By Jeff Keeling
Multiple distance state running champion Adam Barnard left Gray for Eugene, Ore. and the Prefontaine Classic Wednesday aiming to convince other prestigious invitational meets they had erred in not inviting him.
The Georgetown recruit accomplished his mission, placing fourth out of 11 runners in an elite field on the strength of a surge from the main pack into third place with about 600 meters to go. Barnard’s personal best 4:07.18 impressed the running world enough that within minutes, one of those holdout invitationals had extended an invite, meaning Barnard will compete as a high schooler at least once more, June 20 at the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle. (You can watch the video by clicking here: http://www.usatf.tv/gprofile.php?mgroup_id=45365&mgroup_event_id=120&year=2015&do=videos&video_id=146621
“The stands were pretty packed,” said Barnard, who graduated from Daniel Boone High School just after a senior year that included individual state championships in cross country and both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. The Trailblazers won a team championship in cross country and were third at state in track and field.
“It’s an unreal experience to have that many people cheering for you and fans who are knowledgeable in the sport.” Barnard added Monday.
The meet, which attracts the world’s best track and field stars annually, had never included any high school events before organizers decided to add a boys and girls mile and 200 meters this year.
Before a Wednesday training session, Barnard said he’d be running to win and not worrying about his time, considering the quality of the field and the likelihood that all the times would be extremely fast. “I plan on running fast enough this weekend to make the meets who didn’t invite me remorseful for the fact they didn’t,” he said with a slight grin.
Strategy-wise, Barnard said he would try to go out with the leaders because it wouldn’t be a “sit and kick” race and he didn’t want to get disconnected from the pack.
“I’ll try and use their energy and pace and make a move with somewhere from 300 to 600 meters to go depending on how I feel and how tired I feel everyone is.”
Boone head coach Len Jeffers said Barnard executed his plan exquisitely to clock the seventh-fastest high school time of the year. The Brooks meet organizers were on the phone within minutes.
On a night when world-class fields would give the well-versed Oregon track fans a treat in the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters, the boys race – live-streamed on usatf.tv – followed a classic battle in the girls mile.
In front of a crowd estimated at around 9,000, Barnard spent the first two-and-half laps at the University of Oregon’s famed Hayward Field near the back of a pack that never allowed the leaders much separation. Over a period of about 15 seconds, Barnard passed several competitors to settle on the heels of Mikey Brannigan and Thomas Ratcliffe. As the bell rang for the last lap at 3:05, the trio were several yards ahead of the next runners, and they had stretched that margin to about 10 yards by the time they hit the backstretch at 3:20.
“At about 150 meters to go I felt I was reeling Mikey in, and I felt that way until about 60 meters to go,” Barnard said Monday.
At the final turn and with just 16 seconds left in the race, the announcer spoke of a “big gap back to fourth place” – but Jack Salisbury in fourth, and Carlos Villareal just behind him, were beginning a late, explosive kick. Both would pass Barnard with about 60 meters left, who in turn would overcome Ratcliffe, but it was Villareal, the pre-race favorite, who blew past Brannigan in the last 15 meters to win by a half-second in 4:05.25.
Barnard said Villareal coming by threw him for a split second. He was also worn out from a long day of travel Thursday, and said in retrospect he might have kicked a little harder from about the 200-meter mark. He and his other coach, Ray Jones, both believe Barnard could have won.
“I’m still really happy with the way things went,” he added.
Barnard is looking forward to heading to Georgetown in mid-August. He’ll run cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, though he may redshirt his freshman year. Much of that will be up to Patrick Henner, the Georgetown coach who grew up in Bristol and recruited him.
Barnard said his high school running experience has helped shape him in many ways, and has influenced his decision to pursue college at a school known as much for its academics as its elite running program.
“I’ve definitely buckled down more in my studies because from the moment that I saw I could run somewhere collegiately, I realized academics are going to be a big part of that.
“I think that’s part of the reason I even have the possibility of going to Georgetown is, it really teaches you great self-discipline and respect for others. It’s given me a great respect for the sport and the people who have brought me up in it, my coaches, my parents and everybody else. I’ve established some great friendships and relationships through it.”