Owen kicks into gear after bout with foot injury

by Jim Schortemeyer

When Jason Owen was in eighth grade, he placed fourth in the 800-meter run at the Minnesota State High School League Track and Field Championship.
He went on to win four consecutive championships in that event, and he set the Class A state record twice in two days. But those impressive high school results didn’t necessarily transfer to his running on the Minnesota men’s track and field team.
Between high school and college, athletes either adjust and prosper, or they lose something and never quite achieve what was once expected of them.
For a while, it wasn’t clear which type of athlete Owen was going to be. As a freshman last year, Owen was plagued by plantar fascitis, the same foot injury that hobbled the Twins’ Marty Cordova last year. This year, he suffered from problems in his back, which hampered his indoor running.
It was obvious from the beginning that talent wasn’t the main concern. Owen’s reputation preceded his arrival at the University. Minnesota assistant track coach Steve Plasencia arrived at the University just before Owen did.
“I came from outside the area, so when I got here the tales of Jason were all over,” Plasencia said. “I heard a lot of tales about his running prowess.”
After Owen’s rough start, Plasencia is seeing what the talk was about.
Injuries now aside, Owen has begun to flourish in his signature event, the 800 meters. In the last month, Owen has been a consistent top-five finisher, and set the fastest time in the Big Ten. Owen and Plasencia attribute the turnaround to separate things.
“In high school, I would get in front by 50 or so meters by the end of the race,” Owen said, adding he’s had to adjust to running in the middle of the pack in college.
Plasencia’s reasoning for the turnaround centers not so much on adjustments in Owen’s running, but in the coaches’ attitude.
“Definitely, from my perspective, we were very conservative with him during the indoor season,” Plasencia said.
Despite his improvement, Owen has at least one big hurdle remaining on his spring schedule. Although he posted the fastest time in the Big Ten this season, he was beaten by Bobby True twice at the Drake Relays last weekend.
True was last year’s Big Ten champ in the 800, and has run faster this year than he did last year. At Drake, True beat Owen in the 800 (second place to third), and True’s Illinois 4×800 relay team edged Minnesota’s by one place. The weekend of racing gave Owen a strategy for tracking down True at the Big Ten Championships.
“I have to hang back, and maybe outkick him in the end,” Owen said. “I realized that right now he has more speed than me.”
Despite losing to True, Owen did have a faster time for several weeks this spring and has yet to have a big resting period. That’s when 800 runners typically drop around a second off of their previous best time.
Owen’s new strategy is a far cry from his high school days. Sometimes he’d get ahead in a race so he could relax the rest of the way in. Back then, it was common for Owen to win his races by 75 meters (an eternity in track).
Because of the increase in talent around him, Owen said his goals have had to change as well. Instead of always expecting to win, he aims for good races.
With that in mind, Owen’s goals are still lofty, but slightly toned down for the Big Ten Championships, May 23-24.
“My goal is to get second,” he said. “I’d like to win, but I’ll be happy with second.”