Tag: Lukas Verzbicas

LUKAS VERZBICAS EYES RETURN TO TOP

Lukas wins Super Run 10K in 32:05
Lukas wins Super Run 10K in 32:05

The award ceremony for yesterday’s San Diego Super Run 10Km was about to start in South Shores Park (just east of Sea World), but the men’s winner couldn’t wait any longer.  As his fellow finishers came up to congratulate him, or waited in line for post-race snacks, Lukas Verzbicas was anxious to get on with the 20 km cycling time trial around nearby Fiesta Island, even as a swim session loomed later up in La Jolla.  Awards would have to wait.

A thoroughly calculating young man, Lukas has his priorities as he ramps up for his first full season of top competition since his terrible cycling accident in Colorado Springs in July 2012.  Perhaps his choice of triathlon as a profession might suggest such a trait, but it seems like a personal tendency just the same.

“Yes, he likes everything just so,” agreed Cathy Holl, who met Lukas serving as the ITU Pro Homestay coordinator for San Diego last year, and has since, with husband Steve, become something of a surrogate parent for the young man who grew up in Lithuania before emigrating to Orland Park, Illinois outside Chicago at age 9.  “He’s like a Maserati, finely tuned, but very sweet.”

It was hard to miss the former sub-4:00 high school miler and 2011 ITU World Junior Triathlon champion at this morning’s annual Super Bowl weekend road race.  Strikingly sleek, with the endless legs of a thoroughbred, Lukas was making his 2014 racing debut at this decades-old local standby out to Crown Point and back along the bay.

“This was just something to do,” Lukas told me after his 32:05 win.  “Joaquim (Cruz) wanted me to do a tempo run, and this was a race he always used to have (two-time 800m Olympian) Alice Schmidt run when she lived here.”

Grandma, Lukas, brother Noah, Mom Raza on recent visit
Grandma, Lukas, brother Noah, Mom Raza on recent visit to San Diego
 

Lukas has been living in the San Diego area since last spring, and through the year competing mostly at small local events as he returned to full strength.  He had a visit from his family two weeks ago, as his mom Raza along with younger brother Noah and his grandmother from Lithuania came in for five days for a touch of home.  Now it’s back to the serious business of training and competing.

“I’m leaving for Arizona this week for the USAT (USA Triathlon) training camp for the national team,” he said, outlining his coming schedule.  “Just one week there, then I’ll return for the Endurance Live Awards.  I have a race March 1st in Cleremont, Florida, the Sprint Pan Am Cup (750m swim; 20 km bike; 5 km run).  I’ve done it before; going for the win there.  I like the Olympic distance better (1,500m swim; 40 km bike; 10 km run), but this is just to break the ice.”

BACK IN THE SADDLE

It was nice to speak with the 21 year-old (his birthday was January 6th) without the first question being about the serious cycling accident that left him hospitalized for five weeks and partially paralyzed.  It has taken more than a year and a half for Lukas to overcome that setback, but he seems ready to assume his spot at or near the top of his profession.

“I’m pretty much healthy now, not thinking about it anymore,” he maintained.  “My main goal this season is to compete for a podium position at the ITU World Triathlon Series race in Chicago June 29th.  Go up against the Olympic gold medalist, and the best in the world. I’m in a hard training block now.  Training has been going very good.”

Lukas after Super Run win in San Diego
Lukas after Super Run win in San Diego

Lukas didn’t have any competition in today’s race; second place finished some 2:41 behind.  But he’s excited to reengage with his peers.  Those ranks grew last week with the intriguing announcement that Alan Webb, another of the Fab 5 high school boys to go sub-4:00 in the mile — and indeed the American record holder in the mile — was retiring from track to enter the world of triathlon at age 31.

“He came down here last October, and we trained together a little,” Lukas said. “He had a swimming background in high school.  He’s been hurt a lot (in running). Swimming is the main thing he has to improve upon.  It’s so much form rather than just effort.  Effort can translate to the bike, but running off the bike is different than just running, too.  So he can’t expect to come into triathlon and compete right away at the highest level. It will take a little time.”

If Alan should ever need advice about patience, he’ll have find no better mentor than Lukas V.

Oh, he’s rooting for the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

END

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2013 – YEAR IN REVIEW

BostonStrong     The biggest, as well as saddest, story in running this past year was the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April. Of such magnitude were the Boylston Street explosions, and of such duration their reverberations, that the episode represented the second most searched item on Google for the year — running only behind the car crash death of Fast & Furious movie star Paul Walker.

Bag Checks, the new standard
The new standard

The entire Boston bombing saga left the city, nation, and world seeking a new equilibrium as security was markedly ramped up at civic events everywhere — probably never to be returned to pre-Patriot’s Day levels for the foreseeable future, if ever.

Kenmore Square desolate at midday.
Kenmore Square stood desolate at midday two days after the Boston bombings.

The week following was a sober reminder of an unfortunate truth, terrorism works.  Not since the anti-war days of the late Sixties and early `70s had I witnessed anything as close to marshal law in the U.S. as I did during the week after the Boston Marathon — though in this case it was self-imposed.  During that interval when the two Chechnyan brother bombers remained unknown and at large, the Boston metro area was held in the grip of a palpable fear.

