Superstar prep runner might be even better at another sport

Cameron Smith

Despite being only 18, there are plenty of devoted track and field followers who expect to see Lukas Verzbicas on the track at the 2012 Olympics. There's ample proof for why the teen deserves that support, too; quite frankly, he really is that good.

Record setting prep runner Lukas Verzbicas

Consider the accomplishments he has already earned on the track:

• On Saturday, he ran the first sub 4:00 mile in a high school race in 46 years, winning the Jim Ryun Dream Mile in New York with a blistering time of 3:59.71

• He obliterated the previous American prep record for the 2-mile race, finishing with a time of 8:29.46 at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon.

• He won the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships … twice … in a three-year high school cross country career. He also won the Nike Cross Nationals in 2010, becoming the first high school male runner to win both national cross country meets in the same season.

Then, there was his one-man coup de grace in March, when Verzbicas completed what seems impossible at face value: He won the two-mile race, the 5,000 meters (in which he set a new indoor national record) and mile at the New Balance Indoor Nationals, a triple title that gave Verzbicas the national team title by himself, because he doesn't actually run for his school's team.

Yet, as talented as Verzbicas is on the track, he might be turning down a major shot at an Olympic medal and international acclaim in a non-track event if he does stick with his running plan. According to a number of sources, Sports Illustrated among them, Verzbicas is among the most promising triathletes on the planet. In September he finished fourth at the International Triathlon Union Junior World Championships … and didn't win in large part simply because he received a penalty for failing to put his swim cap and goggles in their designated box in the athletes' transition area.

While Verzbicas may be most natural around the track -- both his mother and stepfather are involved in track and field at a semi-professional level, and he has spent time on running courses since he was 15 months old -- his newfound prowess in the triathlon has American coaches begging him to stick with his second sport. Typically, the teen closed a gap of more than a minute to the main lead pack on the running course after falling behind on the bike leg in the world championships.

While distance running coaches are still salivating about Verzbicas' international potential, his triathlon coaches are equally excited about the possibility that the Illinois teen who emigrated to the states from Lithuania at age 8 could be the next great American triathlete.

"He's not just an incredibly gifted runner," Keith Dickson, who manages Verzbicas' club triathlon team, told Sports Illustrated. "He's actually an incredibly gifted athlete. You put him in the water, throw some hard workouts at him, and he turns into swimmer. You put him on a bike and watch the power-to-weight ratio, it's off the charts."

"He's a world champion."

Yet, for the time being, Verzbicas plans to put off that possibility for another one: Focusing on his track future. While the teen refuses to rule out a future spent at international triathlon events, he said that his first goal is to achieve the goal that he and his family have long held for him: Olympic gold on a race track, after he starts his collegiate career at Oregon in the fall.

"I don't want to look back one day and ask myself what could have been," Verzbicas says. "I want to see just how successful of a runner I can become. Who knows? Maybe I'm better off becoming a triathlete in my future. But I won't pass up the chance of seeing how good of a runner I can be."

There's no doubt that Verzbicas is good enough to earn a gold, either in London (if he qualifies) or at a future Olympics. The question that will linger is whether passing up on his triathlon potential is the right move for himself … or the United States' future medal haul.

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