He ran a sub-four-minute mile for the first time.
Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
NEW YORK — With Olympians, national record holders, and World Championships medallists on hand at today’s adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meeting, a high schooler topped them all here on Randall’s Island. Lukas Verzbicas, the six foot, 18-year-old senior from Orland Park, Ill., ran a race against the clock in the adidas Jim Ryun High School Dream Mile, breaking four-minutes for the first time. His clocking makes him the first prep miler to break four minutes since Alan Webb did so a decade ago.
By the time the 15 high schoolers took the line and the gun was raised, a light mist was falling, with a steady wind accompanying the precipitation. The temperature was perfect at 18°C (64°F), though the rain made some fear sub-four might be out of the question early on. But that didn’t matter to Verzbicas. He had one thing left to accomplish in the final high school race of his career, and that was to join the exclusive, five-member club of prep runners to go sub-four.
The group, which includes Ryun, who was on hand for the race, American record holder Webb, Marty Liquori, and Tim Danielson, was ready to induct a new member, one who graduated from high school on May 26th, enjoys rock climbing, and sports a Justin Bieber-like hair style.
After pacemaker Connor Manley took the first quarter mile in 57.68, California’s Jantzen Oshier and Verzbicas trailed by a decent margin. Over the next lap, the chances of a sub-four time seemed to diminish again, as the group hit 800m in 2:01.97 with the cool, calm, and collected Oshier doing the leading duties. He would be a key factor in Verzbicas’s race, breaking the wind in the middle laps.
With 650m remaining, Verzbicas glanced at the clock and knew he had to move, as it was now or never.
“By then, with around 600m to go, I thought I’m not going for time, I’m just going for the win now because the guys were right on my back.”
Leading into the turn and taking the bell at 3:01.38, Verzbicas had to run sub-59 to get his goal. He wanted to do something special.
“I was really hurting that last lap. The wind was in my face, but I just put my head down, said ‘this is my last high school race,’ and I did it.”
1500m came and went, clocked at 3:43, unofficially. You could tell by his facial expression that he had enough in the tank.
“With 100m to go, I thought he had it,” said Ryun, who was overjoyed by Verzbicas’s effort. Verzbicas wasn’t completely sure until a few seconds later.
“I did not know until the last fifty meters when I saw the clock, because I was really doubting myself,” he said.
Crossing the line in 3:59.71, Verzbicas closed an historic chapter of his athletics career in just the way he imagined. Ever since last year he had been working toward this moment, and it was finally here.
Verzbicas has set national high school marks at 5000m indoors and two miles outdoors this year. He won both the Foot Locker and Nike Cross Country Nationals races as a senior, was a triple-national champion indoors, and now is a sub-four minute miler.
“It’s goal setting and goal’s coming true,” said a smiling Verzbicas, recounting the time at this meet last year when he told Race Results Weekly he guaranteed that he would break four minutes before his high school career came to an end.
Even his fellow competitors recognized the accomplishment.
“Lukas is a great guy, great runner,” said Oshier, who will be attending the University of California next year. “Lukas broke four, I am happy to be part of that. He is very talented. As of right now, Lukas is the best.”
Verzbicas’s next goal is a gold medal at the World Junior Triathlon Championships this September, where he will be competing in honor of his close friend and teammate Kevin McDowell, who was a medal favorite and diagnosed with cancer this year. Then it will be off to the University of Oregon. When asked if he would like to be the next Steve Prefontaine or Galen Rupp, two men who dominated collegiately in Eugene, Verzbicas replied confidently, “Maybe I just want to have my own tradition.”
That will be determined in the next four years.