I was finishing up Athletes Only, and worked in this piece on Andrew Wheating, I hope that you like it….
Andrew Wheating, Oly Trials 2008, Eugene, photo courtesy of PhotoRun.net.
Andrew Wheating has only been in our sport for six years! He has to thank his high school soccer coach, Scrib Fauver, who, amazed that Andrew could run a five minute mile in conditioning, suggested cross country. Andrew was not sure, as he was getting razzed about going out for the sport of cross country in his junior year. In 2005, at the USATF Junior Cross Country Champs, Andrew won, in 14:54.01 over the 5,000 meter course.
Andrew ran unattached his senior year in high school, Kimball Union Academy, in Norwich, Vermont, as his school did not have a track team. Still, in 2006, Wheating ran 3:54.28 for the 1,500 meters, taking eighth in the USA Junior Champs. So, by the time Andrew finished high school, he had run two cross country seasons and one track season–soccer had been his sport. His 1,500m best made him the fourth best high schooler in the country!
Jeff Johnson, the guy who dreamed up the name Nike in his sleep, and then gave that name to Nike founder Phil Knight for his then, little shoe company, is also an excellent track coach. Jeff Johnson found out about Andrew from the high school soccer coach, then, encouraged Oregon track mentor Vinn Lananna to bring Wheating to Oregon. Vinn made Wheating a Duck, and the rest, is, well, track history.
In his first season as a Duck, Andrew ran 1:50.17, for 800 meters, 3:45.17 for 1,500 meters and 14:55.28 for 5,000 meters. He was ranked seventh in the 1,500 meters in the U.S.
Vinn Lananna, in discussing Andrew to Sports Illustrated writer Tim Leydon, noted that “Andrew has a huge aerobic capacity.” In Lananna-speak, that means, Vinn built the guy up from running 30 minutes at a time to being able to run over 8,000 m and 10,000 m cross country courses in 2007 (he had red shirted his freshman cross country season).
In his sophomore year, Andrew moved up from 7th at the NCAA 800 meter final to second, running a superb 1:46.23! In the semis of the Olympic Trials, Andrew ran 1:45.32, then, in the final, he chased down all but Nick Symmonds, who won the Olympic Trials. Wheating, with 15,000 screaming Duck fans pushing him down the final straight, ran 1:45.03! With Christian Smith in third, it was an all Oregon 800 meter team. Andrew told the press then, “The first thing I saw was that Nick was first, I was second and Christian was third…give me a couple of minutes and I’ll probably shoot up out of this chair and scream, ‘I made it’!” Wheating went to
Beijing, and ran the first round. It was, a learning experience.
Andrew Wheating, Beijing Olympics, 2008, photo courtesy of PhotoRun.net.
In his junior year and senior year, Wheating made his presence known in collegiate competition, winning the NCAA title at 800 meters in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, Andrew won both the 800 meters and the 1,500 meters at the NCAA, becoming the first man in NCAA Division 1 to complete that double since fellow Oregon Duck Joaquim Cruz won both in 1984. (Cruz won the 800 meters in 1984 Olympics).
It was at the end of his senior year, the summer of 2010 where Andrew showed his stuff. At the Nike Pre Classic, on July 3, Andrew ran 3:51.74 for the mile, setting a new school record (held by, you guessed it, Joaquim Cruz, in 3:53.00)! Wheating, at six foot five inches (1.95 m) and 175 lbs (79 kilograms) is a big guy, with a huge aerobic capacity, a killer kick, and most importantly, Andrew likes to race!
A few weeks after the Nike Pre Classic, Wheating signed a contract with Nike, through his management team, Global Athletics & Marketing, and it was off to Europe. In his first meeting, at Areva Paris, (July 15), Wheating ran a personal best of 1:44.62 for 800 meters. He was off to a good start.
On July 22, in Monaco, Andrew Wheating finished fourth in the 1,500 meters, running 3:30.90. He was finally racing with the big boys, and all four broke the world leading mark, up to that day of 3:31.92. This was his personal best by seven seconds. The time also made Wheating the fourth fastest mark in US History!
On August 6, Andrew found himself in a very physical 800 meters. Bumped around, Wheating finished 8th in the DN Galen meeting (Stockholm) meeting 800 meters, running 1:46.51.
Races are all about the lessons learned. This race was one for the textbooks.
August 13 found Andrew at the AVIVA London GP, a two day meeting on the Samsung Diamond League tour. Wheating was running the 800 meters against Abubaker Kaki, the Sudanese superstar who found the hard charging giant American too close for comfort. Wheating ran a personal best for the 800 meters of 1:44.56, taking second in that race!
After that, Andrew called it a season and went home to Norwich, Vermont! If you get a chance, read the piece by Tim Leydon in the September 20 issue of Sports Illustrated on Andrew, as it is a tremendous article.
Alas, Andy, as his friends call him, is human. In the SI story, Lananna speaks of a workout Wheating did before he left for Europe: 400-400-300, five minutes rest between each, in 50.0, 50.2 and 36.0. Lananna knew that Andrew would run fast, Wheating was just trying not puke.
Over in Europe, Andy ran a workout consisting of 500 meters-300 meters-200 meters. Wheating hit the 500 meters in 1:04, the 300 meters in 36 something and a 200 meters in 23 flat!
Just how good is Andrew Wheating? The guy can run you down with a slow early pace, and can accelerate off a fast pace. Ignore the times, win races, get a few medals for the bureau. Wheating has the tools to race globally at 800 meters to 1,500 meters. Next summer, between Wheating and Nick Symmonds (U.S. leader at 1;43.97), the AR of 1:42.60 is gone.
In the 1,500m? In 2011, with Wheating, Manzano, Lomong and a returning Webb, the U.S. will have a fascinating 1,500 m team. One would be foolhardy to bet against Andrew Wheating over either distance.
The problem for American
distance and middle distance runners in the past has been, a lack of racing experience against the big boys, and girls, a training regimen that did not have them ready to roll when the champs or big meets come, and, for many, the lack of an innate appreciation of the complexity of world class distance racing.
1976 Olympic gold medalist John Walker once said, that in the Olympic final, time means nothing, it is who gets across the line first.(He also noted that he would prefer a field full of senior citizens, but that is another story…) In 1992, a racing savvy Spaniard, Fermin Cacho, ran a 50.5 last lap from a near dead stop and was able to hold Morcelli off, and take the gold for the 1,500 meters. In an Olympic distance final, all finalists are dangerous. That is a fact of our sport, and global nature of track & field. (Morcelli would come back in 1996 to finally take the gold medal meant for him.)
For a competitor to win in the talent-laden World and Olympic champs, first, one has to get into the final, something many in the US forgot in the 90s. Then, one had to have enough in the tank to race, and if one was a half lap behind, a killer kick meant nothing. Wheating has the aerobic capacity, the leg speed, but most of all, the desire. Andrew Wheating WANTS to win, he likes to win, and he is pretty comfortable with that!
I have always been amazed with the athletes Vinn Lananna and his team develop. Actually, the correct term would be nurture. All good coaches, all good athletes have that symbiotic relationship. It is something we forgot in this country for awhile. Ironically, all of the good distance athletes who surfaced in the 80s-90s had strong coaches. That long term relationship is key. The athlete needs someone to read them, as this athletics thing is, thank God, still as much art as science. Just how good is Mr. Wheating? Andrew Wheating is going to be one of the great ones. It sure will be fun watching him race in 2011.
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