It took 34 years and a conversion table, but Spokane finally has its second 4-minute miler.
Erik Schmidt, newly graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, ran the 1,500 meters in 3 minutes, 41.29 seconds to finish third at the Big Blue National Invitational last weekend in Hillsdale, Mich.
That’s a good enough time to qualify him for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials July 9-18 in Sacramento, at least provisionally.
The bonus is that it equates to the fastest mile ever recorded by a Spokane runner. Using a common conversion formula recognized by Track and Field News, Schmidt – a graduate of University High School – ran the equivalent of a 3:58.99 mile in the meet’s featured event.
“That’s exciting,” said Schmidt, who is now competing for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Regional Running Program. “I always thought of the 4-minute mark as that magic time when you became a legitimate runner.”
Rick Riley, a Ferris High School grad, clocked 3:59.2 in winning the Pacific-8 Conference championship mile as a Washington State University senior in 1970. Along the way in that race, Riley was timed in 3:40.1 for 1,500 meters.
At Big Blue, Schmidt found himself in a race with 1996 Olympian Paul McMullen and former Notre Dame star Dan Wilson. Pacesetters took the field through two laps in what Schmidt thought was 1:56, though he couldn’t be sure.
“I heard 28 (seconds) after the first 200, but I was too busy running the rest of it to hear anything being called out,” he said. “That’s normally one of the signs of my good races – I don’t focus on it too much and just run.”
McMullen took control on the third lap and with about 200 meters to go, Schmidt tried to catch him “but he was just too strong – he’s about 6-4 and must weigh 180,” Schmidt said. “He’s built like a triathlon runner.”
McMullen finished in 3:40.92, with Wilson second at 3:41.10. In all, the top six runners made the trials’ B standard of 3:43. Athletes who make the trials’ A standards in their events – it’s 3:39 for the 1,500 – are automatically qualified; B standard qualifiers will be added only if more athletes are needed to fill the stated field size.
Currently, Schmidt ranks 26th among runners qualified for the 1,500 – though some may opt to run a different event; it’s presumed a minimum of 30 will be invited to the trials.
So with that in mind, Schmidt heads to the Cardinal Qualifier in Stanford this weekend in hopes of improving his time.
“Some of the guys behind me (on the list) are pretty notable and I’m expecting them to run some better times,” he said. “I don’t want to leave it up to chance and miss out on going to the trials. I’d like to get the automatic standard.”
Ten athletes with Inland Northwest connections have achieved the A standard in their specialties and are automatically qualified for the trials.
That list includes three products of Spokane high schools – Anthony Buchanan (University) in the men’s 100 meters, Brad Walker (U-Hi) in the pole vault and Sarah Schwald (Rogers) in the women’s 1,500. Schwald also has met the B standard in the 5,000.
Two north Idaho athletes have A qualifiers – discus thrower Ian Waltz of Post Falls and heptathlete Missy Vanek of Laclede.
Besides Buchanan and Waltz, there are four other former Washington State athletes on the automatic list – Bennie Chatman (100), Dominique Arnold (110 hurdles), Arena Watkins (110 hurdles) and Ellannee Richardson, who has met the A standard in both the 400 hurdles and heptathlon but will compete in only the former.
The other A standard qualifier is former Idaho javelin thrower Oscar Duncan.
Eleven others have reached the B standard and are eligible to fill out fields that don’t have enough automatic qualifiers. On the men’s side they include Schmidt, Forest Braden (Bonners Ferry) in the 5,000, Jason Hubbard (Colville) in the 10,000, Matt Mason (WSU) in both the high hurdles and long jump, Eric Dudley (WSU) in the 400 hurdles, Simon Stewart (Idaho) and Tim Gehring (WSU and Kettle Falls) in the shot put and Curt Borland (WSU) in the javelin. The women are Andrea Thornton (WSU) in the discus, Britney Henry (LSU and Lewis and Clark High School) in the hammer and former Community Colleges of Spokane star Amber Miller in the javelin and heptathlon.