MANKATO, Minn. – They’re something of an odd couple.
One is a freshman; the other a senior.
One is more of a 400-meter runner; the other just won the mile an hour earlier.
And one is from England, while the other hails from the All-American city of Colorado Springs — home to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Air Force.
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But both run track for Adams State, and on Saturday, both were the first to cross the finish line in the 800-meter run at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships in Mankato, Minn.
Boris Berian, the true freshman 400-runner from Colorado Springs, was first in 1:52.19. Drew Graham, the senior mile champion from Newcastle, England, was a blink behind at 1:52.55.
“Boris comes more from a 400-meter background, where I’m more from a miler background, so he tends to do better when he goes out faster and I tend to do better when I’m a bit farther back,” Graham said. “So coach was just like, ‘Run your own race plans and hopefully you’ll come together at the end,’ and that’s kind of what happened.”
It sounds pretty simple, but the result was pretty improbable.
The odds were stacked against Graham, who one hour earlier had to use a 150-meter kick in the mile to hold off defending champion Mack McLain from Colorado School of Mines.
“That’s a hard thing to do,” Adams State coach Damon Martin said. “There’s not many guys that try to do the 800-mile double, and to do it with such short rest, it was just amazing.”
The odds didn’t look great for Berian, either. The true freshman came into the race with the 11th best seed time, more than five seconds behind the leader. However, in a typically slow championship race, Berian played the tactics just right. In fact, his winning time was one hundredth of a second slower than his seed time.
“He’s very good at tactics, and he’s very good at finding the finish line,” Martin said. “A lot of kids, sometimes they struggle toward the end. Boris just has a knack of getting toward the finish line.”
Even though Graham came into the race with the third best seed time, after his mile result he was really just looking to earn some extra points for his team. So even he was pleasantly surprised when Adams State earned the maximum 19 team points from the event — the Grizzlies ultimately finished second with 47 point, behind Grand Canyon.
“I raced [Berian] earlier this season, when I wasn’t in the best shape, and he gave me a bit of a thrashing,” said Graham, the 2011 outdoor champion in the 1,500 meters. “So I knew he was good, but winning a national championship and ‘good’ are not necessarily the same thing. So seeing him win was incredible, really.”
Whether the two Adams State runners will try to defend their 1-2 finish at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships this May in Pueblo, Colo., is still uncertain.
After all, once they go back to school in Alamosa, Colo., they each largely go in separate directions.
Graham will again be a senior living off campus, while Berian will be a freshman living in the dorms.
Unless something changes in their schedules, Graham will still train at different times than Berian, and still for more distance.
The extent that either of them will actually race the 800 this spring is still up in the air as well. Berian, who also ran the 400 in Adams State’s distance medley relay on Friday, figures he will probably focus mostly on the quarter-mile.
Even the two athletes’ paths to Adams State are vastly different. Graham, 27, discovered the school in 2008 after taking some time off to travel.
“I talked to some DI schools and that stuff fell through,” he said. “I thought the dream was dead, and then I found out about DII and found it had different eligibility rules. [I] typed in on Google ‘best DII school,’ and Adams State came to the top.”
Adams State, on the other hand, found Berian at the Colorado high school track and field championships, where the Widefield High School senior winning his second consecutive titles in the 400 and the 800 (he also won with the 4×400 relay). Berian holds state records in both events.
“The school in general, and just all the coaches, they were very welcoming” Berian said. “They were excited to have me just come visit. It’s just a great program.”
Alas, not everything is different. At the very least, both Graham and Berian are majoring in human performance.