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the Distance Gods
Part 2- The Distance Gods are Back!
On A Mission In Mizzou: Matt Tegenkamp
By Stephen ("steveu") Underwood
It's fitting that Matt Tegenkamp is planning on majoring in business when he enters the University of Wisconsin this fall. And that he has been a member of Future Business Leaders of America.
Because he has sure taken care of business on the track and cross-country course.
From his beginnings as a middle school runner and a 5'/90-pound freshman, "Teg" has made some huge strides, literally and figuratively. Setbacks along the way have failed to deter him. Neither has running in a state with comparatively less competition than some of his peers face.
Those who hadn't heard of the Lee's Summit, Mo. senior before last December, or didn't respect him, found out who he was in a span of 14:47 at FootLocker Nationals in Orlando - where he placed an impressive fifth (left). Any who thought he might be anonymous after a quiet indoor track season knew different after he posted a winning 9:03.48 3200 meter-clocking at the Kansas Relays, then led his team to the Missouri 4A title two weeks ago.
The show in the Show Me state included a state-finals record 8:57.23, a 4:11.43 1600 - both big victories - and even a 1:55 leg on a non-winning relay.
And those results may be just an inkling of what's to come in the Golden West 8-lapper Saturday 6/10, when Tegenkamp will finally get some major competition again, with the likes of 8:10 3k Eric Logsdon of Oregon, Ohio star Steve Padgett, Texas champ Chris Emme, Penn Relays champ Aaron Emery, and fellow midwesterner Tim Keller.
Not bad for a guy whose coach says, regarding the 1:55, "When younger, we never dreamed he would have this sort of speed." But 24-year veteran mentor Dave Denny has long known he can expect the best from Teg. "He has impressed me most with his steady improvement over the years and his ability to continue to improve physically and mentally. He is able to set new goals and work hard to reach them. He is very determined."
Tegenkamp has been especially determined this spring, knowing what his mission has been. "I don't think it could've gone much better," he says, considering a campaign that started with a 3-PR day (3:10/1200, 4:17, 1:57) … But I've had to keep my head focused. Coach Denny has kept our distance up, with the track workouts … and just being smart. We've become very close friends."
Losing the Kansas Relays 1600 by .01 served as motivation, too. "I had a lot of competition in that race … and the 3200 let me know how running close to 9:00 would feel."
Teg's spirit has allowed him to make progress every step of the way. Battling with a teammate for first-place finishes in 8th-grade got him going early on, then he improved to being the top freshman in his state CC meet (52nd overall) and running 10:01 the following spring.
Sophomore year CC was especially valuable to Tegenkamp, as he moved up to second man behind teammate Ryan Fitzgerald. He would eventually lead his team to the state title with a 6th-place finish. "I basically ran behind him (earlier in the year) and he led me through races," he recalls. "Our whole team has always been very close."
A bitter pill had to be swallowed the next spring, though, when a 9:42 failed to get him to the state meet. But that allowed a chance for the trademark determination to shine through. "I was very anxious to get ready for CC," he says. "Coach put more emphasis on training during the off-season and everybody worked a whole lot harder."
"Matt began to show signs of handling tough track and XC workouts that his older teammates were running," Denny agrees. "The next fall, he had a stellar season."
Still, the road was not without a pothole. Battling an illness, Teg faded from the lead in the last half-mile of his state CC meet, finishing fourth. But he rebounded to take 19th at the FootLocker Midwest regionals, easily beating the Missou state champ.
A hard winter of training then paid off with drops in time to 4:17 and 9:14 - and his first state title in the latter. "He was able to handle 'Joe Falcon'-type workouts," says Denny, who coached the 3:49.31-miler (the last U.S. sub-3:50) both in high school and after college. "We talked about making it to FootLocker National CC, and what it would take in the summer of '99. His training level reached 60-65 miles/week for the first time and he took the next step with much confidence … Having a chance to work with Joe at an elite level obviously helped me do a better job with Matt."
Fast forward, after another individual state title, to the FootLocker Midwest Regional last fall. "Coach said I belonged here," recalls Teg. "It was my third time on that course (at Wisconsin-Parkside) and I knew I needed to get out the first 200-300 with the tight woods it has. … Then in the last 800 it seemed like (Don) Sage (of Illinois) was hurting and I really tried to push."
The runner-up finish behind Michigan's Dathan Ritzenhein thrust Tegenkamp on the national stage, where a smart, steady race got him his fifth in Orlando.
"I didn't want to settle for less than 7th," he says. "I knew it was going to be fast. … It was kind of scary hitting 9:23 for two miles, but I was still feeling comfortable. At 2-1/4 Ritzenhein really began pushing it and the last half-mile I was just trying to hold my spot."
The attitude the senior had over the weekend revealed his growing maturity. "He was as worried about helping the Midwest team as anything else," says Coach Denny. "He was very proud of that group … and taking fifth and earning first-team All-American honors was very special to him."
That leadership has carried over into the spring. After signing at Wisconsin with new-found friend Tim Keller and Josh Spiker, Teg has concentrated not only on continuing to improve himself - including continuing to progress in the weight room - but working with young teammates like 1:56 freshman Peter Browne and his 9:47/4:35 brother Marc.
"We had an awesome track team," he says. "Being able to be around to help these guys was so much fun."
Teg adds that his family (he's the son of Craig and Leigh Tegenkamp) and community have been very supportive of his running. Of course, with an older sibling guiding a younger one and his classmates, well, maybe there's a little 'tough love' involved, too. "I know they probably got mad at me sometimes … But Marc is going to be great. When he's a senior, he'll probably be trying to break my records."
Meanwhile, Matt is looking to improve his own standards in Sacramento. "I really feel like we can get in the 8:40s," he says. "Having this kind of competition makes (fast times) feel a lot easier. You've got to have a lot of guts … and I think the 5th and 6th laps are going to be very important."
However Tegenkamp's HS and college running experiences end up, he knows they will help him in the future. "Running really helps set you up for life. It gets you on a good schedule and gives you a lot of discipline."
Spoken like a true businessman. A successful one.
In the days ahead, leading up the Foot Locker outdoor championships in Raleigh, N.C. on June 16-17, we'll take a closer look at some of the athletes and teams who have made the biggest splashes this year - for both boys and girls, in the mile/1600 and 2-mile/3200.
Next: We go west to Oregon to talk with Eric Logsdon and some of the others who chased the records of a man named Pre this spring.
The Distance Gods series by Stephen Underwood:
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