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Runner Finds Advantage in Late Kick

Andrew Wheating celebrated after making the Olympic team in the men's 800 meters at the U.S. track and field trials in Eugene, Ore.
Andrew Wheating celebrated after making the Olympic team in the men's 800 meters at the U.S. track and field trials in Eugene, Ore. (By Jonathan Ferrey -- Getty Images)
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Andrew Wheating had this great habit at the U.S. Olympic trials in track and field in Eugene, Ore.: He did not merely advance in every round of the 800 meters, he seemed to do it in the most breathtaking way possible. In the July 1 final, Wheating showcased his trademark late sprint in one of the most thrilling U.S. races in recent years, powering from dead last with about 200 meters remaining to second place behind a similarly hard-charging Nick Symmonds. Both won Olympic team slots.

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There was, Wheating said, a rationale behind the heart-stoppers: It's the only way he can compete in the 800.

Wheating, 20, said he is simply too slow to get out as fast as the rest of the elite runners. A sophomore at the University of Oregon, Wheating considers both the 800 and 1,500 meters his specialties. During his senior year in high school, he was a 5,000 runner. The endurance he has built for the longer events, he said, allows him to make strong moves late in the 800.

Symmonds, meantime, pointed out that Wheating's long legs -- he is unusually tall for the event at 6 feet 5 -- provide the perfect wheels for motoring around the outside of packs of runners.

"You can pretty much expect I'm going to come from behind," Wheating said.

Making Wheating's success in Eugene even more surprising is his lack of experience. A Norwich, Vt., native, Wheating attended a high school -- Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H. -- that had no track team. He did not take up the sport until his senior year. Yet in April, he broke the four-minute barrier in the mile, and he won every outdoor 800 and 1,500 collegiate race in which he competed before finishing second by one one-hundredth of a second in the 800 at the NCAA championships.

Wheating is the only nonprofessional runner training with the Oregon Track Club, which includes Symmonds and the 800 final's third-place finisher, Christian Smith.

Wheating said just a few years ago, he dreamed he would make the Olympic team -- in soccer. Yet shortly after winning his Olympic team spot, he seemed surprisingly calm.

"Give it a couple more minutes," he said. "I'll probably shoot up out of this chair saying, 'I made it!' This is a whole new experience for me."

-- Amy Shipley

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