Brent Vaughn’s win at the USA Cross Country Championships on Saturday was a long way coming him. Vaughn has shown tremendous promise at various points in his career, notably when he challenged Bernard Lagat for the win at the 2008 Payton Jordan Invitational 5000 meters. Although he didn’t win, he came out of the race with a massive personal best and a Colorado school record of 13:18.46. That performance caught the attention of many who placed him in discussion for a spot on the Beijing Olympic team.
Although Vaughn fared well in the fast-paced Stanford race, his inability to finish races was his major downfall as he was outkicked by Bobby Curtis at the NCAA championships later that season. At the Olympic Trials, Vaughn sped off to an early lead in hopes of decisively breaking away from the field to avoid a situation in which his kick would come into play. The ploy failed to work as he was eaten back up by the pack and ultimately finished in ninth.
Since then, Vaughn has been fairly under the radar. His first first season as a professional was been pretty uneventful given the high expectations placed upon him.
Vaughn made a coaching change to Jay Johnson in 2010 and finally seems to be reaching his potential. Johnson, himself a former CU Buffalo, held an assistant coaching position at the university for a few years before making the switch to coaching a stable of professionals in the Boulder area. Famous for his online training videos of supplementary exercises used in addition to running, Johnson preaches the use of these ancillary workouts to his runners.
The adjustments Vaughn has made to his new training structure seem to finally be paying off. One could see signs of the old Brent coming back in 2010, when he ran a solid half marathon debut in 62:04 in January and also performed well at the Bolder Boulder Memorial Day road race.
The quality training he put in this winter were evident at last week’s USA Half Marathon Championships despite the bad outcome. Vaughn looked extremely relaxed while at the front of the pack through six miles, but had to drop out due to breathing issues.
Knowing he was fit, Vaughn entered USA Cross with the intention of putting in the hard effort he missed out on the previous week, and, boy, did he do that in San Diego. With the pack still crowded past 8k, Vaughn decided to employ his half marathon strength and put in a massive surge to string out the field. He soon gained an immense lead that would not be overcome.
The move he made took a tremendous amount of guts and confidence knowing guys like Tegenkamp, Moran, and Bumbalough would be chasing in pursuit. After the race, Vaughn admitted that his fear of others’ kicks was the primary motivation for his decisive action.
What’s next for Brent Vaughn? After winning his first U.S. title, he will be competing at the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbría, Spain. I wouldn’t take a whole lot out of his performance there since the World meet is always a tough one for first-timers to succeed in.
However, the confidence that he has gained from the race in San Diego will carry him through the 2011 track season and into the future. The mind is a tricky thing for runners as any doubts can doom one to failure while confidence can spur one to great success.
Take the case of Chris Solinsky. He ran well in his first two seasons out of college, but never fully reached his potential. It wasn’t until he set the American record in the 10,000 meters that he gained the self-confidence that he was among the best in the world and proved it in a number of 5k races over the summer.
Vaughn can do the same. Now that he knows he can beat America’s best, he will not fear racing them in the biggest competitions, notably the USA Outdoor Championships. With Solinsky likely not running the 10k at nationals, look for Vaughn to place strongly in that event and challenge for a spot on the U.S. team for the World Championships in Daegu.
Brent Vaughn has always exemplified the blue collar work ethic needed to excel in running. Now that he has some momentum at his back, his commitment to the sport will carry him to the great things people expected out of him after that 2008 Stanford race.