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Robbie Andrews, photo by PhotoRun.net
There is nothing coy about Robby Andrews.  Last summer, after advancing in his semi-final round of the men's 800 meters, Andrews bounded into the mixed-zone tent.  When asked how he felt after qualifying for the 800m final, Andrews exclaimed, "I feel f&%$king great!!"   What you see is what you get with track & field's Jersey Boy.  It's much the same with his racing.  When the former NCAA 800 meter champion is on his game, no middle distance competitor is safe when facing Andrews' ferocious finishing kick - one of the best in the business.
Robby Andrews skillfully employed that weapon over the closing 80 meters of the USATF indoor national championship 1000 meter final earlier this month.  Swinging wide around the final curve, Andrews downshifted and tore past Michael Rutt, Kyle Merber, and Corey Leslie to win his first USATF national title going away.  "I was second the last two years indoors and to finally come away with a victory at the indoor national championships is something that I have been wanting for the last two years now," offers Andrews, clearly relishing his first national championship win as a professional.  "The USATF put the 1000 meters in there so I wasn't about shy away from one of my favorite distances."
The one kilometer distance seems to be the perfect race length for the still-young middle distance specialist.  "I've only run a few 1000's in my life, but a few of them have been pretty good all the way back to high school," notes Andrews  who ran 2:22.28 back in 2009 to break Alan Webb's national high school record at 1000 meters.  But with no 1000m as a championship distance for Olympic or World Championship competition, what event does Andrews choose as he prepares to compete for a global team position?  Does he go up to the 1500m?  Or down to the 800m?
"I ran the 1500m at the 2012 Olympic Trials.  I am relatively inexperienced in the 1500 and I haven't experienced a whole lot more since then," explains Andrews on his prior experimentation with the metric mile.  "I had kind of had a rough go at the 1500 and the mile since then.  So this year I am thinking that I want to try and really have some successful attempts at the 1500.  That way I can be very comfortable with the distance, very comfortable with racing in the rounds, and everything that goes with it.  That would give me the best opportunity to make the world team," he explains.   While he admits he has more to learn, the 2011 NCAA outdoor 800m champion has picked up some metric mile insights.  "You can't run it like an 800m," Andrews admits.  "I tried to the do that at the finals in the Olympic Trials.  I tried to make one big move and it cost me an Olympic spot.  Where if I had worked my way up slowly throughout that race, I would have been in much shorter striking distance and hopefully would have had a better finish.  Knowing that and looking forward, if I ran similar to the way I ran at the indoor championships in the 1000, I would have had a much better opportunity."  And with a reflective admission, he smiles and adds, "But, you know that's racing.  That's living and learning.  If I can apply what I've learned in future races, it wasn't a lost experience."
With his eye on the 1500m, Andrews is clear he wants to retain some flexibility in settling upon a specialty event.  "If something [suggests I should look strongly at the shorter race] I would have no problem stepping down to the 800m and running the shorter distance," offers Andrews who turned heads when he ran 1:44.71 in the 800m at age 20.  "In my mind right now, I want to aim for the 1500m and a championship style of racing that has me in the U.S. finals and the world championships and the Olympic team."
Ah, but what is that "championship style" of racing?  In Moscow's mixed zone in 2013, newly-minted 800m world championship silver medalist Nick Symmonds freely admitted his altered racing style - which  eschewed his engrained sit-and-kick approach for a more upfront racing tactic - played a major role in his capturing his first global medal.  Symmonds revealed he was frustrated by being full of run with 180 meters remaining in global 800m finals, yet encumbered by late race traffic which denied him a clear path to the finish line.  His near-the-front tactic switch gave him that clear path - and the medal he had chased unsuccessfully for many years.  "For him to make changes he has made in his running style over the years is truly amazing.  It says what kind of runner he is, how strong minded he is," declares Andrews with genuine respect for Symmonds' adjustment.  "For him to be in that situation [up leading with 80 meters to go] as opposed to being 6th or 7th, that is what everyone's goal is.  That's what my goal is: to get a World medal or an Olympic medal."  And with a pause, he adds, "If that [a shift in racing style] is what it is going to take, then maybe I should give that a try.  But I definitely know that I am going to have to change something in order to be more successful."
To get his house in order, Robby Andrews has undertaken more than simply event selection.  This fall he returned to Charlottesville to take care of some unfinished business:  he completed his undergraduate program and earned his degree.  "I graduated in December.  I have a diploma from the University of Virginia," states Andrews with discernable pride. "It is something I am really proud of.  And it is something that is important to me."
And he has taken other steps to enhance has opportunities for further middle distance success.  Sensing the fit was just not right, Andrews found a way to gracefully step away from the New Jersey / New York Track Club.  And he did it without burning bridges with coach Frank Gagliano or harming friendships with his NJNYTC teammates.  "It was really unfortunate that the New Jersey / New York group didn't work out for me," offers Andrews with sincerity.  "But I love the sport too much and I care too much about it to not try and make things work.  So I am willing to do just about anything to make it work and be successful." Honing in on his own apartment in the greater Princeton area and now reunited with his former UVA coach Jason Vigilante and his father who will once again serve as his coaching tandem, Andrews feels he has now created the overall environment that can help guide him to greater success in the sport he clearly embraces.  "I just felt like I would be more comfortable with what has worked in the past."
The New Jersey native - who won't celebrate his 24th birthday until later this month - is not unlike other 20-somethings who often just need a little time to sort out early adulthood.  Andrews - who knew these were changes he needed to make - is philosophical on whether all the stars and planets are at last properly aligned to allow him to fully realize his undeniable middle distance potential.  "It is interesting here to see Symmonds win a medal when he was in his late 20's and Duane Solomon experience a resurgence in his career in his late 20's.   Then you have guys like Matthew [Centrowitz] win a medal when he was 21 years old.  There is no one way to do it," states Andrews.  "I had hoped I would have been on the Centrowitz side of things.  But if it has to wait until I am 27, 28, 29,  I have no problem with that.  You just have to tough through it and hope that you believe in yourself and the training you do."
Feeling great after dealing with a couple nicks and pings around the beginning of the year, a healthy Andrews is now headed to San Diego to prepare for what he knows will be a competitive World Championship year.  He wants to be at his best at Hayward Field at the end of June when WC team spots are up for grabs. He knows some carefully-selected under distance racing is critical.  "I've talked to Vig about that.  The first thing he said was, 'I know we're running the 15, but we need to get you in a really nice 800.'  My PR's are from 2011 and 2012.  And it's time to knock those down."  And he adds,  "I would really like to run the World Relays again.  I am talking to Duane [Solomon] , Mike [Rutt], and Brandon [Johnson] .  We've said that we've wanted to come back this year and try to beat the Kenyan team and the Polish team that beat us last year, " explains an animated Andrews, chuckling impishly as he contemplates a possible junket to Nassau.  "And the New York Grand Prix - the Diamond League - there is a race there I am running.  It's been a tough go the last couple of years there, so I'd really like to have a good showing there."
American track & field, recently making strides to recapture some of the prominence and glory it had lost over the years, can benefit from the emergence of talented and free-spirited athletes like Robby Andrews who combines a refreshing, mischievous personality with a swashbuckling racing style.  While it remains to be seen if Andrews' new environment and his restored coaching duo can provide the stability to allow the new national indoor 1000 meter champion to fully cultivate his widely-recognized middle distance talent, those who love our sport will be eager to witness Andrews' upcoming outdoor adventures in this championship year.

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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