Former St. Xavier star Bobby Curtis will try to qualify for U.S. Olympic track team Friday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Louisville running community has been gasping at Bobby Curtis from the moment he won the first of his 12 state championships as a St. Xavier High School freshman. At Villanova, Curtis quickly proved he could run middle distances with any college runner.
But there is just one way for a runner to make his name crackle across the country and the world – the Summer Olympics.
Friday night at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., Bobby Curtis will run the most important 10,000 meters of his life -- the American qualifier for the 2012 London Olympics. The results of a lifetime of work revealed in 27 minutes and 30 seconds – or less.
"I was more nervous a month ago than I am now because the race is so soon," Curtis said. "This is what the last year, really the whole last four years have been focused on because it's hugely important to my career and hugely important to me as a person. It's something I've wanted to do for so long.
"It's dog-eat-dog for an Olympic spot."
The vital signs suggest Curtis as a carnivore. The top three finishers make the American team. In 2011 Curtis delivered the second-fastest 10K by an American, running a 27:24.67. His personal best ranks third in the Oregon field, which is led by American record-holder Galen Rupp.
(The race is scheduled for 9:45 p.m. EDT. The NBC Sports Network is scheduled to televise the meet from Hayward Field from 9:00 to 11:00.)
After he was out kicked over the final 800 meters and finished fourth in qualifying for the 2011 World Championships, Curtis changed his training strategy. He increased his mileage and ran his first marathon, finishing 14th (the third American) in New York City Nov. 4.
He trained in Australia for much of the winter and then moved to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., to stiffen his workouts at altitude (7,880 feet) several months ago. The only 10K Curtis ran this year was a road race May 12 at Central Park. He was the top American and third overall.
"I think he's going to do it," said Chuck Medley, Curtis' coach and long-time friend from St. Xavier. "This is something Bobby has talked about since he was a freshman at St. X. He's always been very aware of the other top runners and the times he had to run to be competitive nationally."
What appears different this time is Curtis, 27, is celebrating every step of the journey. His Twitter account has been an intriguing blend of training updates and one-liners, like this item Curtis posted Wednesday upon his arrival in Eugene:
"Remember, life will go on if you don't make the Olympics … it will just be a vastly inferior life."
His Tumblr account begins with a hilarious story. Curtis and training partners from Australia visited a California coffee shop and asked if they served an imaginary espresso drink called a "guetepans," which was actually a word that means "ambush" that Curtis borrowed from the National Spelling Bee. One of the baristas actually took the bait and made the drink.
"I've done my part," Curtis said. "Everyone kind of agrees I'm in the best shape of my life.
"The last 2K is where everyone, whatever they have, they show it then. I have to make sure I'm relaxed the first bit and stay in contact. Then the last three miles make sure I'm giving it everything I have and stay focused when the really big sprint happens the last three laps."
Curtis hasn't always been able to flush the anxiety from his system. Beginning with his freshman year in 1999-2000, he won a dozen Kentucky state titles at St. X – three in cross country, nine in track.
His Villanova career was interrupted by an overpowering struggle with insomnia that sometimes left Curtis unable to sleep for days. The insomnia stirred the expectant feelings of hopelessness that Curtis eventually learned to control, although it took five years.
Today he is thriving, a formidable professional runner who competes across the world for Reebok. He has plans to get married in late September – after he qualifies and then competes for the U.S. team in London.
"Right before the race will be one of those moments where we're all uncontrollably anxious," Curtis said. "But I'm ready to go."