By Jonathan Gault
January 5, 2021
LetsRun.com has learned that Ryan Hill, the 2016 World Indoor silver medalist at 3,000 meters who has qualified for three US World Championship teams at 5,000 meters, has signed with HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite on a multi-year deal. Hill, who turns 31 on January 31, spent the last seven years of his professional career under Jerry Schumacher as part of the Bowerman Track Club, which he joined after graduating from North Carolina State University in 2013.
The signing represents a significant change for Hill, who will now be based in Flagstaff and its 7,000 feet of elevation year-round as he chases his first Olympic team. Hill was 5th at the 2012 Trials and 6th in 2016, both in the 5,000 meters, and will remain focused on that event for the foreseeable future.
It’s also a big move for NAZ Elite, which continues to grow after signing a four-year extension with HOKA through 2024. Hill’s personal bests of 7:30 for 3,000 and 13:05 for 5,000 are significantly faster than NAZ Elite’s team records of 7:47 and 13:27.
“I’m very confident in the way we train and what that has produced for people at 5,000 meters,” says NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario. “We just haven’t had a 5,000-meter specialist. Our athletes have gotten a lot better at 5,000 meters, and I think that will translate to someone like Ryan. It’s just, he’s starting off at a different point. And I think his ceiling in that event is different than Stephanie Bruce or somebody…I’m really excited about his ability to close. I love people who can close, like any coach. So my job becomes, hey, let’s just make sure we can get him strong enough to be there at 250m to go, because he’s shown time and time again that if he’s there, he’s very dangerous.”
NAZ Elite has built its reputation as a marathon-focused squad, but Rosario would also like the group to be competitive in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters on the track. That was already the case on the women’s side — Kellyn Taylor and Bruce finished third and fourth at USAs in the 10,000 in 2019. Now, with the additions of Hill and Tyler Day (13:16/28:04 pbs), he believes the men can make some noise in what is shaping up as a pivotal two years for American track & field.
“I view this like a general manager,” Rosario says. “There are different time periods where different things are really important, right? And in this country, an Olympic year is always very important on the track. But then I think next year, track is arguably just as important because the World Championships are in Eugene. So we wanted to have a presence on the track at 5,000 and 10,000 on both sides, men and women. And now I think we do.”
Hill and Nike parted amicably. Six days ago, the Bowerman Track Club posted a lengthy Instagram post announcing with “great sadness” that Hill, whom they called “irreplaceable,” would be leaving. Hill also went to Instagram to say it would be “incredibly hard to leave my lifelong friends, coaches, and some of the best teammates in the world. I’m ultimately very excited and motivated for my next opportunity.”
“It was just business,” Rosario says.
No US training group is deeper at 5,000 meters than Bowerman — between Woody Kincaid (12:58 pb), Lopez Lomong (12:58 pb), Grant Fisher (13:11 pb), and Sean McGorty (13:11 pb), Hill, whose contract expired at the end of 2020, was made expendable.
Men like Lopez Lomong (the 2019 US champion at 34) and Bernard Lagat (the 2016 Olympic Trials champion at 41) have shown it is possible to run fast at 5,000 well into your 30s. And Hill’s championship record is imposing: he finished in the top six at USAs seven years in a row from 2012-18, including a win in 2015 and World Championship appearances in ’13, ’15, and ’17 (he finished 10th at Worlds in ’13 and 7th in ’15; he made the final in ’17 but was a DNS due to illness).
But Hill also missed almost all of 2019 due to an Achilles injury and finished just 10th at his most recent US championships, the indoor 3,000 in February 2020. He did show signs of life, however, running 7:38 and 13:15 later in the year.
If Hill can return to his pre-injury form, he will be contender in what is shaping up to be a deep men’s 5,000-meter field at the Olympic Trials in June. And Rosario believes that training in Flagstaff — while it takes some getting used to — could keep Hill healthier as he ages.
“Staying healthy, we’re gonna make that a priority,” Rosario says. “Not that [Bowerman didn’t], but I think the nature of being at 7,000 feet all year long, you don’t have the luxury of piling workouts on back-to-back-to-back. You’ve gotta space things out, and so I think that could be beneficial.”
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