted to make sure that he holds on there so I felt the need to yell.
SI: He says he didn’t know he was going to win until the final three meters. When did you know?
MF: Well, I was screaming my head off because I was on the other side. I could see him take over. I had seen him do this before. Recently, he’s been very fit and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I think he’s going to do this.’ The people around me started high-fiving me. They were so wonderful. They started yelling, “He’s gonna do it! He’s gonna beat him!” By then, my husband and his twin had taken off so I was by myself with all my new friends. The crowd was going crazy and it was a lot of fun.
SI: Was it an emotional trip to even just being at Hayward Field and watch his final race in a Michigan uniform? Last year, Ben was banged up with a few injuries so this was his last big one.
MF: It has been but like I’ve said before, he’s an unusual young lad. He started off so early and he raced with Team Canada several times. He always seems to have a next step awaiting. I may not know what that next step is but he does usually have a plan. When he’s enthusiastic like this, he says, “Mom, I’m going to keep racing.” I say, “Of course you are.” Injuries are always always awful. I work in the medical field as a nurse practitioner and work in an emergency department. I also tell him that it’s all good. Sometimes you need a little bit of rest and things will be good again. From that perspective, I’m helpful. From the race perspective, I know some of the numbers and people but as far as the crazy mom on the sidelines, that’s typically not my gig. (Laughs)
SI: Whether it’s as a person or as an athlete, what’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in him from his time at Michigan?
MF: Certainly, but he’s always been a little old man from the get go. The one thing is that at 18, he moved away from our country to come to the States. He said that he was going to do this. Once again, I was like “OK. Here we go.” He was young but immediately fit in and he’s made great friends. He’s a mature kid and he’s always done well that way. Michigan’s been wonderful and very supportive. He’s been educated. It’s been a big win-win. Coach Kevin Sullivan [three-time Olympian] is someone we know well from Canada as a decorated runner. It was reassuring for me to know someone that who would be mentoring Ben.
SI: He’s in graduate school right now and plans to finish up in Ann Arbor before he hopes to try and represent Canada in international races as a post-collegiate athlete. What’s your hope for your son’s future in running and life?
MF: My hope for him is his happiness. Whatever he does that makes him happy, I’m happy. At the end of the day, whatever he chooses to do, I’m all for it. I’m glad that he’s educated so he can pursue a career, if he feels like it. If he wants to stop and pause for a little bit and free up some territory for running, that’s all good too. He’s a good kid and an easy one to support.