Sept. 4, 2015
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2015-16 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iceland is a country known more for handball and soccer, but the University of Iowa is benefitting from a distance runner imported from the Nordic island nation.
Daniel Gardarsson is a second-year student-athlete that head cross country coach Layne Anderson affectionately refers to as the Icelandic Sensation. Gardarsson graduated from Iowa City West High School in 2014 where he posted times of 9:18.26 in the 3,200-meter run (sixth at the Class 4A state championship), 4:16.15 in the 1,600 (second at state), and 16:00.3 at the state cross country championship as a senior in 2013 (21st in Class 4A).
Gardarsson’s college journey got interesting after high school. He applied to the University of Iowa, as well as several colleges in Europe, where he could receive free schooling. Since schools in Europe do not notify students about admission until late summer, Gardarsson enrolled at Iowa, but he didn’t announce his intentions of being a competitive runner. In fact, he had not planned on running at all.
The UI coaches noticed and pleaded with Gardarsson to reconsider. Their recruiting pitch worked.
“It’s an opportunity that I have to take,” Gardarsson said. “You only get to be a college athlete once, so I decided the heck with Europe for now and stayed in Iowa.”
Gardarsson immediately faced an obstacle when he was asked to redshirt during the 2014 cross country season. He first viewed the redshirt as an indication that he wasn’t good enough; Anderson assured him the decision was made to keep him healthy, make him stronger, and prepare him for track.
“We have a guy who is going to stay focused the next four or five years and (redshirting) will serve to benefit him rather than hold him back from being even better,” Anderson said. “He is going to open people’s eyes to what is possible if you come in and work intelligently.”
During indoor season, Gardarsson ran 4:14.72 in the mile at the Iowa State Classic in Ames, Iowa. Outdoors he ran 3:53.74 at Beach Invitational in Long Beach, California, led off the 4×800 relay at Florida Relays in Gainesville, and led off the distance medley relay at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. He placed 28th at the Big Ten Conference Championships in the 1,500 at East Lansing, Michigan, running 3:56.03 in a “sit-and-kick” race that didn’t play to his strength as an even-pace runner.
The result at conference produced a lesson and self-assurance rather than a medal.
“It showed me I can compete in the Big Ten,” Gardarsson said. “Going to the Big Ten meet was awesome, a big stage. In the fall I didn’t feel I was quite good enough, and then in the spring I got to prove myself and show how much I improved.”
The improvement didn’t stop at the end of his freshman track season. Gardarsson is consistently training at 70 miles per week and has even surprised himself at how healthy he has remained. The keys have been getting enough sleep and training in moderation.
“We can accomplish a lot this year. We will be a solid pack, we have a lot of good incoming freshmen, we have a lot of guys staying around who are getting in better shape. I’m looking forward to us having a big pack and being able to score well at conference and regionals.”
UI redshirt freshman
“I don’t try to do too much,” Gardarsson said. “If I don’t feel good, I don’t try too hard; if I feel good, I make sure I don’t do too much so the next day I’m not dead.”
His goal is nine hours of sleep per day, but that gets adjusted when the demands of the academic year kick in.
Gardarsson’s mother still lives in Iceland and Daniel visits one or two times a year. His father attended the University of Iowa for medicine and met his wife in Iowa City. Daniel attended Northwest Junior High before continuing at West.
An environmental science major, Gardarsson would like to attend law school and practice environmental law. He volunteers with League of Conservation Voters and works part time bussing tables at Bluebird Diner.
“(The environment) is something that affects us all,” Gardarsson said. “When I was 10, I watched that Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth — that scared me straight from the start. I have grown up in the environment, especially in Iceland. Environment is important to us, we’re a green country. It is something I care about preserving.”
That is one reason that when Gardarsson isn’t running, he is on a bicycle.
And when he is running, his times are getting better and better. Anderson wouldn’t be surprised to see Gardarsson among the top seven Hawkeyes at the starting line of the NCAA Midwest Regional in cross country Nov. 13 in Lawrence, Kansas.
“He has come in, been ambitious, worked hard, and been extremely consistent,” Anderson said. “He works out well all the time and it’s a tribute to his lifestyle and how he takes care of himself away from practice and away from competition.”
Gardarsson admits that the 1,500 run and 3,000 steeplechase on the track are his main focus, but a strong showing in cross country is necessary to reach his goals in the winter and spring months.
“We can accomplish a lot this year,” Gardarsson said. “We will be a solid pack, we have a lot of good incoming freshmen, we have a lot of guys staying around who are getting in better shape. I’m looking forward to us having a big pack and being able to score well at conference and regionals.”
Iowa opens the cross country season Sept. 4 with the Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational — its only home event — on the Bill and Jim Ashton Cross Country Course. The women’s race begins at 6:30 p.m. (CT), followed by the men.
Gardarsson will be worth watching.
“He is putting in the work, getting his mileage at a level much higher than he has ever been and he is making adjustments well,” Anderson said. “I think the sky’s the limit. At this stage there is a lot of unknown, but the known quantity is that this young man is going to get a lot better in all event areas, so it’s going to be nice to follow his journey as a Hawkeye.”