Deng finds home in 800-meter run

The senior was an All-American in the event last year running outdoors.

Goaner Deng crosses the finish line of the men's 400-meter relay race at the University of Minnesota Field House on Jan. 23.

Sam Harper, Daily File Photo

Goaner Deng crosses the finish line of the men’s 400-meter relay race at the University of Minnesota Field House on Jan. 23.

Ryan Falk

Goaner Deng is off to a good start to his senior year on Minnesota’s track and field team, and it’s all by design.
 
 
Deng, one of the team’s captains, runs the 800 meters for the team and tries to grab the lead as soon as possible.
 
 
“A lot of times with the 800, you just have to be tactical,” Deng said. “I like to get in front of the race, and that way I can control where I go. I like to be in space where I can move with 200 meters left.” 
 
 
Deng still has the competitive streak he developed at Rosemount High School, where he competed in three sports. He lettered in track, football and basketball at the school.
 
 
“What I took away [from the other sports] was learning to compete and setting the standard about winning,” Deng said. “[I played] wide receiver, which I loved because I could just run up and down the field.”
 
 
In high school, Deng wanted to focus more on football and basketball until a coach made him try out for the track team. Now, he’s one of Minnesota’s leaders and top runners.
 
 
The senior was less than a quarter-second off from setting a Minnesota Fieldhouse record in the 800 meters last Friday at the Snowshoe Open with a time of 1:49.82.
 
 
Deng didn’t run the 800 meters before coming to Minnesota, just the 200- and 400-meter races, but he’s settled into the event in college.
 
 
“He’s really found a home in the 800,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “His growth in terms of what he’s capable of doing has continued to grow.”
 
 
The Apple Valley, Minn., native needed some time to adjust to the longer event, something he said was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. 
 
 
“The biggest adjustment was learning how to race,” Deng said. “I’ve always had the fitness level [to run the 800]. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to tactically race and adjust things that happen out there.”
 
 
He first ran the event during the 2013 outdoor season of his freshman year. He finished with a time of 1:50.39 in the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships but was eliminated after the preliminaries.
 
 
Deng continued to grow in the event last season, taking fourth at the 2015 Big Ten Outdoor Championships with a time of 1:49.24. He narrowly missed the NCAA finals in the 800 meters but ran a career-best 1:47.32 in the preliminaries and was named an All-American. 
 
 
The captain is striving to improve not just as an individual this year, though. He’s trying to do his part to make the entire team better.
 
 
“I try to lead by example,” Deng said. “At practice when coach [Plasencia] gets to see us, that’s where I need to be vocal and sometimes get on the younger guys.”