The newly-minted pro is going all in on his Olympic pursuit.
Robby Andrews’ voicemail is full. You cannot leave a message, and it’s understandable: the 20-year-old from Englishtown, N.J., announced this past Tuesday that he would forgo his final two years of NCAA eligibility at the University of Virginia to turn pro, signing with powerhouse agent Ray Flynn of Flynn Sports Management and training under his collegiate mentor, Jason “Vig” Vigilante.
As a freshman at UVA Andrews was the 2010 NCAA indoor 800m champion, defeating 2008 Olympian Andrew Wheating, who was then a senior at the University of Oregon. Andrews was runner-up at the NCAA outdoor championships that spring, and at the IAAF world junior championships later that summer, he would take bronze, becoming the first American man (along with Penn State’s silver-medalist Cas Loxsom) to take a middle distance medal in the competition’s history. Last spring Andrews claimed the 2011 NCAA outdoor 800m championship in a personal best of 1:44.71, which stands as the second-fastest time ever in a NCAA championship final.
Vig (pronounced “Vidge”), who recruited Andrews while serving as head coach and director of track & field at UVA, announced his resignation this past November. Andrews’ future with the program was called into question after his conspicuous absence during the the 2011-2012 indoor season. Now reunited with his former coach, Andrews joins the American record-holder in the mile, Alan Webb, who joined Vig last July after being coached by Alberto Salazar of the Oregon Project for 18 months. Andrews will remain a student at UVA, where he plans to graduate in 2013.
Competitor.com caught up with Andrews the day his life changed forever to talk about his decision, his future, and his new training situation.
Competitor.com: Your current coach Jason Vigilante said in an interview after your 2010 NCAA Indoor win that an athlete has to be able to perform “not even on the day, not even in the race, but in the moment . . . . You have to be prepared for the moment, and to seize your moment.” What was the moment for you when you decided to forgo the remainder of your collegiate career and go pro?
Robby Andrews: Oh, man, that’s such a tough question because it’s such a big decision, leaving school and deciding to give up all the luxuries that come with college athletics. I feel like it’s not necessarily one moment but a series of events over time. But if I had to pick one moment, I was talking with my dad. He’s planning his trip to the Olympic Trials (at University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, June 22-July 1), and I’m like, “Shoot, dad, I don’t want it to be like last year. I was so disappointed last year, you guys flew all the way out there to see me get dead last in the final. I don’t want that to happen again.” And I was like, “Dad, I have to go back with my old coach,” and he’s like, “You got to do what you have to do.” It was then, that conversation, where everything fell into place, and it felt like that’s what I had to do, that exact moment, or nothing was going to go right.
What day was this?
It was about two weeks ago now, beginning of March.
Vig said he noticed you as a junior in high school. What is your relationship like with him and why have you decided to go with him out of all the training opportunities that you may have?
We just really connected. He’s a Jersey guy (Morristown); I’m a Jersey guy. I don’t know what’s going on there, but he understands me, and that’s just something that I didn’t get from any other coach.
Most people don’t think of the East Coast as a place where serious athletes train. They think California. They think Oregon, especially. Why has it been important for you in your post-collegiate training to stay on the east coast, besides your connection with Vig?
School’s really important to me. To give up three years of schooling when I have one year left to pursue something that you don’t necessarily have to be in a certain location to be good at, it doesn’t make sense to me right now to fly across the country to start totally new, drop out of school, stop working on something I’ve been working toward for two-and-a-half years that has been kicking my butt a lot more than track has (laughs). It’s mostly the timing is off to make any big changes, any big moves. The whole point of me leaving school was so that I could stay with my coach. By changing locations, changing coaches, changing training groups, (it) would be counter-productive in my mind, defeating the purpose of why I left school in the first place.
Does it feel like a gamble for you, leaving the NCAA system to pursue a professional career?
There’s definitely some level of risk involved. Like I was saying, there are so many luxuries, so many stable parts in college athletics that aren’t there in professional running. But in my mind, I don’t think there’s a better time for me to me to come out. I have so much momentum going with me. I had a great fall. By making this one big transition, it’s actually going to make things a lot easier for me than if I didn’t leave school. So, yeah, it’s a risk to leave school, and I don’t know if any shoe companies are going to be interested in me. I don’t know, but I’m hoping they are, and I plan on being successful regardless of what happens. I’m so confident in my situation right now between my coaching, my fitness level, my training partner. To me, there are only good things that can happen.
What are your thoughts on training with Webb, an American record-holder?
I’m really excited. Not a lot of people can say they have the American record. He’s got amazing work ethic, he’s got amazing talent. He just needs to be around the right guys, and maybe Vig and I are the right guys to be around (laughs). He’s put a lot of faith in us in that, so I think I should give him the same amount of faith.
Have you talked to Webb yet?
Yeah, we had practice yesterday, (and I) got to talk to him on the run. He’s really excited for me, and I’m really excited about our situation. He was training by himself for a little while during the winter, and he had a string of races that he wasn’t pleased with – he’s so competitive. I can’t wait to start really working with him and getting workouts together and traveling to meets together. I really think once we all get on the same page, things are going to start clicking for us.
Did you have any contact with him as you were mulling over your decision to go pro or any interaction with him prior to yesterday?
Yeah. I talked to him a little bit over (spring) break. He’s got his own situation going on, so I wasn’t going to bombard him with phone calls and texts, like, “Oh, hey, what should I do, what should I do, what should I do?” I definitely sought out his advice on certain things. He was very helpful for me. It’s amazing how long he’s been in the running industry, so I felt really confident with asking him any questions that he would have a good answer for me that wasn’t clouded by any bias. I really respect what he has to say about the industry itself.
I asked him, “Is it a good idea to do this (go pro)?” And he said, “If you really love it, then it’s worth it. But if you don’t love the sport, then you’re going to hate it as your job,” because he’s like, “It is a job. It’s not your college team anymore. You’re going to be getting a paycheck for this, so you got to love doing it.” It gave me something to think about. I was like, well, do I like getting up every day, going for a 10-mile run? Yeah, man, I do. I love training. I love getting better. I love racing. I was just so glad he asked me just that one question. It was enough to get me going and believe that I was making the right decision.
You were the 2010 World Junior 800m bronze medalist. It seems like the only reason you would make this decision is if you wanted to be competitive on the international stage. Is that true?
Yeah, that’s entirely true. I don’t see myself as just trying to make the final at the USA meet like I did last year. I see myself being very competitive in the U.S. and over in Europe over the summer and in the Olympic Games and World Championships. I’m so thankful for that experience at the World Juniors. Obviously they’re not at the same level as I’ll be running now, but just the chance to race against people from another country – any experience you can gain before you go over to these big races, it’s so helpful. Like you said, I’m in it to be an international runner. I want that. Any challenge is exciting to me, and I love challenges. I ran cross country this fall, and I say all the time it’s my favorite season because it’s the biggest challenge for me. I know going in I’m not going to win this race, but how close can I come to winning? So, going over to Europe, hey, I may not win this race, but how close can I come to winning, and, you know, well, maybe one day I will win. I feel like I have so much room to grow and to learn that it’s going to be a little hectic at times, but it’s going to be very beneficial in the long run.
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