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March 07, 2005 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-03-07

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8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - March 7, 2005

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Senior Nate Brannen has his eyes on a third consecutive
indoor 800-meter national championship

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al race is a race when they can
guys that arekallfaster than
ck and get palled through to a
,al national race, definitely for
something where I can get out
se my strength at the end in the
ters to come up and pull ahead
nior track and field star Nate

wheth
Pete:

: that time," Brannen said.
After The day before, Brannen ran the
:em- legin the distance medley relay, help
:ome some capture the national title. The
con- ing time of 9:27.77 was a collegiate r
Brannen's dominance in the re
aghts 800 supplied the Wolverines with 2(

count
over

V

nas, I had
try when

b.

we

dW~Rurst gives out, you might be surprised to
learn that he locked one of the greatest runners
in Michigan history over the phone. With War-
hurst's innate ability to befriend almost everyone
that he comes across, he quickly formed a
bond with Brannen and sewed up one half of
the fastest early commitment class that Michi-
gan has ever seen.
"On the phone, I got along with (Warhurst)
so well," Brannen said. "I had never met him
before and, just through phone conversa-
tions, he makes you feel like you are his best
friend."
After Warhurst had been so cordial, Bran-
nen knew he couldn't refuse the right to don
the Maize and Blue singlet the next fall.
"I started thinking: 'What coaches can
I actually call up and tell them that I'm not
going there?' " Brannen said. "Ron was the
coach that, the whole time I was in the recruit-
ing process, I was thinking 'I don't know if
Michigan's the place for me,' so I was always
looking around. But every time, I came to
the same conclusion that, no, I couldn't pick
up the phone and call Ron and tell him that I
wasn't coming here,"
Brannen began makitg waves as a junior
in high school, running for his club team in
Cambridge, Ontario. He ran a 1:50 in the 800-
meter run as an Ith grader, a mark that only
a few high school runners manage to hit each
year. Seeing that he had the potential to make
an impact on the international track scene,
Brannen decided to contact a Michigan alum
and former associate coach - Canadian dis-
tance running hero Kevin Sullivan. 1
Sullivan was impressed with Brannen's tal-
ent but also took note of his natural swagger.
"I think he had the confidence, not just the
ability," Sullivan said. "It's hard to describe,
but you can see a difference between someone
with a lot of talent who will be inconsistent
and a confident runner that will succeed every
time."
Brannen happily accepted Sullivan's com-
pliments, and decided to head down the path
to international stardom that Sullivan had
blazed - from Canada through Ann Arbor.
"Probably the primary factor that first got
me interested in Michigan was Kevin Sulli-
van," Brannen said. "Everybody in Canadian
distance running knows who he is. He's been
a big factor in distance running in Ontario.
Knowing he came here and the success that he
had, I knew that this would definitely be a good
place to go and follow in his footsteps."
i Brannen's cdentials ere staggering,
't drawing the bulk of the recruiting atten-
io Alan Webb, dubbed the next greatAmerican
distance running hope, had announced his deci-
sion to join the Wolverines. Webb had become
somewhat of a household name in America
after major networks caught on to his chase of
a 36-year-old high school record for the mile,
held by Jim Ryun.
"We both signed early, which was in
November," Brannen said. "We talked on
the phone probably two times before that and
kind of both agreed that this was the place we
were going to go, and so we signed."
Though Webb's presence left Brannen over-
shadowed, he was excited by the prospects of
training with one of the world's elite distance
runners. But things didn't work out quite the
way Brannen had planned. Although he and
Webb became close friends off the track,
Webb was a far superior cross country runner
in the fall of 2001, and injuries in the track

