Runner shatters Minnesota mile time

Ben Blankenship ran the first sub-4 minute mile for Minn. on March 6.

by Derek Wetmore

After competing for Mississippi State in his freshman season, a return home has helped Stillwater native Ben Blankenship reach new heights. The junior cross country and track runner for the Gophers recently set the school record for the mile by finishing with a time of 3 minutes, 57.87 seconds âÄì the first sub-four-minute mile ever recorded for Minnesota. The record-breaking run came just a week after Blankenship was crowned the Big Ten champion in the mile. Blankenship said he hadnâÄôt competed in the mile all year until the preliminary round for the Big Ten meet, only one week before he set the record at an NCAA qualifying meet in Seattle . Most of his middle-distance experience comes from his high school days at Stillwater, where Blankenship was a two-time state champion in the 1,600 meter for Class AA. He broke his leg two weeks before the state meet of his senior cross country season. âÄúIt was kind of a traumatic event,âÄù Blankenship said, adding that doctors believed it was a stress fracture as opposed to a fracture. âÄúI kind of limped around, but I wasnâÄôt in mortal pain or anything.âÄù The broken leg affected the recruiting process, as most schools were only willing to take a chance on him once the injury had completely healed. Blankenship signed with the Bulldogs a nd went through rehabilitation before earning 2007 SEC All-Freshman team honors. But something at Mississippi State didnâÄôt quite fit for Blankenship, and he contacted the Gophers coaching staff to ask if a return closer to home was possible. After expiring a year of eligibility in outdoor track as well as cross country, Blankenship transferred to Minnesota where he now competes in both sports in addition to running during the indoor track season. Minnesota head track and cross country coach Steve Plasencia said he admires BlankenshipâÄôs versatility. âÄúCertainly, heâÄôs a more elite competitor in the mile,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúBut heâÄôs been a strong competitor for us in cross country as well.âÄù Blankenship has the rare ability to run any distance from 800 meters all the way up to 10 kilometers and compete in the upper echelon of talent across the country. Plasencia said the record-setting run has garnered Blankenship more recognition on a team that includes All-Americans Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough . The mark recorded at the Washington qualifier destroyed the decade-old Minnesota record of 4:02.56 (held by Andrew McKessock ) by nearly five seconds. Blankenship said part of his current success is because of the help heâÄôs received from supporters. âÄú[My parents have] been monumental supporters through this crazy career of mine, supporting the decisions that IâÄôve made âÄî good or bad,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôve got to give them props.âÄù The runner will now hope for an equally strong outdoor season. But after all Blankenship has overcome to this point, the record is nice to have. âÄúI feel good about it. It feels like IâÄôm finally making progress in the direction that I wanted to go in … The goal is always to keep going (faster).âÄù