The 600-meter race at the Millrose Games this past Saturday night was billed as a showdown between 800-meter standouts Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds.
University of Iowa graduate Erik Sowinski wasn’t even in the race until Wednesday. He was added to the field only because another runner had pulled out of the competition.
Sowinski took advantage of the opportunity by winning the race in a blazing time of 1 minute, 15.61 seconds, which set a new American record.
He erased the previous mark of 1:15.70, which was set less than a month earlier by Solomon, who finished second behind Sowinski in New York City.
“It’s been a whirlwind the past couple days with all the congratulations from everyone,” Sowinski said Monday afternoon. “But it hasn’t exactly hit me yet.”
Sowinski finished his college career last spring as the most decorated 800-meter runner in the history of the Iowa men’s track and field program. He finished second in the 800 at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships and he holds school records in the 800 both indoors and outdoors, as well as being a six-time all-American.
Sowinski also still lives and trains in Iowa City under Iowa assistant track coach Joey Woody. Sowinski could move to a warmer climate to train, but he’s comfortable living in eastern Iowa and training in familiar surroundings.
It’s also hard to argue with the results.
“I just think with Joey I’ve progressed a lot these last four years on and off the track,” said Sowinski, who is a native of Waukesha, Wis. “And we keep making slight changes every year and the performances keep getting better. So if that’s the case, I didn’t see much of a point to go anywhere else if things are clicking here on all levels.”
The 23-year old Sowinski said he’s still considering a career in medicine, but his success in track might delay that plan. Sowinski is now curious to see how much he can keep improving in the 800. His ultimate goal would be to represent the United States in the 800 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I was always into my academics in college and I wasn’t necessarily planning on continuing to run this year,” Sowinski said. “But now with the success I’ve had this year, especially, it’s something for me to think about.
“I’ll just weigh my options after this year and see how it goes and see what makes the most sense for me professionally.”
Woody said Sowinski has what it takes physically and mentally to become one of the top 800 runners in the world. Sowinski’s performance in the 600 Saturday was yet another example of the pieces coming together, according to Woody.
“Oh, yeah, he’s got all the tools necessary,” said Woody, who was ranked among the top 400-meter hurdlers in the world during the peak of his athletic career. “He’s got the speed. He’s building more and more endurance every year. And he’s getting more confident, obviously. When you look at who he beat in that 600, it’s pretty impressive.”
Woody said Sowinski is benefiting from a workout program that has combined speed with endurance. It has been a daily grind that’s now paying off with Sowinski flirting with elite status.
“We’ve been smart with his progression and we focused a lot on his speed early in his career and then continued to develop his aerobic capacity and his aerobic endurance work the last two years,” said Woody, who graduated from Iowa City High before becoming a star hurdler at Northern Iowa. “And that just has become a big part of his training now. But it took time.”
Iowa head track coach Larry Wieczorek praised Sowinski for not only winning Saturday’s race in record time, but also for defeating a star-studded field. Solomon and Symmonds finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 800 at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“Not only did he win that race, and had a great race, but the fact that he beat those two guys, two of the best in the world, really impressed me,” Wieczorek said. “I was telling people after that meet, a star is born.”