I do not envy the Boston Athletic Association its task of threading the needle between respectful commemoration and unintended validation come next Patriot’s Day.

(more…)

SLAYING THE DRAGON – COACH CRUZ ON LUKAS VERZBICAS

SummerNightsLogo2013     San Diego, Ca. — By the time the “Meb Keflezighi 10,000 meters” was called to the Mesa College track around 8:30 p.m. last night, most of the 250-300 competitors and spectators who had come out for the second of four Summer Nights T&F Meets had already headed for home.

Monique Henderson, her dad Adam & Thom Hunt direct the action
Monique Henderson, her dad Adam & Thom Hunt direct the action

But don’t blame meet organizers Thom Hunt and Monique Henderson, both of whom coach at Mesa. They, along with Monique’s dad, Adam, worked tirelessly handing out hip numbers, lining up fields, and wiping noses.  With so many kids, teens, and adults on hand looking to compete — heck, the 100 meters heats alone took nearly 30 minutes to complete — you knew it was going to be a late night.  All of which was a good thing as the popular Summer Nights series continues to build track and field in America’s Finest City. (more…)

LUKAS VERZBICAS BACK ON TRACK

Lukas Verzbicas (L) with Jim Ryun, two sub-four high school milers
Lukas Verzbicas (L) with Jim Ryun, two sub-four high school milers

How quickly the big wheel turns and with it the bright glare of celebrity and fame.  Just this week Bronxville, New York teen sensation Mary Cain won her third USATF Athlete of the Week award of 2013 for her junior and high school 800 meter record at the Nike Pre Classic in Eugene, Oregon.  But recall that in 2011 the teen everyone was talking about was Lukas Verbicas of Orland Park, Illinois, who won two USATF AOW awards in a period of six months, the last for his 3:59.71 victory at the adidas Grand Prix Dream Mile, when he became only the fifth high school runner in U.S. history to go sub-4:00 – and only the second in an all-high school event.

Two very consequential years later we found Lukas back on the track at University City High School in San Diego competing in the mile and 5000 meters at the Summer’s Night Track & Field Meet still on the road to recovery from a horrific cycling crash last summer that nearly killed the triathlete/runner, then left him partially paralyzed and learning how to walk again.

The big wheel may have turned, but slivers of light still seek him out. (more…)

VERZBICAS CONTINUES COMEBACK IN CARLSBAD

Lukas Verzbicas
Lukas Verzbicas

Carlsbad, CA —  While always a fun race to watch before the professionals take off, the men’s 20-29 age-group competition at this year’s Carlsbad 5000 was even more compelling than usual as former high school sensation Lukas Verzbicas, he of the sub-4:00 high school mile fame, was continuing his comeback from a horrific cycling accident last summer in Colorado Springs.

Long, lean and elegant as ever, Verzbicas was coming into Carlsbad after eight months of rehab and two competitions in 2012, a four-mile road race win January 19th in Sarasota, Florida, and a 22nd place finish at an Olympic-distance pro triathlon March 19th, also in Sarasota.  After settling into the Olympic Training Center in nearby Chula Vista, California for the last two months under 1984 Olympic 800-meter gold medalist Joaquim Cruz, 20 year-old Verzbicas was ready to take on a strong group of like aged men at Carlsbad over the 5K road distance. (more…)

ANOTHER RECORD DAY AHEAD IN CARLSBAD?

CbadLogoCarlsbad, California may be a laid back beach community most of the year, but each April the idyllic seaside village turns into a laboratory of speed with the coming of the Carlsbad 5000.   Since its inception in 1986, the self-anointed World’s Fastest 5K has more than lived up to its billing. Home to both the current men’s (13:00) and women’s (14:46) 5K road world records, and site of the top 18 performances ever for men, and seven of the top 10 times for women, Carlsbad is an ever-tested proving ground.  (more…)

DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL

Lawi Lalang wins 2011 NCAA Cross Country title
Lawi Lalang wins 2011 NCAA Cross Country title

Politically incorrect or not, the truth is both indisputable and self-evident:  The utter domination of distance running by athletes from East Africa, a continuing trend which has seemed to peak in 2011,  has now begun to shrink the sport itself.  The atrophy is as evident as the hollows beneath Demi Moore’s cheekbones.

More evidence was on display again today at the NCAA D1 Men’s Cross Country Championship in Terre Haute, Indiana in the person of Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang of Kenya.  A wholly inexperienced distance runner who showed up on the Arizona campus last fall “with no competitive running experience whatsoever” according to his Wildcat bio sheet, Lalang was, nevertheless, an easy runaway winner in today’s national championship over his more seasoned competitors.

This stark difference in talent was a contributing factor which led to the recent departure of sub-4:00 high school mile star Lukas Verzbicas from the track program at the University of Oregon to train full-time for triathlon at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs – VERZBICAS CHOOSES TRIATHLON OVER RUNNING.  That was a particularly troubling loss, since it represented another strand of running’s DNA being torn away.  But young Lukas was quite straight forward about his decision.  After winning the ITU World Junior Triathlon Championship this year, he looked at what lie ahead, and didn’t see himself being able to run what he considered world-level times against the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.  So off he swam /biked to triathlon where no such (dominant) competition awaited.  But the Lukas loss is just another example in an increasing trend that has diminished a once robust sport. (more…)