Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lukas "Superman" Verzbicas

I didn't intend to go right back in to a blog about Lukas all over again, but what he has accomplished since I last blogged has been THE story of Prep distance running.
I covered his performances going in to the two national XC meets pretty thoroughly. Remember, I noted the runner who scared me most as a challenger was Edward Cheserek. The first of the two meets was the NXN in Portland. The course was extremely wet and muddy and about as sloppy of conditions one could expect going into race day. The main guys (Lukas, Cheserek, Lutz, Moussa, Rosa, Gedyon) went to the front early. Lukas made a decisive move about 3k or so in and that was the race. Simple enough. The chase pack was down to Cheserek and Lutz and honestly, there was no doubt. Cheserek did gain a bit of ground at the end, but to be fair Lukas was letting up as the win was in the bag and he had one more big one to go.
On to San Diego for the FootLocker Finals where he was the defending champion. Lukas and MW runner up Futsum Zeinasellassie broke away fairly early on. Lukas took the workload on and as the race wore on simply ran the race out of Futsum. He eased up once again at the end and practically walked across the finish line. It was a truly epic career for Lukas in XC. He did (as I predicted) win the never before done double of NXN and FootLocker. He was a 2 time (2009, 2010) FootLocker National Champ and he NEVER lost a race in his Prep XC career.
In the couple months that followed he announced his signing with the University of Oregon and stated he would run Indoor Track where he would debut against the pro's at the New Balance meet in the mile. Meet #1 wound up with Lukas running a 4:03.88 for the full mile (4:02.5 for 1600) and finished ahead of Olympian Leo Manzano. This mark was good for #3 all time. A couple weeks later he lined up against Bernard Lagat at the Armory in NY as both were chasing records for the 2 mile. Lagat was chasing the US record and Lukas was clear he was chasing Gerry Lindgren's storied 2 mile record of 8:40.0. Lagat crushed the record with an 8:10.07 and Lukas managed to come home in 8:43.24 splitting 3200 at just under 8:40.
Over the next couple weeks it was announced that he was registered in the mile, 2 mile and 5k at the NBIN at the Armory. Could he actually pull off the triple? Many speculated he would run the 5k on Thursday and then pick one on Saturday. Several days prior he announced he was indeed going for the triple. His good friend (and IL XC runner) Kevin McDowell had just been diagnosed with cancer. McDowell finished 3rd to Lukas's 4th at the World Jr. Triathlon Championships. Lukas ran with him in mind.
Thursday nights 5k was a given, the only question was by how much would he break his own national HS record by. His 14:18 from 2009 stood as the mark to beat. Lukas made it his race from early on and started lapping runners after about the 6th lap. He crossed in a new NR of 14:06.78 (2 mile split was sub 9) and may have challenged the 14 minute barrier if he didn't spend the bulk of his race running in lanes 2 and 3 passing lapped runners. Even 2nd place finisher Eddie Owens (who just posted a 1:07 1/2 marathon) was lapped.
On to Saturday. The first race of the day, the 2 mile and the rematch with Edward Cheserek. Once again, Lukas went to the front. He ran lap after lap at a steady clip with Cheserek glued to his heels. Lapped runnners once again became an issue about the 3/4 mark. With 2 laps to go, Lukas started to let his stride out, like Futsum at FL, Lukas had run Cheserek's legs dead. With  a lap to go the only question was would he break the record. Lukas broke the tape in 8:40.70 to Cheserek's 8:42.66, good for #2 and 3 all time. There is no doubt that Lukas would have broken the long standing Lindgren mark if he wasn't weaving around lapped runners.
After that race one would figure he was done. Nope, not this kid. In a race that featured 5 of the fastest 6 HS milers in the US, Lukas lined up a mere 70 minutes later. He tucked in the middle of the pack, and then about halfway in started to move up. With about a quarter or so to go he took control. I knew at that point, nobody would take this from him, Chad Noelle (the Millrose mile champ) tried to challenge and failed followed by Elias Gedyon with the same results. Lukas blasted the last 200 and came home with the win in what may have been the greatest all around prep distance running performance ever. He finished the weekend with a NR in the 5k, the #2 all time performance in the deuce and then outkicked the supposed kickers for the win in the mile. Absolutely an epic performance to cap an epic career. Before he goes off to UO he has said he will run the Dream Mile at the Adidas Grand Prix again as well as go one last time for the World Jr. Champs in the triathlon. Hopefully we can see him gun for German Fernandez's outdoor NR in the 2 mile. The same challengers will more than likely present themselves in the early summer, and I'm sure the results will be the same. In the immediate future he will be running the Shamrock Shuffle 8k here in Chicago. It will be interesting to see him against this field of elite runners.

What a tremendous pleasure it has been to watch this kid run here the past few years.

I got the chance to go back to the Eastwood Invitational after many, many years. 25 years ago I won this meet in the 3200 and the meet is still going strong and better than ever. I got a chance to see many of my old competitors and my old coach, Doug Littlejohn. It was great to see the EW runners in action for the first time.

(l-r, Dave Medlin, EP's all time HS record holder in the 3200 at 9:01, Coach Doug Littlejohn, the only coach ever in El Paso history to coach an El Paso school to the Regional Track Title, in 1981, and myself.)

It was a great pleasure to watch the EW distance runners in action. At the time of this blog, Coach McLain has churned out a 1600 meter factory. Senior Juan Blanco leads the way with a blazing 4:19.6 (breaking his own school record), Junior Elias Leija Garza is at 4:32 and super freshman Brian Casillas at 4:37. Throw in a slab of guys in the 4:50 area (Luis Salazar, Alex Blanco, Caleb Buntyn, Steven Rios and Steven Wallace) and the potential for a great 4 x 1600 squad in the post season exists. Getting one of the last group of guys down under 4:40 and the potential is there for a sub 18. Post season EW kids??   With EW's great ability in the sprint relays, the making is definitely there for a blazing distance medley. Would be interesting to see. The talent and coaching is definitely there.