This piece by David Hunter on the challenges of being an elite American track & field athlete may be his most important. Casmir Loxsom is his focus. Cas is fighting the good fight. He is battling to be at the top of the 800 meter heap, and with so few sponsors, you are either the best, for the most part, or you do not find a sponsor. This piece makes a ton of sense, and we wish Casmir Loxsom the best this season. Our sport is brutally honest, but, the truth is this. Until those in power figure out how to communicate the excitement of our sport to the general sports fan, athletics will continue to get scraps from the global sponsors of sport. Our sport requires a different approach, and a sponsor who realizes just how deep the support of athletics is around the world.
Middle distance star Casimir Loxsom possesses all of the ingredients for track & field success: natural talent, a competitive instinct, and a well-honed work ethic. At Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut, the young athlete combined soccer with track & field and as a senior he was the New England champion at 600 meters. While at Penn State, Loxsom was a multiple-time Big Ten champion and in his final year he was NCAA runner-up – both indoors and outdoors – at 800 meters. Since college, Loxsom has tasted considerable success as a professional athlete, making the 2015 USA world championship team in the 800 meters, often exhibiting domination over 600 meters, and winning his first U.S. title at that distance in Boston in 2015 when he broke his own American record with a 1:15.33 clocking. During the 2017 indoor season, he lowered his own American record and set a world best over 600 meters by outdueling fellow Nittany Lion star Isaiah Harris down the homestretch to finish in 1:14.91.
With those track successes, one would expect Loxsom to be ensconced in a top-flight training group, surrounded by a skillful support team, and engaged in a sophisticated and undistracted training regimen calculated to take him to an even higher performance level. Instead, the young talent finds himself alone, with neither a team affiliation nor a sponsor, and struggling to gain the solid footing all athletes need to succeed in a sport where the difference between success and mediocrity is often measured in mere centimeters or hundredths of a second.
Why would such an accomplished collegiate middle-distance talent be facing such struggles in competing as a professional at 800 meters? It might well be the combination of several factors.
First of all, the multi-faceted racing skills essential for success over 800 meters outdoors is different than the speed-oriented, pedal-to-the-metal approach that promotes success over 600 meters indoors. The outdoor two-lapper quite often requires a careful blend of shrewd tactics, prompt reaction to opponents’ moves, and the Eamonn Coghan-like ability to go from race pace to flat-out sprint at the drop of a hat. It is a racing transition which in the 1960’s confounded indoor 600 yard wizard Martin McGrady – the original Chairman of the Boards – and has yet to be fully solved by young Loxsom. “That is a fair comparison,” admits the former Nittany Lion. “I know who you’re talking about. I have read about him and his track history,” states Loxsom in acknowledging not only the great McGrady but also the necessary adjustments between racing 600 meters and dueling at 800 meters. “It’s funny,” offers Loxsom light heartedly. “I have such an interesting relationship with the 600. If I’m going to be known for something, I’m not upset about being known for being a good 600 meter runner, or even an indoor 600 meter runner.” The Connecticut native readily admits there is quite a difference between his performances in the two events. “If you look at it objectively, I think I have something like 5 of the top 10 U.S. 600 meter indoor times ever. I’m not even close when you compare it to the outdoor 800 meters.”
Secondly, speed-based middle distance runners – like Loxsom – often need additional time to cultivate the aerobic strength the 800 meters requires. “In an event like the 800, it is more common to see the speed-based runners have early success over that distance,” explains Loxsom who also points out that aerobic development to complete the middle-distance package can often take longer for these speed-blessed competitors. “I think for speed-based 800 runners whose goal is to reach your ceiling, it’s going to take a lot of patience to develop your full system.” Loxsom cites the measured improvement of Duane Solomon that ultimately led to his 1:42.82 [#2 all-time U.S. clocking] in London’s Olympic 800m final. “I genuinely feel if you are a speed-based 800 guy who is not yet fully developed aerobically, it just takes time, years and years, to develop that [aerobic] system.”
A third challenge is the current influx of terrific American athletes crowding U.S. 800 meter finals. While the era of Nick Symmonds’ U.S. domination is over, young American talent is flooding the men’s 800 meters. Clayton Murphy – whose ambitious championship schedule and Mother Nature spoiled his 2018 outdoor season – is still the reigning Olympic bronze medalist at 800 meters and #3 on the all-time U.S. list. He is joined by emerging young talents such as Donovan Brazier and Drew Windle. Highly-regarded Boris Berian has been A.W.O.L. but is rumored to be gearing up for a comeback. Multiple-time U.S. indoor 800m meter champion Erik Sowinski is just hitting his prime. Some speedy 400 meter specialists – including world indoor 4×4 relay gold medalist Chris Giesting and former 500m world best athlete Brycen Spratling – have already moved up to the 8 or are rumored to be contemplating such a switch. It has been decades since the U.S. sported a plethora of middle distance talent like this in the men’s 800 meters.
