Track star makes run at Olympic Trials

Kaelia Neal, Sports editor

Some people have intense work ethic but lack natural athleticism. Other people are born to be athletes but lack the drive to be a champion.

But sprint star Jake Mihelich doesn’t have to worry about that.

“Jake is the hardest worker I have ever met,” teammate Spencer Payne said.

“I don’t think I have ever met someone that is more determined or focused than Jake,” Head track coach Travis Olson said.

And if Mihelich has a goal, you better expect he will do anything to achieve it.

“If he says he is going to do it, I believe him,” Olson said.

Mihelich is a runner for the Linfield track team. His primary event is the 400-meters dash, but he also runs the 200 and 100.

Mihelich anchors both the men’s 4×100 relay and 4×400 relay. Every time he runs the final leg, Mihelich runs like a bullet and will give everything he has to pass anyone who might be ahead.

Slender and tall, the 6-foot-1 sprinter is a threat to anyone who tries to battle with him down the home stretch.

“It doesn’t matter who is in the race, he knows he is going to win,” Olson said.

To call Mihelich a sprint star might be a bit of an understatement.

The talented junior has already won three individual Division III national titles in the 400.

At the 2016 Northwest Conference Championships, Mihelich easily conquered the 400 and the 200. He also anchored both relay teams, and each finished second.

To top off the conference championships, Mihelich won Track Athlete of the Meet for the second year in a row.

While the season ended for most Linfield track athletes, Mihelich’s season is just beginning.

He is almost fully guaranteed a ticket to nationals as he is ranked first among all Division III 400 runners and ranked eighth in the 200. The top 20 Division III men make it to the championships.

For most elite Division III track athletes, their season will end at nationals in Iowa this year, though Mihelich has goals that set him apart.

“He definitely wants to repeat as national champ and then make the U.S. Olympic trials. I also think that the school record will go along with those goals,” Olson said.

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials automatic qualifying standard in the men’s 400 is 45.40 seconds, but Mihelich said, “46.2 most likely gets you in.”

Mihelich’s personal best 400 time is 46.61. That’s an average of 11.6 per 100, which is only about two one-hundredths of a second off of the men’s 100 NWC qualifying mark, and he runs that four times around the track.

“The standard for the trials is going to take a pretty special time but I never doubt what Jake can do,” Olson said.

When it comes to his goals, Mihelich is as determined as a cheetah on his hunt.

After college, Mihelich has even bigger plans.

“I want to go to graduate school or go to the Olympics and become a professional runner,” Mihelich said.

But not long ago, these types of goals were probably not in his agenda.

Growing up, Mihelich played soccer, basketball and baseball. Soccer was his favorite sport.

He was inspired to try cross country in middle school since his father, Jeff, is a triathlete and marathoner.

“Cross country was really fun,” Mihelich said.

His other family members are also athletes. His mother, Kimberly, played tennis and Jenna, like her older brother, is also testing her potential on the track.

In high school, Mihelich decided to do track, cross country and soccer. He was on varsity for track and cross country all four years of high school, and he was on varsity soccer for three.

However, he did not become a standout athlete until his senior year. During this time, he was awarded most valuable player in soccer, was among the top-15 cross country runners in the Arizona region, and qualified for state in both the 400 and 4×800 relay.

Mihelich had not tried the 400 until his senior year of high school. During his debut performance in that event, he made history.

“The coach wouldn’t let me [run the 400], but I signed up behind his back. I broke the school record,” Mihelich said.

Mihelich said his athletic success was due to growing five inches over a span of about three months. He also said confidence played a huge role as well.

When Mihelich became a Wildcat, he tried out for the men’s soccer team and made it, but he decided to run cross country instead. Ultimately, Mihelich decided to make track his main focus.

Being the runner that he is, one could assume that Mihelich deals with a lot of pressure to continue his success, but he has strategies to control the nerves to perform at an elite level.

“I visualize winning a race in all of the possible ways. I never think about losing. Last year I visualized winning nationals every day at least once,” Mihelich said.

He also listens to music, watches movies, writes screenplays, goes fishing, and hikes to help him relax and clear his mind.

Fame can cause arrogance, but not for Mihelich, and he demonstrates this by always making his team’s success a priority.

When Mihelich isn’t competing in his own event, he is constantly cheering on all of his teammates. He encourages everyone on the team and is overjoyed when his fellow athletes compete well.

“Jake is a fun person to be around and is a great captain,” Payne said.

But Mihelich knows when it’s time to be focused. By putting in his headphones and listening to his favorite genres of music, rap and hip-hop, he is able to put his game face on.

“He will joke around with teammates before practice but during, he is all business. From the warm-up until the end of the workout he is focused and does everything you ask of him. During meets he puts his headphones in and doesn’t really speak to anyone until after the race,” Olson said.

Mihelich is on the right track to achieve all of his goals. Anything is possible for the talented runner.