The Iowa State Classic this weekend will be one of the best indicators of the times needed to qualify for nationals. The slate includes about 50 of the nation's top track and field programs, including Oklahoma State and Northern Arizona, and tough competition tends to push runners to break their best times. The meet paid for several programs—including Columbia—to fly to Ames in order to stage the best meet possible.
But the Light Blue will have to observe the top-tier action from afar. Thursday's snowstorm canceled the Lions' original flight, and then their rescheduled flight as well, and by the team meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, the athletes were re-calibrating to run at the Armory in Washington Heights for a fifth-straight week instead.
It's not the end of the world—organizers of Friday's Lafayette/Rider Invitational accepted all of the Columbia athletes who were going to Iowa State, so almost the entire team will run. Volunteer assistant coach and former All-American Kyle Merber, CC '12, offered to pace the mile, “so that the guys who were going to run the mile at Iowa State would have an equal opportunity to try and qualify for nationals,” head coach Willy Wood said. Some of the 800-meter runners, who don't have as strong of a shot at NCAAs, will also “rabbit”—track lingo for setting the pace for the first three-quarters or so of the race.
“Ideally, we would have preferred to be at Iowa State, but everyone's really stepped up, and it's going to give each kid an opportunity,” Wood said.
In what will be the Lions' biggest event of the weekend, senior John Gregorek will run in the Wanamaker Mile at the historic Millrose Games at the Armory on Saturday. The games were founded in 1908 for employees of the John Wanamaker Department Store and will be broadcast live. But Gregorek's not letting the hype get to him.
“I've never been the kind of person who tries to get pumped up or anything like that,” he said. “I just try to keep it more calm and collected and get pumped up in the last bit of the race. I try to be as zen as possible beforehand.”
Considering the talent he'll be running against, Millrose could be Gregorek's chance to break four minutes. The training to run sub-four is “nothing crazy, it's not rocket science,” Gregorek said. “We're still doing a good amount of strength training. It's been a mixture of starting to get into faster stuff and trying to keep the strength there, since we've got to last into early March.”
Wood also expects junior Daniel Everett to have a shot at running below four in the mile on Friday.
“I think they have two of the better chances of anyone in the program” to qualify for NCAAs, Wood said.
Junior Waverly Neer is healthy enough to run this week, after pulling out of the distance medley relay last week because of a continued strain in her Achilles.
“The challenge will be it's her first meet of the year, so it's kind of a difficult task to do it the first time on the track,” Wood said. Nevertheless, he said he's expecting good results from her.
Other athletes to keep an eye out for this weekend will be junior Brendon Fish and senior Harrison McFann in the men's 800 meters, senior Trina Bills in the women's 800, senior Marvellous Iheukwumere in the 60-meter dash, and junior Nadia Eke in the triple jump.
The Lafayette/Rider Invitational starts at 4:40 p.m. on Friday. Gregorek's race goes off at 4:48 p.m. on Saturday and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.
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