When adidas Grand Prix organizers announced last year that they had assembled a field of high school "dream milers" as a meet encore, many expected at least one sub-four performance.
Perhaps they were a year early. That field, while historically deep, featured few runners who had broken 4 minutes, 10 seconds. Even the race favorite, Lukas Verzbicas, entered the race five seconds off the mark and his winning time of 4:04.38, fell well short.
Tomorrow, Verzbicas returns to Randall's Island and brought along some friends to help him achieve what he couldn't do a year ago. He readily admits that despite the hype, no one in the 2010 field - including himself - was sub-four quality. But this year?
"If everything goes well, there's no doubt in my mind that there should be not just one person under four, there should be more than that," Verzbicas said today in midtown Manhattan at his hotel.
And that's the promise that once again makes the high school boys' and girls "Dream Mile" at ICAHN Stadium so alluring. The Grand Prix, which is part of the Samsung Diamond League, a 14-meet circuit of top international athletes, will include professionals far faster than these runners. But there is something pure and perfect about a high school mile, especially when its competitors are chasing a mark as mystical as the sub-four.
"There's nothing better to do than a sub-four mile," Verzbicas said. "Such a small percentage of runners in high school have done it."
Small? There might not be a word to measure the fraction. In order for Verzbicas to join these elite ranks, he'll need some help. And he thinks he has it. "These guys are at my level, running just as fast, even faster."
Joining his as pre-race favorites are No. 1 miler Jantzen Oshier, of Mission Viejo, Ca., who ran 4:00.83 in 1600 meters at last week's state meet, and Austin Mudd, whose 4:03.00 in the Indiana state meet came an hour before running 1:49.5 for 800 meters.
To Oshier, who said he's discussed breaking four minutes with Verzbicas, the race will be a shared effort.
"We're here to run fast and that's what my mentality is now," he said. "I want to run as fast as I can, and this is just a great opportunity to put down some really fast times. With a field like this it would just be an incredible thing to make history, having more than one guy do it."
Three more runners - Billy Orman (4:05.29), of Tuba City, Az., Elias Gedyon (4:04.04), Los Angeles, and Matt Carpowich (4:05.72), of Torrey Pines, Ca. - are coming off late-season meets that have them ready to contend as well. And that doesn't include a trio of Jersey boys who will be in the mix. Twins Jim and Joe Rosa finished third and fifth, respectively, a year ago, and Kenyan transplant Ed Cheserek, of Newark, N.J., has the country's fastest 5000 meter (14:02).
"If we could get maybe five guys under 4:05, I don't think it's ever happened before," Oshier said.
He's right. In fact, there's a lot of precedents poised to fall tomorrow. Just four American high schoolers have broken four in history - Jim Ryun, in 1965 and Alan Webb's 3:53.43 at the Prefontaine Classic in 2001. Two sub-fours in the Dream Mile would double the all-time list.
At the same time, the country has seen a dramatic improvement in its milers over the last decade since Webb's historic run. Eighteen boys have broken 4 minutes, 3 seconds in the mile, but eight - including Galen Rupp and German Fernandez - did it since 2001.
For Verzbicas, a sub-four mile would be a perfect way for to ride off into the sunset of his magnificent high school career. With five national titles and two American records this school year alone, he has little left to accomplish before he heads to Eugene for his freshman year at the University of Oregon, where he'll encounter a whole new set of expectations.
"I'm definitely putting everything I've got into this race. All the hard work is done I think all that needs to be done is go down, execute and it could definitely happen."