UW distance runner came from raw beginnings

April 15, 2009

By Honsen Lin
The Daily

Austin Abbott didn't always think he'd be a track star.

Coming into college, he didn't really believe he was going to be a great -- or even good -- runner.

'When I came here, I was pretty raw,' Abbott said. 'I didn't really know anything about the sport. I just ran in high school, beat some people and [was] lucky enough to get into school here and get a scholarship.'

It was halfway through his freshman year, he said, when he realized he had the potential to be a good middle-distance runner.

Now, the five-time All-American is the nation's collegiate leader at the 1,500-meter race, with a time of 3:41.62. Abbott is also the UW's second fastest 1,500 runner in the record books, as well as the fifth-fastest outdoor 800-meter runner.His coach, Greg Metcalf, believes Abbott could be at the top of those lists by the time he's done.

'The outdoor 800-meter record is 1:46.29, and that's within his grasp, if he gets his chances,' Metcalf said. 'Our outdoor school record at 1,500 meters is 3:39.89, so we're going to run the 1,500 meters at Mt. Sac, and [I] think the goal is to take that one down. It's been there too long.'

Despite the fact that Abbott has two All-American honors in the 800 -- one for indoor track -- both Abbott and Metcalf believe that the 1,500 is Abbott's better event.

Of course, Abbott doesn't have too many chances left to take down those records, as he is a fifth-year senior. Abbott was forced to utilize a medical redshirt in his junior season due to a stress fracture in his foot after the Sun Angel Classic that year.

If his national standing in the 1,500 and All-American honor in the outdoor 800 mean anything, though, Abbott has at least a shot to end his career with a national championship.

'I think the 1,500 would be my best shot because in that race at nationals, it can be really fast, it can be really slow; it's usually a crazy race, and anyone can win it,' Abbott said.

It's also crucial that Abbott sticks to his preferred style of running the race, lest he repeat what happened in the indoor mile in the 2009 NCAA indoor championships, when he took last place in his preliminary heat of the mile run.

'I just kind of run the first three-quarters of the race, staying out of trouble, not getting kicked around and stuff,' Abbott said of his patient style of running. 'Then, when it starts to string out, [I] just make my move a little bit and get going to where I want to be with 100 meters to go, and then start ripping.'

Meanwhile, Metcalf is a little more bullish about Abbott's abilities than Abbott.'I have always believed that Austin, he's very dangerous in a championship environment,' Metcalf said. 'He's a great closer. He has the wonderful ability to find the finish line and beat people to the line.'

Of course, the praise goes both ways, as Abbott gives a lot of credit to Metcalf for getting him where he is today.

'Greg Metcalf is without a doubt one the best middle-distance coaches in the country,' Abbott said. 'He turns a few people that weren't super good in high school into top-notch runners at the collegiate national level.'

It was Metcalf who recruited Abbott to come to Washington as a runner.

'He was a different athlete,' Metcalf said. 'He didn't run cross-country. He played golf, and he played basketball and then ran track ... we recruited him hard, and we were very fortunate and excited when he came to Washington.'

Despite Abbott's multiple sports interests, he got into track early in life. When he was in sixth grade, he beat his middle-school class during their run of the mile.'My mom was like, `Wow, you know, I used to run track. You should do track when you get into middle school,'' Abbott said.

Following his mom's advice, Abbott continued to run during middle school and high school, and now he's on the verge of another berth in the NCAA championships, having already qualified for regionals in his two events.

As his college career winds to a close, Abbott will leave with five years of memories on the UW track and field team.

Some of his best moments, he said, include the first time he ran a sub-four-minute mile, as a sophomore. As it stands, Abbott is one of only three Huskies ever to run a mile in less than four minutes.

Abbott also counts among his best memories competing on a distance medley relay team that made it to the indoor national championship his freshman year.

'Track is pretty much an individual sport, so when you can get a group of guys together and do something as a team, I think it's more special,' Abbott said.Looking ahead, Abbott hopes he will still be able to run competitively after his college career ends.

'If I keep running fast and beat people and draw attention to myself,' Abbott said, 'there's no reason why someone wouldn't give me some sort of contract so I can keep running.'

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