As he began to pursue a career in running, Vincent Ciattei took to writing.
When he made the decision to shift from playing basketball to competing in cross country and track as a sophomore at Perry Hall, Ciattei kept meticulous logs of his runs. Everything from his results to his training to his food consumption to his physical conditioning was recorded.
“When it comes to running, I’m a very detail-oriented person,” said Ciattei, 26, who estimated that he has 20 folders of logs at his parents’ home in Baltimore and 12 more folders with him at his apartment in Eugene, Oregon. “I like looking back on how I did and what I felt. In this sport, you can draw a lot upon those experiences and those details to inform yourself.”
It was an example of the commitment Ciattei (pronounced “see-AH-tee”) has made in other areas of his life. Between becoming a straight-A student to a saxophone player for the All-County and All-State orchestras, he poured himself into the activities he deemed worthy of his effort.
“With pretty much anything, he’s that’s type,” his father, Richard, said. “If he’s going to devote time to it, he wants to be the best at it.”
That passion has served Vincent Ciattei well. After stellar careers at Perry Hall and Virginia Tech, he has developed into one of the top middle-distance runners in the country and is a member of the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite.
At the U.S. Olympic trials, Ciattei advanced through the first two heats of the 1,500-meter race to be one of 12 competitors in the final late last month, eventually finishing 10th.
He said he was disappointed with his performance.
“I was glad that I made the final, that I did not have a happy-to-be-here sort of attitude. I went into the final with the Olympic standard and legitimate shot to make the team,” Ciattei said. “It will certainly be a motivation to do everything I can.”
Eric Johannigmeier, the Hokies assistant track and field coach and head cross country coach, said after watching Ciattei’s achievements — running the 1,200 portion of the distance-medley relay that won an NCAA indoor title in 2018, winning silver in the mile at the NCAA indoor championships and the 1,500 at the NCAA outdoor version in 2018, and being named a three-time indoor All American and a two-time outdoor All American — he has no qualms about the runner’s potential.
“It’s not surprising,” Johannigmeier said. “Vince has made such big jumps in college, and the jump for him to get from where he was at the NCAAs to qualifying for the Olympic trials is an equivalent jump. I wouldn’t put anything past Vince. At least in college, when the deck was stacked against him, he came through and overachieved expectations.”
After a decorated high school career with the Gators that included seven state titles and placing fourth in the mile at the Penn Relays in April 2013, Ciattei chose Virginia Tech over Georgetown and Yale. But an encouraging freshman season ended abruptly when discomfort in the pelvic region was diagnosed as osteitis pubis, which is generally described as inflammation.
“My freshman year, I showed some promise, and then I didn’t really get back to that level for two-and-a-half years or so,” he said.
Johannigmeier said the injury took a toll on Ciattei’s confidence.
“I think it’s hard when you have to come back from that and believe in yourself,” he said. “That’s something that he’s definitely had to work on and constantly improve. And I know even after college, he’s had a few injuries to get back to the level that he’s at, and to get back to where he is now is very impressive.”
His performances in his redshirt senior season in 2018 drew the attention of the Oregon Track Club, which signed him that summer. But shortly after joining the group, Ciattei developed a stress fracture in his pelvis that sidelined him for five months.
“It was a tough start in addition to moving across the country and adjusting to post-college life,” he said. “That was a long five months of missing aerobic development, and in this sport, it’s not the same as missing the time and getting back on the basketball court. You really have to be in tip-top fitness aerobically and physically to compete. So 2019 was sort of a lost season for me.”
After the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, Ciattei has found his footing. He recorded an Olympic-qualifying time of 3:34.57 in the 1,500 at the Portland Track Festival on May 29, beating his previous personal best by nearly two full seconds.
After making it through the first round June 24 and the semifinals the next day, Ciattei earned a spot in the final June 27 against rivals such as 2016 Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz Jr. (Broadneck), NCAA champion Cole Hocker and NCAA runner-up Yared Nuguse. But Ciattei got stuck on the inside and fell to the back of the pack before crossing the line in 3:39.02.
“As tough as it is to stomach, I think I just let the moment get the best of me because I got too antsy,” he said. “I made a lot of moves and wasted a lot of energy that were unproductive, and I never really touched the front of the race or got myself into a position where I could really get Top 3. That’s the most frustrating part. It’s all on me, but I didn’t race to necessarily reflect the fitness or the ability that I feel like I have. If I had run a perfect race tactically and ended up fourth, I would at least know that I put it all on the line. It wasn’t that I didn’t try hard. I just tried hard at the wrong times.”
Richard and Regina Ciattei, who attended the trials, said watching their son was an exercise in “a roller coaster of emotions.”
“His performance in the first two rounds was very much a high,” Richard Ciattei said. “But we felt his disappointment. … He was planning on going to Tokyo. He had his passport ready. He was confident in his ability to do it, and the race just didn’t work out the way that he had planned. So the Olympic dream is on hold for at least another three years. But we said, ‘Vince, we’re with you. So go get it.’”
Vincent Ciattei also had to deal with a heat wave in Eugene that pushed the day’s projected high to 112 degrees and prompted organizers to delay the final by more than five hours. Initially alarmed by the postponement, he said it actually helped him to seek additional treatment for a left shin “issue” that had developed earlier in the week.
As frustrating as the night of the final was, Ciattei said he intends to race for the opportunity to compete in the World Athletics Championships in Eugene next July and vie for a berth on the 2024 U.S. Olympic team. Johannigmeier said Ciattei has the talent and skill to run in Paris, the site of the next Summer Games.
“I think as a middle-distance runner, you’re really physiologically reaching your true potential in your mid- to late-20s,” he said. “I think Vince still has room to grow, and three years from now, he should be even better if he’s consistently training. I think he can and will be better. … I’m sure he’s disappointed in some way, but 10th is his best finish, and if he continues to progress with that, there’s no reason that he can’t make the team at some point.”
For now, Ciattei said he has tried to take advantage of some rest days to heal his shin. He acknowledged that his finish in the trials final will fuel an inner fire.
“It was a good step to take, but in that period, I think it developed more than just taking that step of making the final,” he said. “I can take away 10th place, but I’ll allow that to motivate me that I was disappointed with 10th.”
Regina Ciattei said her son is not the type to give up. She is simply thankful he is chasing his dream.
“For me, the main thing is I just want him to be happy,” she said. “I’m very grateful that he’s doing what he loves and that he has this opportunity. We just want him to be happy. When he’s happy, we’re happy.”