er finishing his freshman year on aI
t te, Brannen transferred that momer
nd d one of the best seasons in school
tory, winning the Michigan Male Athle
the Year award. His magnificent sophoi
year began in the cross country season, w
he paced the team to an eighth-place fini
nationals, three places better than the W
led team the previous year.
Brannen was Michigan's top finisher in ea
the seven meets that he competed in. Afterj
ing a disappointing 148th at the nationalj
during his freshman year, he improved
22nd- place finish with a season-best time
earned All-America honors.
Warhurst noticed a difference in Brat
between his first and second seasons.
"He matured and grew," Warhurst
"These kids run fast in high school, but
are not at the peak of their natural phy
maturation."
But the main reason for Brannen's impr
ment was the presence of another world-
middle distance runner on the Michigan t
team, New Zealander Nick Willis. Trai
with Willis provided a different attitud
practice and benefited both runners.
"We're not very competitive when it ca
to workouts," Brannen said. "We are the
help each other."
Willis appreciated the opportunity tot
with another world-class athlete and gain
great deal from those experiences.
"(Brannen) was a huge help my fresh
year," Willis said. "He was a role model fort
Working out together allowed then
observe each other's training habits and
the best method of training and racing.
Brannen continued his historic year
a championship effort in the indoor sea
He posted an NCAA automatic qualif
time in the 800-meter in his first meet
then posted an NCAA automatic qualif
time in the mile and the distance me
relay. His time of 3:57.96 made himI
the fifth athlete in Michigan history to
a sub-four-minute mile.
Although Brannen qualified individu
in two events and ran a leg in a qualif
relay, his season culminated in thef
meter run at the NCAA Indoor Champ
ships in Fayetteville, Ark.
After failing to qualify for the final
the mile run at his freshman' NCAA In
Championships, Brannen entered his sec
championships with a chip on his shou
Heading into the last turn in the fina
the 800, Brannen was two steps behin
leaders. As the runners came out of the
turn, Brannen kicked into another gear
took the lead. As he crossed the finish
Brannen raised his arms above his hea
victory.
"That was the pinnacle of my car
Brannen said. "I came back the next se
and won a second one. I was excited, b
wasn't nearly the excitement of the first."
Brannen's title in the 2003 was Michi
first national championship in the 800-
since Ross Hume in 1945.
After the indoor championships, Bra
did not let up. He continued to run well and
races.
At the NCAA Outdoor Championships, I
nen failed to capture the title in the 800 bu
finish fifth and received All-America honor,

d and intention of representing Canada at the
part- Olympic Games - a lifelong dream.
"In running, (making the Olym-
pics) is the pinnacle of everything,"
Brannen said.
posi- The plan was laid out. Bran-
ntum nen - along with Willis and
his- Sullivan - would train spring
te of and summer in the hopes of
more netting Olympic qualifying
when standards. Brannen worked
sh at out for the 800-meter, while
rebb Willis and Sullivan aimed for
the 1500-meter run.
ch of However, Brannen's life
plac- in the fast lane came to an
meet abrupt halt on May 14 when
to a he rolled his ankle on a
and mild trail run. Barely able
to walk, Brannen sought
nnen medical attention.
He now faced an uphill
said. battle in returning to
they top form. Adding insult
sical to injury, the Canadian
Olympic Committee
ove- requires their runners to
class hit their standards before
rack competing at the trials -
ning American athletes have
le in up until two weeks prior
to the games. And while
mes the Olympic standard
re to for the 800 was 1:46.00,
Canada set its mark at
train 1:46.71, making it easier
ied a to make its national tri-
als, where runners would
iman have one shot to qualify
me." for the Olympic games.
m to Brannen traveled
find throughout Europe and
America hoping to nab
with the Canadian standard.
son. His uphill battle peaked
ying at the Golden Gala in
. He Rome, Italy on July 2
ying when he recorded a sea-
dley son-best 1:46.48, which
only qualified him for the
run Canadian trials. The same
day, Willis smashed his
ally personal best in the 1500,
ying clocking 3:32.68, ensur-
800- ing him a spot on the New
ion- Zealand Olympic team.
But a week later at the
Is of Canadian Olympic Trials
door in Vancouver - Brannen's
cond last chance to make the
lder. Olympic team - he ran
Is of a disappointing 1:48.23.
d the Brannen would have to wait
final another four years to ful-
and fill his Olympic dream. In a
line, bittersweet moment from his
d in couch in Ontario, Brannen
would watch his teammate
'eer," reach the semifinal heat in the
ason 1,500-meter run in Athens,
ut it before missing the finals by one
place.
gan's "There was a little jealousy,"
meter Brannen said. "Obviously, I was
happy for him, but it would
nnen have been much nicer
a win to experience it with
him."

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"It was only a matter of time before I got

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