Andrew Wheating had the world – or at least the world of American middle distance running – in his hands after the 2010 track season.
After winning the NCAA 800-1500 meter double and graduating from the University of Oregon, Wheating ventured to Europe for his first stint on the summer track circuit and caught fire. The Norwich, Vermont native set massive personal bests while taking on some of the world’s best runners. He closed on Abubaker Kaki on his way to running 1:44.56 for 800 meters in London and became the fourth-fastest 1500 meter runner in U.S. history with his 3:30.90 in Monaco.
The performances of the summer not only brought great attention to Wheating but also high expectations. America has long looked for the next top miler to live up to the glory days of the 1960′s, 70′s and 80′s when the likes of Jim Ryun, Marty Liquori and Steve Scott fought for medals at international competitions.
The public put immense pressure on Alan Webb to perform at the world stage. He has been plagued with injuries in recent years but the weight of expectation has surely played a part in his struggles.
Wheating has similarly failed to live up to expectations in 2011. First, his outdoor debut was delayed by a hamstring strain. An early season win at the USATF High Performance Meet was followed by disappointing races at the Prefontaine Classic and U.S. Championships - where he finished fourth and only qualified to Worlds when Bernard Lagat withdrew himself from consideration in the 1500 meters.
Wheating ran well in Paris – good enough to earn the ‘A’ standard and officially punch his ticket to the World Championships – but was unable to hold on to that momentum as the nagging hamstring injury forced him to miss training and pull out of the Herculis Diamond League on the same Monaco track that he had his breakthrough last season.
The missed time and lacking fitness contributed to his lackluster performance in Daegu on Tuesday as Wheating placed eighth in his preliminary heat and will not be moving on to the semi-finals – a fitting culmination to a season full of potential that ultimately did not come to fruition.
What’s next for Andrew Wheating? In a post-race message to fans on his Facebook page, Wheating proclaimed he “fully intends on healing up and coming back with a bang. No more disappointments. This year is done. It’s time to get a jump start on 2012.”
London is clearly the goal but the question about whether he can regain his 2010 mojo remains. Much like the previous American mile hope Alan Webb, Wheating has the talent but is subject to immense pressure due to prior success. It will all come down to his ability to manage the pressure and put things together to execute on the biggest stage of the Olympic Games.