It might be mind boggling but Yorks is not running the mile at the national meet. He feels it would compromise the Huskies medley team he runs with, which has a shot at a national title.
On Tuesday, Washington track and field coach Greg Metcalf did something so extraordinary that he had to call a friend to share it.
Sitting in his office at the Conibear Shellhouse, Metcalf took a deep breath and scratched Huskies senior Izaic Yorks from the mile run at next weekend’s NCAA Indoor Championship in Birmingham, Ala.
Now, that doesn’t seem like such a big deal — until you consider that, just three days earlier, Yorks had set the track world on its ear by running the fastest collegiate indoor mile by an American in history.
In fact, it was the fastest American collegiate mile ever, indoor or out: 3:53.89 — a “massive performance,’’ in Metcalf’s words. So that’s why it was so mind-boggling to declare him out of the mile at the national meet — though, as I’ll soon explain, the reason for the mutual decision helps explain why Yorks is a beloved teammate on the Huskies.
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“It’s crazy — we scratched a 3:53 miler out of the NCAA championships. I had buyers remorse instantly,’’ Metcalf said with a laugh. “I called a coaching friend, and I go, ‘Hey, I just did this, and I need to tell somebody.’ ”
It turns out that despite his brilliant run on the Dempsey Indoor track during the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships on Saturday at UW, in which Yorks barely held off Stanford’s Sean McGorty in a riveting finish, Yorks’ vision for nationals didn’t involve the mile.
Instead, Yorks opted to run the 1,600-meter leg in the distance-medley relay (and the individual 3,000 meters the next day). To compete in the mile would have required running a prelim right before the DMR race, and Yorks felt that would have compromised the medley team, which has a shot at a national title.
“Track is, by and large, a pretty selfish sport for just you, yourself and I,’’ Yorks said. “The DMR is cool because it’s the culmination of the team. … We could win. That would mean so much more — to me, and to the guys. I want to put it all in for this event.”
On Saturday, Yorks put it all in for the mile, and the result was staggering on multiple levels. Not the least of which was the fact that his time qualified Yorks for the 1,500 meters at the Olympic Trials in July in Eugene, Ore.
The 3:53.89 clocking was the third-fastest ever run by a collegian, though the fact that the Dempsey track is considered oversized at 307 meters makes it ineligible for official records. The only two faster collegiate miles occurred at the Millrose Games, one in 2014 and the other in 2013, by Kenyan Lawi Lalang of Arizona (3:52.88) and Briton Chris O’Hare of Tulsa (3:52.98), respectively.
Yorks, a product of Lakes High School in Lakewood, gave a hat tip to teammate Blake Nelson, who served as the “rabbit” and set a blazing pace before bowing out with about 600 meters to run. At that point, Nelson called out some encouragement to his teammate, though Metcalf said with a laugh that Yorks wasn’t sure if he heard, “Take it easy” or “Make it look easy.”
Yorks, whose previous best mile was 3:57.81, certainly didn’t heed the first sentiment, engaging McGorty in a tightly contested sprint to the finish.
“Over the last lap it really became more of a footrace, because this guy wasn’t going to break,’’ Yorks said. “He was there the whole entire time. In fact, he kept trying to make a couple of little passes in that last lap.”
But to no avail, and Yorks, the reigning Pac-12 champion at 1,500 meters, defeated McGorty (3:53.95) by the scantest of margins. Yorks’ post-race celebration? A half-hour later he went on a 20-minute jog, followed by a 3-mile tempo run at a 5-minute pace. All this after a rugged 85-mile week of training.
“It wasn’t like he backed off for this race,’’ Metcalf said. “It was kind of a function of opportunity and training at the same time.”
The mile always will have a unique allure in American sports. Track has adopted metric events but will never drop the mile. In fact, there is a movement by collegiate coaches to add the mile to the outdoor season, where it is almost a non-entity.
Yorks is one of 469 Americans to break four minutes. As of April 30, 2015, a total of 1,378 runners worldwide had done so. Nearly 60 years after Roger Bannister first went under four minutes, it remains a feat to savor.
“It’s the one common thread,’’ Metcalf said. “I tell kids all the time — when you’re 40 years old and working some job, and people find out you were a distance runner, they’re going to ask you one question: What did you run for the mile?
“Everybody gets it. Chris Petersen knows what running under four minutes means. Lorenzo Romar — they all understand it. When you look at what this young man did, and the gravity of what it actually meant, it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ There’s been hundreds, really thousands of collegiate milers in the last 50 years, and he’s run faster than any of them. That’s a big, old dose of perspective right there.”
Yorks, who is married to his high-school sweetheart and wants to pursue a career in ministry or teaching, is world class in the realm of perspective. His career goal is to run in an Olympics as a way to honor his sister, Brittany, who is in a wheelchair.
“We have a special relationship,’’ he said.
In one high-school cross-country meet, Yorks won the Westside Classic and then stood at the finish line to root on and shake the hand of each of the 93 runners that followed him.
Collegiate runners are allowed by the NCAA to receive gifts at national meets, but Yorks asked the Husky coaches if he could make a donation to a charity instead.
“That’s who he is,’’ Metcalf said. “It’s real. He’s so selfless in how he lives his life, and he has genuine concern and care for people.”
Though Yorks is a long shot to make this year’s Olympic team, he and Metcalf believe 2020 is a legitimate possibility. So Yorks, one of the most versatile runners in the country with success from 800 to 3,000 meters, plans to keep training once his collegiate eligibility is gone.
In the meantime, he’ll run for a title next weekend. Just not in the mile, the event where Izaic Yorks created his own Husky legend Saturday.