May 19, 2005
by Brian Beaky
Ryan Brown doesn't like running track.
In fact, he dislikes the sport so much, that he only competed one year at Renton (Wash.) High School, and sat out the 2004 collegiate season after a successful freshman campaign.
Which only makes what Brown accomplished at last weekend's Pac-10 Track and Field Championships in Los Angeles all the more amazing.
The conference's ninth-ranked competitor in the 800 meters, Brown outran four of the nation's top-20 half-milers to capture his first Pac-10 title, becoming as unlikely a winner as any at the Pac-10 meet in recent years.
Fourteen months ago, Brown was out of the sport entirely, having walked off of the UW squad just as quickly as he had walked on, citing a lack of interest and a preference for school over sports.
"I never really liked running track -- truthfully, I still don't," he says. "The mental and physical strain that first year were tough. I had gotten into school on my own, and I wasn't getting a scholarship or anything, so I didn't really feel any obligation to stick with it if I wasn't having fun."
Ultimately, it was school-smarts logic that brought him back.
"Without track, I had a lot of time on my hands to think," he says. "I thought, `I don't want to be 25 and look back and wonder, `What if?''"
Brown may have come seemingly out of nowhere to win this year's Pac-10 title, but his victory was no fluke -- not only was the event loaded with some of the nation's top talent, but the race was run at a blistering pace. Brown's winning time of 1 minute, 47.31 seconds was the sixth-fastest ever by a Pac-10 champion, and would have won all but five of the Pac-10 800-meter finals held since 1960.
Brown says a moderate early pace helped him stay with the lead pack, which came through 400 meters in 54 seconds. Brown stuck to the inside rail in fifth place through 600 meters, before bouncing to the outside and devouring the second-, third- and fourth-place runners on the final turn.
With 70 meters to go, Brown found himself just seven meters behind UCLA's Jon Rankin, the conference favorite competing on his home track. Brown admits to thinking before the race that Rankin would likely win, and that the rest of the field was battling for second. Now, with Rankin so close, those thoughts were pushed far from his mind, as he focused only on beating the Bruins senior to the line, now just 50 meters away.
Brown reeled Rankin in with his final paces, and the two crossed the line just eight hundredths of a second apart.
As TV crews and meet officials swarmed Brown, he glanced at the scoreboard and saw his time in bright lights -- 1:47.31.
For Brown, who had never before run below 1:49 in the event, the time was every bit as stunning as the win.
"I've been watching the Pac-10 Championships for years," Brown says. "I've seen guys win in 1:49, 1:48 and thought, `I could win that.' But 1:47? If you had told me before the race that the winning time would be 1:47, I'd never in a million years have imagined it would be me."
Before the race, Brown was only the second-fastest 800-meter runner on his team, his lifetime-best of 1:49.21 trailing freshman Austin Abbott's 1:48.57 on UW's list of season bests.
Now, he is the second-fastest in Washington history, and the eighth-fastest in the nation in 2005. Brown needs only to run in the top-eight at next weekend's NCAA West Regional in Eugene to guarantee a spot at June's NCAA Championships.
It's all come a little fast for Brown, still in only his third year ever running track.
"It's still crazy to look at that time, and at the rankings and all that, and think, `I did that," Brown says. "Even now, I still don't feel like I belong at the top of those lists. It's going to take some getting used to."
Brown had little time to get used to his status as conference champion before returning to the track for the day's final event, the 4x400 meters, and was admittedly worried about how his body would respond to having run the race of his life just two hours before.
The foursome blazed around the Drake Stadium track, ultimately crossing the line third in 3:03.85, seventh-fastest in the nation in 2005 and just below the 30-year-old UW record of 3:04.0, set by Washington's 1975 NCAA mile relay champions.
"Honestly, I was more excited about the relay than I was about the 800 [meters]," Brown says. "That was really the first time we had run together since indoor season. I think my split was the slowest of the four, but those other guys were amazing, especially Bruce Jackson, anchoring in 44.8 [seconds]. That had me more fired up than anything I did that day."
When the sun rose Sunday in Los Angeles, Brown was a talented runner on a talented team, his efforts frequently overshadowed by the record-setting performances of others.
By the time the sun set, it was his own shadow which cast longest over the Drake Stadium track, a Pac-10 title in one of his hands and a hallowed school record in the other.
His success has come so suddenly, that it may yet take some time before Brown gains the necessary perspective from which to appreciate his accomplishments.
"It's hard to say that it was the greatest day of my life, because in the end, it's only a track meet," he says. "But, I suppose it's hard to imagine that anything I do in the rest of my life is going to be that cool."
Get used to it -- Ryan Brown is the 2005 Pac-10 800-meter champion. And this time, he's here to stay.