From across the pond to Mizzou, Wood turning heads on the track

From across the pond to Mizzou, Wood turning heads on the track

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Kieran Wood Mizzou

Missouri track and field long-distance runner Kieran Wood races at the Husker Invitational in Lincoln, Neb. (Photo by Jeff Curry / Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics)

COLUMBIA, MO. • Kieran Wood could tell he was close.

The crowd noise heightened. The 2,512 people packed into Nebraska’s Bob Devaney Sports Center to watch the indoor track meet Feb. 2 were on their feet, willing the runners as they rounded the track for the second half of the mile.

Three minutes, 59.61 seconds.

The time flashed across the clock, as Nebraska’s George Kusche edged Wood to cross the line. Wood stepped across 0.03 seconds later, at 3:59.64.

He didn’t know he had just broken the 4-minute mile, becoming the first Missouri runner to do so indoors, until the official times were released.

The next 10 seconds felt like four minutes itself.

“It was just an emotional rollercoaster of a day,” Wood said. “The cooldown was filled with highs, excitement, pride, but also just fatigue. As an athlete, to thrive off of that crowd noise, it wasn’t something I’ve experienced before.”

Wood is from Cambridge, England, and has two years of eligibility with the Tigers. After earning All-Southeastern Conference second-team honors for his first cross country season, he made his American track indoor season debut with a school record in the 3,000 meters on Jan. 20, the sub-four mile, and broke his own record in the 3K on Feb. 8.

This weekend, he’ll run the mile and the mile leg of the distance medley relay at the SEC Championships at Arkansas.

After deciding to stay at home for his undergraduate career, the 23-year-old felt he was ready to move across the world this year and chose MU as his new home over Belmont and Tulsa. One of the first goals he expressed was running the four-minute mile. In 1954, Englishman Roger Bannister was the first person to break the barrier.

“There is a lot of hype about it — no one thought it was humanly possible before it was broken,” Wood said. “As a Brit, with it being a British guy that broke it for the first time, there’s a lot of pride associated with the four-minute mile.”

Karissa Schweizer, now running professionally for Nike and the Bowerman Track Club, put Missouri on the map with her six national championships. But other than Schweizer, Mizzou has remained relatively quiet in the track world, especially in the SEC, a conference that has four men’s and women’s teams in the top 10.

Missouri distance coach Marc Burns is hoping Wood can spark a surge for the program, not only on the track scene but in the community.

“The nice thing about the mile is that everyone understands a sub four-minute mile,” Burns said. “I could go anywhere in the city and say, ‘Hey, we had a guy break 4 minutes in the mile.’ And people would go, ‘Oh, that’s really good.’ Whereas we could have a guy run 13:40 and make the national meet in the 5K, and they’d be like what are you talking about?”

For all the hype around Wood’s accomplishment, he has to take it in stride. His time currently sits 25th nationally. Only the top 16 times over the span of a season make it to the NCAA Indoor Championships. The difference between Wood’s 3:59.64 and the No. 16 time this season is 0.85 seconds.

“It gets me out of bed in the morning, something to strive for,” Wood said. “I came here to the States to race the best. I’m close, but not quite there.”

For relays, the top 12 teams make it to the championships. Missouri’s distance medley relay team of Martin Prodanov, Jayson Ashford, Dustan Davidson and Wood would have to run sub-9:29 this weekend. In Wood’s competitive relay debut – the UK doesn’t have distance relays – the team ran a 9:37.44 at Notre Dame last weekend, which sits No. 21 nationally.

Field events will probably be Mizzou’s best shot at the NCAA Championships. Freshman Roberto Vilches is tied at No. 4 in the high jump with a 7-5 mark and is 12th in the long jump with a 25-8.

In the postseason, it’s all about strategy, which makes it hard to run a top time at a conference championship meet. That’s why Burns and Wood are looking forward to the outdoor season, beginning in late March.

Instead of running a time trial throughout the season, runners just have to get a first-round mark. Then, they race at the preliminary championships to get a chance to go to the NCAA Championships.

That’s where Burns sees Wood excelling, with his ability to run a tactical race before using his closing speed.

“You race your way to a title,” Burns said. “I love his chances in that scenario. We put him in that situation, he’ll do some damage.”

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