By JACK ROSSI
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It has all been building up to this weekend for former University of Iowa All-American Erik Sowinski, who for the past four years has been training with UI director of track and field Joey Woody with an eye on the 2016 Rio Olympics. For the next three days Sowinski will be chasing his Olympic dream.
He competes in the first round of the 800 meters Friday, the opening day of the United States Olympic Track and Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
“Man, it’s just a dream,” Sowinski said. “If you would have told me eight or nine years ago when I stepped foot on campus that I would have a chance to do this, I would have told you that you were crazy, but I am excited for the hard work I have put in.”
Hard work has defined Sowinski’s career, and hard work has made his dream a possibility. He has also relied heavily on the word of his coach, who in 2008 convinced Sowinski to spurn his Division III offers and follow him to Iowa City, and in 2012 – following a runner-up finish in the 800 meters at the NCAA championships — persuaded him to sign up for another four years on the track.
“I was applying to medical schools at the end of my senior year because that was the route I was planning to take,” Sowinski said. “But I ran well at NCAAs and coach Woody and I sat down at the end of my senior year and decided that I have a lot left in the tank. We decided to give it a four-year cycle and see what happens.
“We have been prepping for four years and I am excited that it’s finally here.”
The five-time All-American had his first taste of Olympic competition at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials. He placed 16th race in what he classified a learning experience.
“In college a lot of times it is a two or three-man race,” said Sowinski. “In the pro ranks everybody will be there with 150-200 meters to go.”
Sowinski first found his stride at the 2013 Millrose Games, defeating former Olympians Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds while also setting the American record in the 600 meters and earning a sponsorship with Nike.
Since then, Sowinski has placed 13that the 2014 World Indoor Championships, first at the IAAF World Relays, 13th at the 2015 World Championships, and won a bronze medal at the 2016 World Indoor Championships.
“He is one of the top guys in the world,” Woody said, “and he has competed against the best in the world, guys that have won medals at the Olympics.
“It comes down to confidence and believing that you can compete and beat anybody in the field.”
In addition to Symmonds and Solomon, Sowinski will see another familiar face this weekend in Boris Berian. Berian, who has the top qualifying time, won gold at the 2016 World Indoor Championships in March.
Sowinski will need to beat at a minimum two of those three to make Team USA. The top three finishers advance to represent the United States in the 800 meters in Rio.
“We have been doing a lot of good things with Erik to get him set up physically and mentally,” Woody said. “The biggest thing I always say is don’t make it more than what it is. It’s another championship meet. It has rounds. You have to focus from one round to the next and once you’re in the finals, anything can happen. It’s just setting yourself up and being in the right position to strike when you need to.
“He is ready for this moment and has been ready since the day he graduated.”
Sowinski’s opening round is Friday at 6:15 p.m. (CT). The semifinal race is Saturday at 2 p.m., and the finals are Monday at 7:51 p.m. The finals are televised live on NBCSN.