Sprinter pursues health and heroes this summer

Brian Hall

Mitch Potter’s heroes can be seen competing in events ranging from the Goodwill Games to the Summer Olympics games.

The Minnesota track standout had the opportunity to compete against those athletes as he participated in the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., held from June 21-24.

The national championships helped determine who would represent the United States in the World Track and Field Championships, the Goodwill games and the World Student Games.

Potter competed in the 400-meter dash and finished sixth in his preliminary heat with a time of 46.53. The time, behind his collegiate best of 45.40, kept Potter from continuing in the championships.

“I went into it a little overwhelmed,” Potter said. “I saw guys that run in the Olympics. Now I see though, the opportunity to compete at this level isn’t far-fetched. It’s not as far away as it seems.”

As Gophers men’s track and field coach Phil Lundin summarizes, the experience and ability to rub shoulders with the world’s best will help Potter realize those athletes face similar competitive challenges.

“They certainly aren’t gods,” Lundin said.

Even though Potter did not perform as well as he hoped, for a runner entering only his second season of collegiate track and field there was much to be learned from competing at the event.

“The more experience you can have at the top level as a developing athlete, the more familiar you become with the protocol of the big meets,” Lundin said. “The familiarity of the top level will help him tremendously as he heads down the road.”

Staying healthy is one thing which could help Potter as he heads down the road. Injuries have slowed his development into a top runner.

Potter has become the definition of injury prone; he’s gone through seven surgeries, including one on each foot. Last season, Potter was distracted by a hamstring pull yet managed to win All-America honors participating with Tom Gerding, Andy Wohlin and Mikael Jakobsson in the 4×400-meter relay at the NCAA championships.

Gerding, who completed his fourth year, has had a calming effect on the normally hyper Potter. Gerding has helped prepare Potter for life in collegiate track, giving Potter someone of championship caliber to compete with day in and day out.

Yet Gerding, a three-time All-American, is left in awe of Potter.

“He’s a freak,” Gerding said. “He has spent more time rehabilitating than training. To be able to do what he does on such limited training is just unreal.”

Gerding’s help will now continue in the form of training, as he returns to the team as an undergraduate assistant coach next year.

The coaching staff has been impressed with Potter’s ability to come in as a freshman and compete at the national level, yet all sides concede there is still room for Potter to improve.

“He likes to chase people,” Lundin said. “It’s as if he lets people catch up so he can chase them again. He is very good at it, but it’s not always the best way to run a race.”

Potter understands he must now build on his success as a freshman. Next season, he aims to run more races, become more consistent and stay away from the training room.

Injuries aside, Potter continues to chase his heroes and make his own mark in track and field. Someday a college sophomore may be gunning for him.

Brian Hall welcomes comments at [email protected].