Lastly, the ranks of promising and well-trained high school and collegiate middle-distance talent are swelling every day. “There are so many young people running well,” notes Loxsom. “Especially as high school coaches are becoming more knowledgeable, as more resources are out there to train more intelligently and train harder, and as youth success is now becoming more competently monetized, and as athletes coming out of high school are becoming more incented to gain early entry into the professional ranks, I think we are seeing a change in the gateway of gaining entry into track and field moving down a few years for a variety of reasons. I don’t think the elite, world class, top ten times have changed all that much in the past 5 years. But the level of high school athletes has dramatically changed.”
But Loxsom has reservations about this trend. “I don’t think that kids getting better sooner is really moving the needle too far on the pro scene. But I think it is making it much more competitive for college stars. And in the long term it can be detrimental,” he declares. “The concept of specialization can be detrimental: you see kids burn out mentally, it is not even a physical thing. I definitely believe it can promote a lack of interest, having it shoved down your throat your whole life. I think you need to pursue [track & field] if you want to really be successful. I think a lot of those reasons can contribute to the expectations that you are running better younger now because you meet standards. And that moves the needle away from sponsoring people in their late 20’s.”
Loxsom seeks to temper some of his personal racing frustration with renewed patience. “I think I was ranked among the top for last year’s  indoors. I finished up ranked #1 in the world in two events and broke that world best. I was on a good track, but life happens,” explains the former Brooks Beast athlete. “Duane [Solomon] is someone who has given me faith that I can run 1:42, 1:43, run elite marks. And sometimes it just takes that patience. Part of my mentality over the past several years is to have fun, enjoy track, don’t get burned out, and realize that it is just going to take some time for my aerobic engine to catch up. Honestly, I think I am just so speed-based that my aerobic system just needs to catch up a little bit before that success in the 600 translates to the 8.” Loxsom knows his vision of deferred gratification is a tough sell to sponsors immersed in the “what have you done for me lately” mindset. “It’s tough to get sponsors when you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a 1:42 guy in maybe about 2 years,'” he laments. “People are looking for that instant gratification.”
Being back on the friendly soil of State College, Pennsylvania – the site of some of his greatest triumphs and where his talent and accomplishments are still widely embraced – has helped Loxsom keep the faith. Yet Loxsom knows he must nonetheless continue his quest for an even more solid foundation of support. “Honestly, things aren’t much more stable. I still don’t have a contract. I’m piecing things together. I have to work part time. I’m kind of at a point where I am waiting for something to break my way in terms of a more stable situation, especially financially,” the former Penn State star confesses. “It’s been an extremely stressful fall. I’m in good shape. I am kind of excited to get back to racing. And while things are not perfect by any means, it is an off year. I think this is going to be the most challenging year for me. I think the writing is already on the wall. I think this is going to be a pretty tough time,” acknowledges Loxsom, who realizes he needs to put some impressive numbers on the board. “I considered retiring so many times in the past 6 months. Not being sponsored, and depending upon whose definition you use, I may not even be a professional track & field athlete right now since no one is paying me to do it.”
But Loxsom – who turned 27 on St. Patrick’s Day – is keeping his chin up in an effort to stay focused on what he needs to do. “I’m just trying to train hard. My primary goal this year is more than just being a top 800 meter runner; it is about trying to find all the things I love about the sport and get that fire lit again. I’m working hard right now. I’m crushing workouts. Everything else is just tough. Getting back to basics will be good for me,” states Loxsom who will be opening up his 2018 outdoor season at the May 19th Jamaica International Invitational, an IAAF World Challenge gathering, and will be rabbiting the International Mile at the Prefontaine Classic at the end of this month. “Basically, my goal for the year is to get myself where I want to be for the start of the 2019-2020-2021 cycle, find a new home, a new training set-up, to try to make the Olympic team, and try to make the world team in ’21,” explains the middle distance talent. “There are so many people who have had their best running at age 28 or 29.”
That Casimir Loxsom – despite his recent post-collegiate successes – currently finds himself valiantly dealing with economic fragility and an uncertain future offers insights into the character and resiliency of this young man. But the incongruity of Loxsom’s predicament despite his success perhaps says perhaps even more about the current state – and indeed the viability – of U.S. track & field for a wide swath of American track & field athletes who, while very talented and accomplished, are not quite marquee performers.