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General makes transition look easy

Bente General was one of the most promising young track and field athletes in Germany. She placed third in the National Junior Championships in the 800 meters.

In 2000, General’s friend and fellow track athlete Karoline Hagen decided to move to the United States and compete for the USF track and field team. USF coach Greg Thiel first heard about General’s times through Hagen and began corresponding with her via e-mail.

“We competed on different club teams in Germany,” said Hagen. “We had met during meets, she was interested in competing in the U.S., so I mentioned her to Coach Thiel.”

Thiel decided to recruit General and convinced her to move from Itzehoe, a small town just outside of Hamburg, to test her abilities against the collegiate runners in America.

General had to make a lot of adjustments when deciding to come to USF. Along with the typical adjustments of being away from home for the first time, she also had to contend with language and cultural barriers. Despite having taken nine years of English class in Germany, she still found difficulty in speaking and understanding English.

“Everyone spoke so fast, I didn’t know what they were talking about,” said General. “It was hard in the beginning to move to a place I didn’t know, but running track has helped me a lot.”

Thiel has been extremely pleased with the development of General and the way that she has handled the transition.

“I couldn’t imagine being her,” said Thiel. “She’s away from home for the first time, she didn’t speak the language well, she’s thrown into class, and forced to live with roommates she didn’t know. She had so many other things to deal with, besides being an elite performer in track and field.”

Having experienced a similar situation, Hagen helped General with the culture shock.

“At first, it was very hard for her, she was all by herself, away from her family and friends. She had a tough time and was very homesick. As time went on, she adjusted, and now she is very happy,” Hagen said.

While the 800 meters is General’s favorite and best event, she also competes in the 400-meter hurdles and is a member of the 4×400 relay team. Her goal for the rest of this season is to qualify for the NCAA Championship in the 800 meters. To provisionally qualify for the NCAAs, she would need to post a time better than 2:07.50. Her season best is 2:09:48; her personal best is 2:05.95. General also has the potential to nationally qualify in the 400-meter hurdles, which she will begin to compete in later this season.

So far this year, General has set the school record in the 800 meters. Her record setting performance (2:09.48) came at the FSU Relays earlier this season, breaking the 7-year-old record previously held by Jennifer Hoke (2:12.49), set in 1996. She was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year for the indoor season.

“Greg plans out a training program for me, he always asks me if it is good or bad,” said General. “I don’t really like lifting weights, but I do it.”

Thiel is very optimistic about General’s prospects of qualifying. He believes that in the next couple of years she has the potential of being an All-American and a national champion.

“It’s been a pleasure coaching her. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is just going to get better and better,” said Thiel. “The way she focuses and as hard as she trains, the sky is the limit.”

General is majoring in business and said she would like a career in advertising or sports management.

General and most of the Bulls will travel to the Raleigh Invitational, hosted by N.C. State on Friday and Saturday. High jumpers and pole-vaulters will compete in the Florida Relays in Gainesville.

  • James Tai covers outdoor track and field. Contact him at