By Robert Johnson
May 27, 2013
Mark Wetmore is going to be a very happy man.
That was my first thought after watching the the 2013 adidas Boys High School Dream mile race and then talking to race winner Ben Saarel on Saturday.
Saarel, who came in as the US boy high school leader at 3200 meters, destroyed the field over the final 400 thanks to a stunning final 400 of 55.4 (approx) and won convincingly in 4:02.78, a new US leader, on a cold and very windy day at Randall’s Island. (Video of race at the bottom of this page)
Wetmore, the Colorado coach, certainly has had his share of male studs commit to Colorado over the years. Past Foot Locker champs Adam Goucher, Dathan Ritzenhein and Jorge Torres all went on to win NCAA cross country titles and to the Olympics, but often times Wetmore’s top guys have had a slight flaw in their arsenal – no wheels.
As a result, NCAA titles on the track were few and far between. Believe it or not, Adam Goucher is the only one of the three with an NCAA title on the track, one outdoors at 5000m and two indoors at 3000m.
Well Saarel is going to Colorado next fall and while he doesn’t have the Foot Locker title behind him (Saarel was fourth last fall), he’s got something the others didn’t and something that generally can’t be coached – Galen Rupp excepted – big-time wheels.
Saarel is very special. Closing in 55 is par for the course for him. Earlier this year, he set the nation’s leading 3200 time at Arcadia by winning in 8:45.74 with a last lap of – yep you guessed it – 55.
And don’t tell me, “But Saarel is a miler and those other guys were 5k/10k types.” Not true, when I asked Saarel what event he considered to be his event. He said despite his crazy kicks, he’s a long distance guy.
“Yeah I’m still a five, ten thousand meter guy in the future. Mentally I just don’t even get into the race until the third lap. For this race, it’s already over before I’m even thinking about what’s going on,” said Saarel to me (video is embedded on left, this remark comes around 2:30).
“I think I have the mentality of a five, ten thousand meter guy. More than anything else, I have a really good aerobic capacity and I can train for that well and I know how to do that. For guys at altitude, it’s better to go with the longer distances so I’m still going to be a long distance guy.”
Regardless of what event he ends up in, Saarel is special. Hyping up high schoolers is something we purposely try to stay away from at LetsRun.com but the big time talents jump out at us.
Saarel’s speed makes him stand out.
I want back and looked at the leading 3200/2 milers all the way back to 2007 (I picked that year as that’s the the first year youtube was part of google, so its easier to find race videos) , and watched their national leading races and tried to approximate what they closed in. No one closed their national leading time in 55. Admittedly, some of the leading times were way faster than Saarel’s but the next best was 57.
Moreover, of the nation’s leading 2 milers since 2007, only half of them have been sub 4:05 milers. Those that have had that type of speed have all been big-time stars, those that have lacked it, aren’t.
Take a look at the following list I compiled of the nation’s leading 2 milers/3200 runners since 2007. Next to their leading 2 mile/3200 time, I list what they closed that race in and then I list their mile PRs (and shorter PRs if they were listed on dyestat).
National Leading 2 Milers (or 3200 whichever is faster) Since 2007
Futsum Zeinasellassie 8:47.75 (3200) – 57 flat last lap. 4:05.71mile/1:54.88.
Lukas Verzbicas – 8:29.46 (2 mile) – 60. PBS: 3:59.71 mile.
Joe Rosa – 8:44:06(2 mile) – 64 last lap. PBs: 4:07.65 mile pb
Trevor Dunbar: 8:49.79 (2 mile) -63.92 last 400. 4:06.65 mile/1:54.94
German Fernandez – 8:34.40 (3200)- 62 last lap. 4:00.29 1600.
Matthew Centrowitz – 8:41.55 2 mile – 57 high. 4:03.40 mile/2:27 1k.
What names jump out at you? Clearly Saarel, Centrowitz, Fernandez and Vezrbicas. That’s some pretty special company to be associated with.
Certainly, future success is never 100% guaranteed, but I’m not buying for a minute, despite what he says, that Saarel isn’t instantly going to be a collegiate star. Saarel is modest as he told the press that he’s now going to take some time off and then start getting ready for college as he thinks his CU teammates are really good.
“I’ll start training again and start getting ready for coach Wetmore’s program. Those guys are really fast,” said Saarel. “I remember going out there and they made me look slow so I’ve got to to get prepared for that.”
No need to worry about that, Ben, you’ll be at the top of the group from the get-go.
Late on Saturday night, when I finally got home after a long day that included 8.5 hours at the cold and windy meet, and a 3.5 hour trip home, I fired up my laptop and went to the LetsRun.com messageboard to see what the fan buzz was on the 2013 adidas Grand Prix.
I saw a messageboard thread that read as follows: “Ben True — The next U.S. sub 13?“
In my tiredness, I saw Ben and just assumed the the next word was Saarel.
And I thought, “Yes, I think he’ll he’ll do that.”
Editor’s Note: Robert has a track record of hyping up Colorado guys as he once wrote a column saying Dathan Ritzenhein would be the first non-African sub-27:00 guy. We kidded him about that when he submitted this piece, but he said while that wasn’t the case, he’s still proud of that pick as Ritz did go on to run 12:56 for the 5000 and 2:07:47 for the marathon.
Video of adidas Dream Mile via flotrack: