After receiving his undergraduate degree in human development and regenerative biology at Harvard College, graduate student Maksim Korolev decided to accept an offer of admission from Stanford University, where he has already posted two top-five finishes. About two weeks ago in early February, Korolev flew to Boulder, Colorado, to compete in the U.S. Cross Country Championships, where he secured the final spot to represent the United States of America at the World Championships. After freshly returning to the States from Barranquilla, Colombia, where he won the Pan American Cross Country Cup, Korolev sat down with The Stanford Daily’s Elizabeth Trinh to discuss his year on the Farm and his thoughts on representing the Stars and Stripes in the upcoming competition.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): To begin, what got you started in running?
Maksim Korolev (MK): I played soccer before seventh grade, and seventh grade was the first time that you could do cross country for our school. I had heard about it, and I thought, yeah, just running. That sounds sweet. I don’t know why. In retrospect, I was insane to think that. I still think I’m insane.
TSD: So running is a form of punishment in some sports. That being said, what makes running so appealing to you?
MK: I guess I just like the grind of it. The results are really tangible. There’s just something about – and it’s hard to explain – the act of running. There’s something magical about it, I guess. I just love training. I do like competing, but competing hurts a lot. I would say that I like training more.
TSD: Tell me about your undergraduate experience running at Harvard, otherwise known as the Stanford of the East.
MK: It was great. I loved it out there, except for the weather. The weather was terrible. I loved Boston. I loved Harvard. I had a rough start there, in terms of running. The first two years, I didn’t do anything. Junior year was when I kind of came out, and you know, it was nice. It taught me a lot about perseverance. If you have that belief in yourself, then just go after it. See what you can do. I did that, and it paid off.
TSD: What did you choose to come to Stanford for your fifth year?
MK: So, in the Ivy League, they have this rule. First of all, you have to graduate in eight semesters, and they don’t do redshirting or anything like that. Also, you can’t compete in the undergraduate athletics as a graduate student, so if you have a medical redshirt from when you’re hurt from a season, and you get back, you can’t take it in the Ivy League. Usually, a lot of guys from the Ivy League do their fifth year at state schools or outside of the Ivy League. So I really wanted to do this program here, management science and engineering. The weather. Coach Milt[enberg]. You know, I like Coach Milt a lot. The guys – I knew the guys [at Stanford] were cool. And the Stanford name as well, you know. I’m racking up the prestige, I guess, from Harvard to Stanford.
TSD: What do you think differentiates you from your contemporaries?
MK: I guess I just have more talent. I’m not sure. I would like to say that I work harder, but everyone works just as hard, I think. I think I just lucked out. I just have a bigger engine, I guess, and a better ability to work that engine. I can do a lot of training, and I don’t usually get hurt.
TSD: What has been your biggest challenge this season?
MK: I think it was just that it was the first time that Coach Milt and I have worked together. It took a little bit of time for us to get use to each other – or him to understand me and for me to understand him. I guess specifically during the season, the Pac-12s was the low point. I just didn’t do that well. I think I got ninth, which for a guy who got third a year before at nationals and fourth this year at nationals, it sucked to get ninth in your conference. Still, it was a good learning experience, and I pushed through that race. You know, I think Coach Milt and I have figured each other out, and things are going well not.
TSD: Tell me about the World Championships.
MK: So, on the years that they don’t have the Olympics, they usually have the World Championships, which are basically the Olympics, except not defined or termed as the “Olympics.” They have the World Cross Country Championships this year, so we had U.S.A. Cross Country Nationals two weeks ago in Boulder, Colorado. That was the qualifying race, a selection race for Team U.S.A. Top six go on to Worlds to compete as a team, and I was able to nab that last spot, sixth place. So, I’ll be joining that team in Guiyang, China, at the end of March.
TSD: Have you gotten a chance to meet with or even train the other guys on Team U.S.A.?
MK: No. The thing is, all the guys usually train separately in their own groups. Then we do the qualifier race, and then that determines who’s going. Then everyone just goes back to his own training. We’ll meet up in China a week before the race, and maybe we’ll do one shakeout workout together. It’s not really a team in the normal sense, but just more like guys who get together to compete for their countries.
TSD: Do you know any of the other runners personally?
MK: I don’t really know them just because I am still in school, and I mean, they’re all pro. One guy – the guy who won the race actually – his name is Chris Derrick. He graduated from here two years ago, I think. I had heard of him, and I only met him here in the fall briefly. It’ll be nice to talk to him on that trip and to compete with him.
TSD: What are your feelings about the upcoming race?
MK: Yeah, I’m really excited. So I just got back. I decided to do the Pan American Cross Country Cup, which was in Colombia this past weekend. That was a great trip, and so that got me more excited for the tip to China. Overall, I think it’ll be a great trip and just a good experience to really test myself against the best international competition, as well as the U.S. guys. It’ll be fun to compete with the team. I think U.S. got second as a team last year, so we’re going to try to do as well as that or hopefully even win. That would be really cool to do.
TSD: Do you have any post-graduation plans?
MK: You know, I’m not sure. I’m going to try to run as fast as I can to try to get as much money to run as I possibly can. We’ll see from there. I’ll have a few options. I guess I could finish my degree while running. I could maybe take a year off to train for the Olympic Trials. I guess just those two actually, but right now, I’m just focused on running as fast as possible. That’s all I can control right now.
TSD: Do you have a favorite memory from training or competing?
MK: I guess right now, the U.S.A. [qualifier] was just awesome. My mom was out there. My girlfriend was out there. It was just a really good experience, and it was really fun to qualify. I think I made them proud.
TSD: Tell me more about your mom.
MK: Yeah, my mom and I are fairly close. We moved out here when I was almost seven. I am just really appreciative about her for giving me the opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if we were still in Kazakhstan. I’m just grateful for that everyday – for all the opportunities that I have been given.
TSD: Is there anything else you’d like to share – any advice or last thoughts?
MK: Just keep working, I guess, and work hard. Sleep hard. Rest hard. I mean, the life of a runner is not glamorous. It’s monotony. It’s going out there, running, taking a nap, lifting, getting recovery, and doing whatever you can to get better every day. Just the day-by-day thing – you just got to enjoy that.
Contact Elizabeth Trinh at entrinh ‘at’ stanford.edu.