“Just to be in the field with these guys will be great,” Wheating told reporters on Friday. “Hopefully they’ll pull me to a good, good time. If I can muster the energy and put on a good show and finish in the top two, three, that would be an unbelievable accomplishment for me.”
Not surprisingly, Wheating has the slowest personal best for the mile in the field, 3:58.16 (although world champion Kamel and Moroccan Amine Laalou have never run a mile). Of the 14 men who will take to the track for the event, six have broken 3:51 for the mile and all but Wheating and pacemaker Lachlan Renshaw have broken 3:34 for 1,500 meters.
But for Wheating, who will wear hip number 1, the feeling is more giddiness than intimidation. He’s just starting his professional career (he signed with agent Mark Wetmore here this week), and the race represents a great opportunity to run for the home crowd, maybe get a fast time, and be part of the 35-year history of the meet.
“I was watching it last year, and the year before,” Wheating said. “I’ve seen all the races go out. Some guys, who are good, but not great, run 3:55. To even be considered in this elite class, on the same level, is such an honor. I mean seven of the best ten milers in the world are going to be here. I’m not one of them, so it’s just great. You just kind of sit and be quiet, and let them take all the notoriety. There’s no pressure; just go out and see what happens. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Perhaps overshadowed a bit by former teammate Galen Rupp throughout the 2008/2009 seasons, Wheating was clearly the Big Man on Campus for this year’s Oregon campaign. His battles this season with University of Virginia freshman Robby Andrews, who narrowly defeated Wheating at both the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships at 800 meters and the Penn Relays in the 4 x 800-meter relay, set the stage for Wheating to defeat Andrews for the national collegiate title at the outdoor 800 meters. Wheating then bounced back the next day to also win the 1,500, completing a double last accomplished by Oregon alum Joaquim Cruz 26 years before. The season surpassed Wheating’s own high expectations.
“After indoors (where he lost to Andrews), I was still in shock,” said Wheating. “It doesn’t matter how good you are; you can still be beaten. Capping it off at NCAA’s with those two titles really capped off my collegiate season, my college career. Robby and I really had a lot of drama there. I was really happy I could pull away with the win there. This is just the perfect ending to a perfect season for me.”
Wheating is also involved in what is perhaps a more important race: which shoe company will get him to wear their brand? Two agents with broad experience in signing middle distance runners told Race Results Weekly yesterday that Wheating was worth $300,000 to $400,000 annually to a shoe company. Those agents said that while Nike might look like the obvious choice, given the University of Oregon’s close relationship with that company, that a different company might be willing to pay more. If Wheating chooses not to go with Nike, the agents said, he would have to find a new coach and training venue outside of Eugene.
Today’s Prefontaine Classic will be broadcast LIVE in Hi-Def in the United States by NBC at 4:30 p.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. PDT). Complete start lists are posted here: http://www.runnerspace.com/eprofile.php?do=title&title_id=358&event_id=120