EUGENE, Ore. -- The fastest high school cross country coach in the nation finished seventh in the 800 meters at the Olympic Trials on Monday, wearing a T-shirt he bought at an American Eagle store and sporting a matching blue headband.
Mark Wieczorek doesn't have a shoe contract, but he ran a personal best 1:45.62 and gave it everything he had with a shot at the London Games on the line.
Wieczorek is also Washington's Cross Country Coach of the Year after taking over the program last summer and leading the Tides to the Class 4A boys championship, a US#10 ranking and a first-ever berth at Nike Cross Nationals. It was the first time he had ever been part of a high school cross country season in any capacity. And he continued to coach at the school in the spring as an assistant, but would sometimes have to leave the team for meets.
"It was awesome to be a part of it," Wieczorek said of the race, won by Nick Symmonds in 1:43.92. "I ran as hard as I could today."
Wieczorek may not have had the financial security that runners under contract enjoy, but he built a base of support that included the Gig Harbor community, and particularly the athletes that he coached. He said he received numerous calls, texts and email messages of support this week from his supporters at Gig Harbor.
Most of the team watched Wieczorek on TV Monday. At least one member of last fall's state championship team was in Eugene to cheer him on in person.
"You can't ask for more than running faster than you ever have," said Gig Harbor senior Will Drinkwater, who shouted his support for Wieczorek from the second row of the East grandstands (the backstretch).
Other members of the Gig Harbor team expressed their sadness that Wieczorek missed out on his goal of making the Olympic team.
"It was exciting to watch them progress during the season," Wieczorek said of the runner's he coached. "And then to have them supporting me (meant a lot). I love the coaching, it's the highlight of my day, being with the kids, watching their races, districts, state, it was awesome. Their excitement for running helps me along."