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Sports >  Gonzaga athletics

Gonzaga’s Wil Smith becomes first in program history to run a sub 4-minute mile

Feb. 4, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 4, 2023 at 9:08 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Wil Smith admires his time of 3 minutes, 59.36 seconds in the mile run during Saturday’s Washington State Open at the Podium.  (Keenan Gray/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gonzaga’s Wil Smith admires his time of 3 minutes, 59.36 seconds in the mile run during Saturday’s Washington State Open at the Podium. (Keenan Gray/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Wil Smith had to talk his way into running in Saturday’s Washington State Open at the Podium.

Then he ran his way into a little bit of history.

The Gonzaga University sophomore became the third Spokane high school alum to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile, surging past Duncan Hamilton on the final lap and taking away the Montana State standout’s Podium record to highlight the 32-team meet.

“I’m not much of a kicker – that’s the first time I’ve outkicked somebody in a mile race,” said Smith, a Lewis and Clark graduate. “Or any track races.”

So it came as something of a surprise – Hamilton having won the 800 meters on Friday evening, as well as being the runner-up in the NCAA outdoor 3,000 steeplechase last June. He did the heavy lifting with the pace Saturday until Smith stormed ahead with 150 to go and finished in 3:59.36 – a narrow .28 under the year-old facility record. Hamilton clocked 3:59.75 in second.

Only Rick Riley among Spokane high school grads has run a faster mile – 3:59.2 at the old Pac-8 championships in 1970. Mead alum Laef Barnes ran 3:59.96 for UCLA in 2008. Both marks were made outdoors.

And it was something of a put-up-or-shut-up moment for Smith.

He went into Gonzaga coach Pat Tyson’s office on Monday to lobby to run this mile; most of the Zags’ top runners were using the weekend for a workout in hopes of running fast 5,000s next week in Seattle.

“Being a Spokane kid, I told Tyson that I wanted to break 4 in Spokane for the first time, especially since we have this facility,” Smith said.

“I’m really glad it happened here and not Seattle or someplace else.”

A field with Hamilton and Arizona’s Iker Sanchez Lopez – who ran 4:00.87 last weekend in Seattle – suggested the possibility of a good pace and “people in the race to kind of sit on, especially with me not being much of a miler,” Smith said.

Indeed, other than a couple of 1,500 races in April weather, Smith hadn’t run the distance since high school – finding himself more suited to longer events. Tyson had to fudge a bit to put down 4:06 as his entry time.

Nonetheless, Smith was just a stride behind Hamilton through the first six laps on the Podium’s 200-meter banked track, the pace right at 3 minutes with a quarter mile to go. His big move produced a 58.5-second final two laps, and he expected an answer from Hamilton every step.

“He races like crazy – he always performs,” Smith said. “Always brings it. I thought he was going to go around me because he’s quite a bit faster than me. You can’t just pass him and think, ‘Oh, I have him.’ ”

It’s only the third race in Spokane County to produce a sub-4 – Hamilton doing it a year ago, and post-collegians A.J. Acosta and Riley Masters becoming the first outdoors in the Spokane Summer Games in 2014. And it took down Gonzaga’s previous mile bests – Yacine Guermali’s 4:01.23 outdoors last June, and Willie Milam’s indoor school record of 4:01.67 from 2015.

“We have a lot of younger guys with speed, so hopefully them seeing me do it kind of paves the way,” Smith said. “Maybe they’ll say, ‘Well, if the 10K guy could do it, I can for sure.’ ”

Three other events produced Podium collegiate bests, led by Eastern Washington’s Bobby Say with a triple jump of 51 feet, 2¾ inches. Montana State’s Lucy Corbett high jumped 6-½, and Utah Valley’s Caleb Furnell equaled the men’s 200 collegiate record of 21.22.

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