By Jeff Banowetz, Special to the Tribune
3:46 PM EDT, June 25, 2013
One of the most decorated athletes from Neuqua Valley High School is finishing up his first year as a professional runner by earning a trip to Russia to complete in the world championships for track and field next month.
Chris Derrick, 23, finished third last week in the 10,000-meter run at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships in Des Moines, Iowa. His time of 28:52:25 wasn't his fastest, but the third place finish earned him a spot on the U.S. team that will be competing for a world title in Moscow next month.
"We knew it would be a slower race, with the heat and humidity of Des Moines," Derrick said. The temperature was 80 degrees when the race was held last Thursday evening. "My goal was to make the team. So I was most concerned with staying near the front and being able to react if anyone made a move."
The race went as planned for Derrick, who stayed near the lead until the final mile of the 6.2-mile contest. Then Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, 30, pulled away from the field, and Derrick and last year's 10,000-meter Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp, 27, made the break with him. The three opened up a gap that the field would never close. Rupp pulled away to take the victory with Ritzenhein finishing second.
"He ran just a great race," said Paul Vandersteen, Derrick's high school cross-country coach at Neuqua Valley who attended the national championships. "I watched him battle with those Olympians, and he stayed right with them. I've been saying this for six years now, but it's just amazing what he's able to do."
Derrick started running for Vandersteen as a freshman who, quite frankly, didn't immediately catch his eye.
"He was maybe the seventh or eighth runner on the freshman/sophomore team when we started—so no, I didn't see this in him," Vandersteen said. "It was his sophomore year when we did a run-a-thon, an hour of running on the track. And he beat my seniors, who were very talented. I knew then that he had something."
Derrick went on to a storied career at Neuqua Valley, in which he won the state championship and set the course record in cross-country. During his senior season at track, he ran 13:55 in the 5,000 meters, the fastest time ever run by a high school student at a high-school only meet.
After graduating high school, Derrick went on to Stanford University, where he was a 13-time All-American in cross-country and track. After graduating last year, he ran at the Olympic trials, where he finished fourth in the 10,000 meters, one spot shy of making the Olympic team.
"I still think it's a small miracle he did has well has he did at the Olympic Trials," Vandersteen said. "He runs a tough college season, ran the 10,000 NCAA championships, does all the work necessary to graduate from Stanford—and then still runs like that. It was an incredible achievement."
After turning profession, Derrick joined the Nike Oregon Project, a group of runners who train full-time on the west coast under coaching provided by the sporting-goods giant. "I've always run with a team, so it's nice that I still have that," Derrick said. "We've been training at altitude camps, so we're stuck with each other for a lot of the time. It's nice to have great guys to be around."
Derrick's next stop is St. Moritz, Switzerland, where he'll be training at altitude again until the world championships Aug. 10-18. "It's supposed to be a beautiful place to train," he says. "The altitude training seems to be working for us, so it should help us get ready for Moscow."
"Distance runners typically don't peak until they're 27 or 28 years old," Vandersteen said. "To see Chris run this well at such a young age is amazing. You've really got to like his future."
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