Waukesha West alumnus Erik Sowinski came within a second of achieving an Olympic dream July 4, taking fifth place in the men's 800 meters at the United States Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
Sowinski ran 1:46.44 after posting the second-fastest time through the quarterfinals and semifinal rounds. He briefly moved into the third and final Olympic qualifying spot but couldn't keep pace over the final 100 meters. Clayton Murphy surged in that stretch to win the event in 1:44.76, while Boris Berian (1:44.92) and Charles Jock (1:45.48) grabbed the final two spots.
The University of Iowa graduate, 26, was frustrated by the race's administration.
'I had the second fastest time, and they put me in Lane 6, on the outside of the first alley,' Sowinski said in a post-race interview with LetsRun.com. 'I had to run farther than anybody else in the first 100 meters; it was hard to get into a rhythm there. Obviously, I should have run better than that, but tactically, I did everything I could.'
The finals typically would have featured eight runners for the eight lanes on the track, allowing every runner to start at the same spot. But when eventual fourth-place finisher Craig Engels successfully appealed for entry to the finals after a collision in the lategoing of his heat in the semifinals, the nine-runner layout compelled a unique 'waterfall' format that separated runners into groups of three and six.
That's an atypical maneuver not seen in international racing of the 800. Sowinski suggested the race could have been structured differently.
'We all protested it and said we wanted to share lanes, and they weren't having any of it,' Sowinski said. 'Either that or run three alleys. It doesn't make sense to run six guys in one alley and three in the other. Why not run five and four? That made it hard the first 300 meters. For it to come down to something like that ... I felt like I ran a lot harder than a 1:46 shows. I wasn't in rhythm and was on the outside the entire time. I can't tell you the last time I ran alleys for an 800. ... You just work so hard and for this to come down to something like that is frustrating. I think it made my race a little bit harder.'
Sowinski, who possesses a decorated resume, plans to be back.
'Hopefully I get in some fast races ... I was having a decent season up until this,' he said. 'Hopefully I've got four more years in my legs for another (Olympics) cycle.'
Sowinski has twice won the USA Indoor title in the 800 (2013, 2014) and once set the American record for the indoor 600 meters. He also ran the final leg of a World Record-setting 4x800-meter relay.
He competed in 2014 at the World Indoor Championships in Poland the 2015 World Outdoor Championships in Beijing. A the 2016 World Indoor, again in Poland, Sowinski claimed the bronze medal. He also took second place at the U.S. Indoor Championships earlier in the year.
Sowinski is currently signed with Nike and was a five-time All-American at Iowa before graduating in 2012. He was the WIAA Division 1 state champion for Waukesha West in the 800 meters in 2008, one year after taking 16th in the event as a junior.
Sowinski's time of 1:45.82 in the semifinals July 2 was just a tenth of a second behind Berian for the top time heading into the finals. He also ran 1:46.17 in the first round one day earlier, again just behind Berian for the top spot.