Alan Culpepper dismissed his future wife before he had even really met her.
A fifth-year senior at the University of Colorado, Culpepper was on the cross-country team with Shayne Wille, and he assumed when they met that she was a freshman, and that the age difference between them was just too great. Then he learned she was a walk-on transfer from Vermont. Two years later, in 1997, the pair was married.
Shayne had not really gotten serious about the sport, so running wasn't initially a big part of the Culpeppers' relationship. But by 1999, her gradual improvement put her fourth in the country in the 1,500 meters.
Both Culpeppers were part of the U.S. Olympic team at the 2000 Games in Sydney. That feat could be replicated this year, though both will have to run longer distances than four years ago.
Alan has already qualified for the Athens Games, winning the U.S. men's marathon trials in February. Shayne is a favorite to qualify in the 5,000 meters at this week's U.S. Olympic trials in Sacramento, but she knows nothing is guaranteed.
Finishing fourth in the 2000 trials left Shayne off the U.S. roster, morphing her from competitor to sideline supporter in Sydney -- until third-place finisher Regina Jacobs was forced to withdraw because of illness.
"Obviously, it was extremely disappointing to finish fourth that day at the trials," said Shayne, who was in Australia with her husband when she heard she would be Jacobs's replacement. "But reflecting back now, I was the fourth-fittest person at the trials. Finding out in Sydney that I was on the team was not the way I had envisioned making the team, but it was still a great day."
Neither Culpepper qualified for the finals in Sydney; Alan finished a distant 17th in his 10,000-meters heat, his preferred distance at the time; Shayne was ninth in hers.
But the couple could come out of Athens with very different results.
Alan's victory in the U.S. trials came in just his second race at the distance. In his first, he tied Alberto Salazar's 1980 American record for a rookie marathon at 2 hours 9 minutes 41 seconds. Qualifying for the Games in February has given him longer to prepare for Athens.
"You try and not think this way, but I was just happy to be there at some level," Alan said of the 2000 Olympics. "The weight and stress of just making the team is pretty intense. It's pretty tough to regroup [after the trials] and try and do even better. That's been a problem for our team. This time, having made the team already, you don't get that Olympic fever as much."
Shayne finds herself in a different situation. The 5,000 semifinals are Friday and even if she advances, she won't find out whether she's going to Athens until Monday night's finals. But Mark Wetmore, Alan and Shayne's coach at Colorado, said he'd be surprised if Shayne doesn't make the team, and she seems to agree.
"I'm not even thinking about not making the team in the 5,000," Shayne said. "I do feel confident. I'm not overconfident but I do feel good about my fitness and my training, where my preparation is."
Because of their disparate timelines and distances, the Culpeppers' training regimens are very different, though they share advice and insight. But they emphasize that their relationship doesn't revolve around running, and that their competitive natures don't extend to besting each other.
"It's hard for me to even remotely fathom what that would feel like," Shayne said. "It's just the type of people we are and what's really important to us in life. If you were competitive with each other, you wouldn't have the sport in perspective and I can't imagine that wouldn't lead to poor results in racing."
The couple's perspective was forged with the birth of their son, Cruz, two years ago. After timing the pregnancy between the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, Shayne made her way back to the running circuit in 2003. Since the birth, the Culpeppers have changed their routines, arranging child care between training sessions.
Cruz has altered the couple's schedules -- and its priorities. Alan said the passion and desire for winning remain, but their thoughts can no longer be centered on racing, or even on making the Olympic team.
"The benefit for her and for me is that we have made an Olympic team, and that's the standard in this country," Alan said. "That kind of takes the edge off. I've experienced that. It's not going to define me as a runner."