Iowa Hawkeyes

Erik Sowinski running for gold at USA championships

Former Iowa NCAA champ among favorites in 800-meter run

Erik Sowinski wins the 800 in 1:47.86 at the 2014 USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. (USA Today Sports)
Erik Sowinski wins the 800 in 1:47.86 at the 2014 USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. (USA Today Sports)
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Joey Woody knows one thing about Erik Sowinski.

“He’s a great racer,” the director of track and field at the University of Iowa said. “He’s going to be in the hunt at the end of the race.”

That, of course, is the plan this weekend when Sowinski competes in the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. The four-day national championship begins Thursday at 1 p.m. and concludes Sunday.

A five-time All-American for Woody at Iowa, Sowinski runs in the first round of the 800 Thursday at 2:20 p.m. The semifinal is Friday at 7:05 p.m. and the final Sunday at 3:13.

“We just try to put ourselves in the top three or four from the get-go and try to win the race,” Sowinski said. “When you make the final, anyone has a chance to win.”

Sowinski is no stranger to these championships. He placed third in the 800 in 2014, making his first U.S. team and running in the World Championships in Poland. He was second in 2015, earning another spot in the World Championships, this time in China.

A World silver medalist indoors in 2016, Sowinski failed to make outdoor teams in 2016 and 2017, however.

He’s hoping for better results this weekend, even though there is no World Championship or Olympic team to make.

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“I’m kind of rounding into form,” he said. “I feel as fit as I’ve ever been.”

He’s also, at 28 years old, in the prime of his career for a middle distance runner.

“He’s hitting his stride right when he needs to be,” Woody said.

A former world-class 400-meter hurdler, Woody watched and learned as Sowinski steadily progressed from a state champion high school runner at Waukesha (Wis.) East to All-American and national champ at Iowa to World medalist as a professional. Sowinski went from a 1:51.10 800 best in 2009 to a career-best 1:44.58 in 2014. He also broke 1:45 in 2015 and last year.

“We train both ends of the spectrum,” Woody said, adding, with a laugh, he became a better coach by learning how to mentor Sowinski.

Sowinski, who continues to live and train in Iowa City and coaches track and cross country at Davenport Assumption, runs 60 to 70 miles a week in the fall and winter, then focuses on his speed when the track seasons begin.

“We hit the nail on the head with his training,” Woody said of Sowinski’s senior season at Iowa when he won the NCAA indoor 800 and placed second outdoors.

This year, Woody had Sowinski focus on the 1,500 early, running a 3:44.82 in April as well as a 4:01.44 mile at the Drake Relays.

“Now we’re moving into the 800,” said Sowinski, who ran a 1:45.07 in the Netherlands earlier this month.

“He’s pretty fresh,” Woody said. “He’s only run a couple of 800s ... I think he’s starting to feel his rhythm.”

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He’ll have to be at his best to win a national title. The field this weekend also includes defending U.S. champion Donavan Brazier, who has run 1:43.95, and Penn State junior Isaiah Harris, the reigning NCAA champion who owns a career-best 1:44.53.

Nine runners have dipped under 1:46.

“We’ve definitely been working out pretty intense up to this weekend,” Sowinski said. “I want to be ready for Des Moines ... Drake’s got a special place for me.”

The top three puts athletes in line for international competition, but winning is the goal.

“We don’t step on the track if we aren’t thinking of winning,” Woody said. “You’ll see him shine on the final day.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr,ogden@thegazette.com

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