Another national award for Verzbicas
BY MIKE CLARK firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandburg's Lukas Verzbicas (right) runs alongside current U.S. mile record holder Alan Webb.
Lukas Verzbicas' to-do list got a little shorter on Wednesday.
In what had been a foregone conclusion after he became the first runner to sweep the Nike and Foot Locker national titles a few weeks ago, the Sandburg senior was named Gatorade's National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second straight season.
The perks of the award include another banner to join the one on the wall in Sandburg's gym, a second crystal trophy and a return trip to the West Coast for the ESPY telecast.
"I had set a goal of going back to Hollywood," said Verzbicas, who might be better known this time around. Last year, he was mistaken for another shaggy-haired teen: Justin Bieber.
"One of the reporters thought I was him and tried to have me play beer pong with him," Verzbicas said with a smile.
Verzbicas' days of being confused with anyone else likely won't last long.
The two-time defending Class 3A state cross-country champ also is a world-class junior triathlete, but he's planning to narrow his competitive focus.
"Going to college, I'm going to put [triathlon training] on hold and try my hand at running, just to see how good I can be just as a runner," Verzbicas said.
The door is open to get back into triathlons down the road. "It's a sport you can always come back to," he said. "You can go back when you're 35, when most athletes are retiring."
Verzbicas is on track to graduate from high school this spring, a year early. He has made his college choice and though he wasn't ready to disclose it on Wednesday, did reveal his short list, which included Oregon, Colorado and Stanford.
It was during the recruiting process that he made the "very difficult" decision to put triathlons on the back burner.
"All I've achieved in running ... I don't want to regret what I could have done," Verzbicas said. "However it works out, I want to know I went after it and am not regretting anything."
Next up for him is the Elite Mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston on Feb. 5, where the competition is scheduled to include Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand.
Alan Webb, the American record holder in the outdoor mile and one of the people on hand to present the Gatorade award, also was expected to compete. But Verzbicas said Webb will skip the event because of a lingering hamstring injury.
Meets in Seattle and New York City also are on Verzbicas' calendar as he chases his ultimate dream of a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
"2016 and 2020 are going to be my prime years," he said. "In 2012, I'm going to be 19 years old. It's going to be tough [to qualify]. I'll definitely try, I'll do my best."
And Verzbicas' best is usually very good indeed.