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Interval Session #83 - Jakub Zivec

By Dave Devine - November 20, 2008

Last weekend, Jakub Zivec, Minnesota's not-so-well-kept distance secret, became the cause célèbre of South Dakota at the 2nd annual Nike Cross National Heartland Regional, winning the boys championship race and taking down defending champ Joash Osoro. Hailing from Litomerice, Czech Republic, a small town near Prague, Zivec arrived in the US this fall to live for a semester with his uncle, Vladimir Cervenka, in Grand Rapids MN. Although the 17 year-old meets the eligibility requirements for competing as a high schooler--meaning he can race in post-season events like NXN and Foot Locker--he is not part of an official foreign exchange program, which meant that according to Minnesota state association rules he was ineligible to compete for the varsity team at Grand Rapids High.

Resigned to JV races, Zivec won by large margins and threw down some of the fastest 5k cross country times Minnesotans have ever seen. The highlight, until last Saturday, was a 14:53 at a Grand Rapids home meet early in the season. Astute track observers might have noticed Zivec was a 2007 finalist in the 3k at the World Youth Championships, where he set his current PR of 8:19 in the prelim heat. Due to return to the Czech Republic in mid-January, Jakub has less than two months to make his mark in US racing circles. With the two largest post-season XC races looming inside that window, with one qualifier down and one to go, he stands a good chance of making that mark a lasting one.

DyeStat senior editor Dave Devine heads to Minnesota for a quick chat with a Czech on the move.
1) First of all, congratulations on your big win at the Nike Cross Nationals Heartland Regional. Can you describe how that race went for you? Were you at all nervous to be racing Joash Osoro, the defending champion? Was there a point at which you decided to pull away in the race, or did you just gradually open up a lead?

Thank you. The race was pretty hard; the weather was cold and especially the wind. I have never run in weather like this, so it was a new experience for me. The race itself was fun and the atmosphere of the race was awesome. During the race I was trying to stay in touch with the top runners and especially Joash Osoro. He is an excellent runner, so I wanted to pull away 1K before the finish. It worked, but it was very hard to keep running fast. He was still close behind me. I have to admit that it was harder than I expected and I made some mistakes. Anyway, I am glad I won.

2) It must have felt great to race against some serious competition after months of competing at the JV level and winning by wide margins. Can you talk about the build-up to last weekend's race? Was it frustrating for you to be held out of Minnesota varsity races? Were you just biding your time until you could show your talents against top-level competition? How did you stay motivated?

Yeah, I finally had an opportunity to compete with the best runners in the US, so it was awesome! Believe me, there is nothing worse than watching your teammates racing and knowing that you can't do anything to help them, or having to run with the JV just because of some rule. I was trying to stay focused on the big races like Nike [Heartland] invitational and Foot Locker, so it was not hard to stay motivated.

3) Were there any particular workouts which let you know you were ready for a strong race at the Heartland Regional? Can you describe a typical week of training for you this season as you prepared for the post-season meets?

I had many hard workouts, but just my personal best [5k] of 14:52 let me know that I was ready to compete at the Heartland Regional. My typical week contains two or three workouts at the track, and the rest of the days I do recovery runs on trails or sometimes some hills. I usually do workouts on the track, so it's different in comparison to a workout system of running almost just mileage.

4) Your race in South Dakota qualifies you to compete in Portland, Oregon, at the Nike Cross Nationals. Do you plan to race there? What about the Foot Locker Midwest race-- is that also in your plans? Do you think you'd try to race in both Portland and San Diego, should you qualify for both?

I am definitely planning to compete in Portland and I will do my best. And about Foot Locker Midwest, I am going to race there as well, and hopefully I will qualify for the Final in San Diego. It will be a very busy month--lots of racing and lots of traveling. I am trying to stay focused for the finals and save as much power as possible.

5) I've read that you compete for a club team back home in the Czech Republic. Have you continued to perform workouts provided by your Czech club coach since you've been living in Minnesota, have you been coached by Grand Rapids coach Steve Kohorst, or has there been a balance? What similarities and what differences have you noticed between the US high school athletics system and the European club system?

That is correct, I compete for a town named Lovosice. It's a small town close to my hometown of Litomerice. Both are located close to Prague. My coach, Vladimir Venclicek, has been sending me workout plans every weekend and we are still in touch. My school coach, Steve Kohorst, lets me train on my own, but he is helping me with managing all the stuff around running and giving me useful advice which I am very grateful for. It's a big difference [running for a club team]. Mainly, we don't have many kids, because it's a club system. Usually only older kids or near-adults are in the clubs, so you have many more opportunities to run against adults, which is obviously better for improving. But I prefer the US system.

6) I understand that your uncle, Vladimir (right), is a biathlon coach at a local college in Minnesota. Is that a sport in which you've competed at all? What other athletic pursuits have you been involved with besides running, and how did you initially get your start in this sport?

I tried to do summer biathlon, which is almost the same, but instead of skiing you have to run. Fortunately, I was a pretty bad shooter so I started to prefer running. When I was younger I was involved in soccer, swimming, biathlon and track at the same time. But I was best in running, so I started to do just running. My beginnings weren't so successful, but after a time I started improving and winning competitions. After being in the [3k] final at World youth Championships in 2007, I realized that I should be dedicated to running.

7) How does your hometown of Litomerice compare to Grand Rapids MN? What things about living in the United States have you enjoyed? What things have you missed about back home? Has anything about the US surprised you, and do you have any "new favorite things" since living here?

My hometown is approximately two times bigger [than Grand Rapids], but as you may know, European cities are a lot different. I am enjoying every single day, because it's not going to last forever. Living here is almost like my dream which I wanted for a long time. Obviously, I miss my family and friends, but I still have something to do, so I don't even have time to miss them. Almost everything surprised me, but the difficulty of school surprised me the most :-)
Favorite things here in Grand Rapids are cool friends which I have met. Also, running here is way more fun and much more popular, and I can't forget the family trip to California.

8) I've read that your current plan is to return home to the Czech Republic in January, where you'll complete another year and a half of schooling before hopefully returning to the US for college. Now that you've had a taste of running and competing in the US, do you wish you were able to run a track season here too, or do you feel like you'll get stronger competition back home? Has living here made you think about coming back sooner?

Yeah, that's what I would wish! But that's not possible because of some obligations in my school [back home]. I don't see a difference between training at home or here, with the same training plan. Living here made me make the decision to go onto college in the US.

Thank you for the interview!

Photos: top, John Dye; bottom, Donna Dye

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