Allison Halverson was walking with her husband, Nic, last week when a female stranger hailed her on the street — recognizing the potential Olympic track athlete. Allison was surprised.
The stroll wasn’t near her Mission Valley home. It was in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia — the former Soviet republic bordering Turkey and Iran.
Halverson, an NCAA runner-up with San Diego State University, returned home Saturday with citizenship in a second country and new hopes for a spot in the Tokyo Olympic heptathlon field.
After picking up her Armenian passport and being sworn in, Halverson became a mini-celebrity there.
“The Armenian Athletic Association on Facebook already congratulated me,” she said Monday. “All these Armenian (outlets) are reaching out to me, asking me: ‘Can we interview you? … You’re real famous now.’ … They’re happy to have someone who can compete at a high caliber.”
The Yerevan stranger was an official with the Armenian track and field association, who is helping Halverson win approval from World Athletics (formerly IAAF) to transfer her nationality “eligibility” from American to Armenian.
Although Halverson is among the best U.S. women in her seven-event sport, she decided last year to use her mother’s Armenian ancestry to improve her chances of gaining entry to the 24-woman field at the Summer Games in early August.
She’s been told that a nationality change approval could come in a month. If so, she’d become the second Yank to join Armenian track ranks in recent months.
Alex Donigian, a former All-American sprinter at Western Washington University, says authorities accepted his transfer of allegiance request in August. His paternal grandfather is Armenian.
“I know Alli’s case pretty well,” Donigian said Tuesday via email. “No comments on her chances [for eligibility change], but so far she has been intelligent and intentional in her actions, which is always a good thing.”
Asked for advice, he said Halverson should present herself well “and always be polite and grateful. It means a lot to the Armenian people to have representation even in local competitions. Be respectful and mindful of your new fans.”
Halverson aims to compete in field events in local Summer Nights all-comers meets (the heptathlon includes the high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin throw), but also looks ahead to gaining world rankings points at several European meets.
Those include the Multistars event April 25-26 in Lana, Italy, and the Hypo-Meeting May 30-31 in Götzis, Austria.
“They only take a certain number of people from each country,” Halverson said of the elite European meets. “I should officially switch over to Armenia before my first heptathlon.”
If the average of her two best scores isn’t high enough, she also may try a meet June 20-21 in Ratingen, Germany.
If World Athletics makes her wait three years for the national transfer, her Plan B is competing in her third U.S. Olympic Trials in late June in Eugene, Oregon.
In any case, her confidence is high.
“[SDSU track coach Shelia] Burrell has done a really good job,” Halverson said of her former and current coach, a two-time Olympian in the heptathlon. “I’m really excited to see what I can do.”
Halverson, known as Allison Reaser before marriage, says she’s always believed she could win a top-three spot at the Olympic Trials.
“I’m the type of athlete that on the day I train for the most I can pull it out,” she said. “I just don’t want to take my chances of getting third place and having fourth place go because they had higher world-rank points. I know I’ll be fine. … I know I’m faster and stronger than all these girls.”
She also has a growing fan base in Armenia.
It took her 15 hours to fly to Yerevan, the capital city of just over a million. That included a stop in Moscow.
But she had someone waiting for her at the airport — a 54-year-old cousin who shares a great-great grandmother with Halverson.
The male relative who picked her up, a missionary pastor, “taught us so much about everything in Armenia,” she said of the three-day visit.
He had reached out to her family about four years ago via an ancestry site.
“He even said: ‘I knew you should have done this since I first heard about you. … You could help so many Armenians, be a role model for them. And help the girls here.’”
An Armenian Facebook page quoted Halverson: “I have fallen in love with the amazing, beautiful, hospitable and strong country and look forward to seeing what the future holds for me and Armenia.”