When Michael Slagowski returned to school Monday after winning the mile in record time at a Nike meet in Portland last week, he received a hero’s welcome.
Students and teachers lined the hallways at Rocky Mountain High and had Slagowski run from end to end as they cheered him on.
“I was a little bit embarrassed, I would say, but it was cool,” Slagowski said. “They’ve definitely done a lot of things to recognize me.”
Slagowski’s time of 3 minutes, 59.53 seconds at the Nike Jesuit Twilight Relays last Friday wasn’t simply a school record or state best, it was an accomplishment rarely seen even on the national level.
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Slagowski is the ninth high school runner in United States history to complete the mile in under four minutes, and his time is the seventh fastest in prep history.
Wow. Congratulation Michael! We have another HS sub4 miler! Welcome to the club.
Alan Webb, American record holder in the mile, in a tweet last week to Michael Slagowski
Given his accomplishments over the past year — and particularly the past two months — Slagowski’s sub-four mile isn’t entirely unexpected.
“I have watched many of his races on film and felt he had the speed and speed endurance to accomplish this one day. I just didn’t expect it in a high school race by himself,” said John Gondak, head track and field coach at Penn State, where Slagowski has signed to run in college.
“But after his 1:48 800 (meters) and 4:05 mile, I had thoughts that if he was in the right race it could happen sooner rather than later.”
Last season as a junior, Slagowski began to attract national attention with his win (1:51.85) in the elite 800 at the Arcadia Invitational in California. He followed up with a victory in the mile at last year’s Nike meet in Portland, and he won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the 5A state meet in Boise.
He added an individual cross country title to his resume in the fall and an indoor 800 national title in March in New York.
The great state of #Idaho producing them half-milers! Congrats to you and your coach.
Nick Symmonds, Bishop Kelly graduate and Olympic athlete, in a tweet last spring to Michael Slagowski
He’s also clocked the nation’s fastest high school times in the outdoor 800 (1:48.70) and 1,600 (4:03.97) in the weeks leading up to his sub-four mile.
“After I ran the 4:05 at Pasco, I thought that I could run it a little bit faster with a rabbit and better conditions, and also training more to peak at that meet,” Slagowski said. “So before the (Jesuit) race, I’d say my goal was definitely to run sub-four.”
During the cross country season, Slagowski ran as many as 60 miles a week. He’s currently logging about 40-45 miles a week.
“I’ve kind of gotten used to having to train on my own, but definitely each year has been a progression,” Slagowski said. “Like my freshman year, I was probably running like 30 miles per week and not doing a lot of hard workouts. Each year it’s just gotten more intense with the workouts and adding more mileage. I think it’s helped a lot to ease myself into it.”
Rocky Mountain distance coach Bob Hays has added speed training to Slagowski’s practices this season. He’s always possessed a healthy kick down the stretch, but it seems he’s also learned to block out the discomfort that holds so many runners back.
“He’s just got that ability to push past pain,” Hays said.
That was particularly evident in his Nike mile, where he ran the first of four laps in a flat 60 seconds, fell to a 2:02 pace through 800 and then ran his fastest lap — an estimated 57-58 seconds — before keeping his legs churning on the bell lap.
“I was definitely thinking there was a good chance I could do it still after I finished the third lap,” Slagowski said. “I just had to push that last lap and hope that I could hold on to the pace.”
Like the rest of the spectators on the infield, Hays followed Slagowski as he rounded each corner on his final lap, shouting out encouragement and letting him know he was on pace to break four minutes.
“Sometimes I don’t know if he hears me, because it was so loud,” Hays said. “I caught him at 100 meters to go, and I had my watch going and he was at 3:42 or 3:43. I let him know where he was and what he needed to do to get to the finish line, and he did it.”
Slagowski said the crowd’s encouragement over the final lap kept him going as much as his own legs.
“I was definitely really tired, but there was also a lot of adrenaline because there were tons of people on the infield yelling and in the stands,” Slagowski said. “It was a really good atmosphere. I guess I tried not to think about the pain too much.”
Slagowski remained on his feet after he crossed the finish line, and competitors and teammates offered congratulations.
The hubbub has not died down this week and likely won’t anytime soon.
Slagowksi will run in the Eagle Twilight on Friday at Eagle High, followed by the 5A District Three meet May 12-13 at Meridian High and the state meet May 20-21 at Dona Larsen Park in Boise.
After his high school season, Slagowski plans to run in the Brooks PR Invitational and Prefontaine Classic.
“I am not one to make predictions or say to an athlete, ‘You are going to make the Olympics one day.’ The reason being is at the end of the day it is up to the athlete to make sure they live the right lifestyle, embrace the training and have the right mindset,” Gondak said.
“That being said, Michael has all the tools to be incredibly successful in this sport, and we will do everything we can to provide him the environment to use those tools to take his career as far as he can.”
High school sub-4 milers
- Alan Webb, 3:53.43 (2001)
- Jim Ryun, 3:55.3 (1965)
- Drew Hunter, 3:58.25* (2016)
- Matthew Maton, 3:59.38 (2015)
- Grant Fisher, 3:59.38 (2015)
- Tim Danielson, 3:59.4 (1966)
- Michael Slagowski, 3:59.53 (2016)
- Lukas Verzbicas, 3:59.71 (2011)
- Marty Liquori, 3:59.8 (1967)
Source: The Wall Street Journal and Idaho Statesman research