It would seem that 1999 was sprinter Tom Gerding’s year. He was Big Ten champion in the 400-meter dash broke several school records and won every race he was in.
But if you ask Gerding, who this season lost every race he ran, 2000 was definitely his year.
Named an All-American as one of the eight fastest collegians in the 400 this year, the junior became the first sprinter to garner such an honor in the history of the track and field program at Minnesota.
“In 1999 I won every race, but this year I ran faster and lost,” Gerding said. “I hate to lose, but it’s more important to improve.”
Gerding’s career as a Gopher has been a history of consistent improvements. He holds three school records and is considered an all-time performer in five different events.
For Minnesota, not typically known as a school that attracts sprinters, Gerding is just the beginning of what coach Phil Lundin hopes is a new era for the Gophers.
“In the last five years we have developed some sprinters and hurdlers at the conference level, which is unusual given our climate and the lack of tradition to sprints and hurdles.
“It goes to show that if these kids are given a chance we can create some talent. Our 4×100 (relay team) placed well this year, and it’s a tribute to them considering three of the four guys were from Duluth,” Lundin said.
Attracting Gerding to the program was no small feat on Lundin’s behalf. Courted by schools like Princeton, Arizona State and Wisconsin, Gerding was offered the chance to take on football and basketball in addition to track and field.
But for Gerding, who held two state titles in the 400 and had several nationally ranked times, Minnesota’s lack of sprint tradition wasn’t a problem. He liked Lundin, who chose to forego the typical freshman redshirt season based on his high school credentials. Since then Gerding has dominated the 400 in the Big Ten as well as the 600 indoors despite a spate of injuries.
Fellow sprinter Steve Burkholder has found Gerding’s dedication indicative of his future potential in the sport.
“Tom’s training and dedication to track and field has been excellent,” Burkholder said. “He’s always setting harder goals for himself and depending on his training and what he wants to do, the sky is the limit for him.”
Facing the possibility of hernia surgery later this summer that has kept him away from practice, Gerding feels it’s “too early to be specific” about his goals for next season.
But Lundin doesn’t see it that way.
“I expect Tom to continue improving and to make the final in the NCAA’s, to be an All-American again,” Lundin said. “He’s capable of 45 flat or better in the 400 and going to the U.S. National meet. Tom is a very, very strong competitor.”
After missing the qualifying time for the Olympic trials this year by mere tenths of a second, Gerding is already entertaining ideas for post-collegiate competition. For most runners that means heading to Europe.
“I believe I could be a world-class runner, I just need to get my feet wet over there,” Gerding said. “There are meets around here but they don’t pay very much and the opportunities and support are not as plentiful here as they are in Europe.”
Should Gerding compete post-collegiatelly he would most likely retire from the 400. Because the United States has more than half of the top 50 400-meter dash runners, he would move to the 800 where he has a better chance of dominating the less congested competition.
But before he heads abroad, Gerding would like to find a happy medium between his 1999 winning season and his 2000 speed season.
“Hard work can only take you so far,” Gerding said. “It’s a big combination of natural ability, desire and hard work. But hopefully I can make it happen.”
Monica Wright welcomes comments at [email protected]