JOHN GREGOREK - HE'S A LION AND A DUCK AND AMERICA'S 1500 HOPE

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Gregorek_Johnny-USOut17.jpGJohn Gregorek, Jr. at 2017 USATF Outdoors, photo by PhotoRun.net

I have followed John Gregorek, Jr.'s career with much interest. I had a wonderful view of his father, John Gregorek, after he made his first Olympic team, running at the National Catholic XC Champs in Notre Dame, Indiana. John and Chuck Aragon were dueling over the 8k course, where they ran the last mile in close to 4:16. I finished 21rst in that race, but remember my bird's eye view when they took off! The two minutes and thirteen seconds between us afforded me an amazing view. I recall the ferocity with which Chuck Aragon took off and the focus of John Gregorek to stay with him. Thirty-six years later, I am still struck by the experience.

Watching 'Johnny' Gregorek race, especially as he runs with NJNYTC and has flourished this year. Here is a fine story on the young man by Elliott Denman, who, I am sure has also written about his parents.

JOHN GREGOREK -
HE'S A LION AND A DUCK
AND AMERICA'S 1500 HOPE

By ELLIOTT DENMAN


LONDON - Is he a Columbia (University) Lion or a (University of) Oregon Duck?
Is he John Gregorek or Johnny Gregorek?
Or, alternatively, John Gregorek, Junior?


You can call him any of those things, or all of them for that matter, or any variation of choice, but just be sure as you do so to call him Team USA's only finalist in the men's 1500 meters, always a flagship event in the International Association of Athletics Federation's biennial crown jewel production, the World Track and Field Championships.


USA teammate Matthew Centrowitz had bowed out on Thursday night, simply subpar physically and
in nowhere close to the form that had carried him to the Olympic gold medal - the first by his nation
in the event in 108 years - at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics a year earlier.


USA teammate Robby Andrews, the 2017 USA National outdoor champion, had bowed out in the first Friday night semifinal of the 1500, run just moments before Gregorek's section of the event at Olympic Stadium.


Semmingly preparing to "gather" for his trademark all-out sprint around the final turn, Andrews stunningly limped out of it with a badly cramping leg.


So now it was all on Gregorek's slender shoulders if Team USA was to do anything matching up to its recent exploits in this event at Worlds.


Remember that "Centro" had taken the silver medal in this event in 2013 and the bronze medal in 2011.

And that Bernard Lagat had won it all in 2007 and returned to claim the bronze medal in 2009. So that's a Team USA box score of at least one medal in four of the last five World 1500's.
OK, it's not a record of Kenyan stature - the East African powerhouse has ridden the slender shoulders of Asbel Kiprop to gold medals in the last three editions of the Worlds.


But it's still pretty darn impressive.


It wasn't easy for Gregorek to get there.


It took a violent 53.5 closing lap, after the relatively moderate early pace, for him to rush from far-far back with a lap left to seventh place at the wire of this second semifinal in 3:38.68. With the first five finishers in each semi automatically advancing, along with the two quickest sixth and seventh-placers, Gregorek was able to claim the 12th and final starting spot in the Sunday final that will be a feature event on the closing night of this 10-day festival.


Kiprop, seeking an incredible fourth straight, will be back in it as will Kenyan buddies Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi. So will Czech Republic's veteran Jakub Holusa (fastest of all qualifiers in 3:38.05), Norway notable Filip Ingebritsen, Bahrain's Sadik Mikhou, New Zealand veteran Nick Willis, Great Brit hopeful Chris O'Hare (the former Tulsa University star who trains in Boston), and four others.


Among those also missing out, though, were Kenya's Ronald Kwemoi, third fastest 1500 man in the world this year; and Jordan Williamsz, the Villanova star running for Australia. Such was the intensity of the World semis.


At Nationals in Sacramento in late June, Gregorek had come from far back to claim third place in the 1500 final (back of Andrews and "Centro") and the ticket to London. Fact is, he'd been coming from far back for years.


After a brilliant high school career in Seekonk, Massachusetts, he was less than truly spectacular as an undergraduate at Columbia, then began making world-class strides in his graduate-year racing for Oregon.


The pretty-good Lion became a dazzling Duck.


A big post-Nationals 3:35.00 win at the Tracktown USA Series meet at New York City's Icahn Stadium on July 6th was the sure indicator he "had arrived" on the world scene and would be a factor in London.


So now it's all on his plate, to have, to hold, and digest.


"It's all just a learning experience for me; I'm just ecstatic to be where I am, and can't wait to run on Sunday," said Gregorek in the mixed zone under the stands.


"My goal has to be to win a medal. It's what everybody came here for and what everyone wants.
"I've just got to get in best position possible....and then let it rip."


This is not a new message coming from him.


It's been instilled in him from his earliest days....and came from the best of sources.


His dad - who, officially, is John Stanley Gregorek; this now-celebrated son is John Patrick
Gregorek - was one of greats of his own day.


Brilliant is the operative word.


Among other things, Dad was a brilliant, record-setting high school runner at St. Anthony's on
Long Islander (clocking a 4:05.4 mile and 8:50.17 two-mile); a brilliant collegiate runner at Georgetown University (well remembered for anchoring his Hoyas to the Penn Relays distance medley title and halting a long Villanova win streak), and a brilliant
senior-level runner thereafter (a 1980 and 1984 USA Olympian in the 3000-meter steeplechase,
then 3:51.3 miler and 13:17.44 5000-meter man.)


Mom Chris Gregorek was quite a 800-1500 runner in her own right, at Georgetown
(bests of 2:02 for 800, 4:17 for 1500) and good enough to run in the 1984 Olympic Trials.
So was their son's now-success pre-ordained?


Well, not really.


"Early on," Chris Gregorek once told an interviewer, "we kind of discouraged him from
running. We wanted him to choose another sport."


Why?


"Because we know what goes into it. How hard it is. The pain."


But John Patrick Gregorek wasn't going to listen.


Just look him now - he's America's hope against the world.


And don't you dare count him out of it.

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