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ND Track and Field: Smyth returns to NCAA’s for third time in his career

Joe Meixell | Thursday, November 20, 2008

When Patrick Smyth lines up for the start of the NCAA Championships Monday, the view will be a familiar one.

This is the senior’s fourth trip to Terre Haute, Ind., for the national finals, and his eighth overall run on the course. That includes his fourth place finish at the 2008 Pre-national meet on Oct. 18.

“I’m going to be thinking back to that race, where I could have run smarter, where I could have run stronger, just try to visualize the course and visualize the race,” Smyth said.

After winning his second straight regional meet on Saturday, expectations for Smyth are higher than ever. Smyth finished 15th at nationals in 2007 and has been improving ever since. Following Saturday’s regional, coach Joe Piane called Smyth “one of the best runners in the country.”

Smyth said his elite status is surreal.

“It’s always what I aspired to,” he said. “People say those things about me, and it’s unbelievable that that’s where I’m at.”

Smyth said he looks forward to being the veteran presence as the No. 29 Irish men, who are mostly freshmen and sophomores, head to the national meet.

“I’ve been there before and in a lot of different circumstances,” Smyth said. “Pretty much what I’ve been telling the guys that at the national meet any weakness you have is going to be exposed because the level of talent there is so high. We’ve been working since June all the way up to this point.”

He said that it is very tough to treat the championships like just another race.

“There’s definitely more pressure,” he said. “Some people respond really well to it, and some people don’t. It’s really unique – it’s 10k, it’s over hill and dale, the weather could be good or bad, you have to be prepared for anything. I would argue it’s the toughest race in the whole NCAA system, including winter track and outdoor track.”

Smyth said he hopes to get the front of the pack early in the race, and to stay there.

“I’m going to put myself in a good spot and just hope for the best, run the smartest race that I can,” he said. “Once you’ve put yourself in that position, anything can happen.

“As for the team, I mean, we were the last team to get a berth, so the only way to go from here is up.”

This race is also important for Smyth’s post-graduate running opportunities.

“You’re only as good as your last race when you’re looking to run after college,” he said. “I’m just trying to make that last race as fast as possible.”

Smyth was not always a runner. The cross country coach at his Salt Lake City high school convinced him join the team as a way to get in shape for basketball, his primary sport at the time.

“The cross country coach was always trying to steal athletes from other sports,” Smyth said. “I thought it was a good idea, to get in some good workouts and get ready for basketball season. When I got down there, I realized I was pretty good.”

Smyth was a standout runner in high school, winning the Utah state cross-country championships twice. Though he considered schools like Georgetown and Stanford, he said he found Notre Dame to be the best fit both academically and athletically.

He made an impact immediately in 2005, his freshman year, placing well in several races. None was bigger than his 99th place finish at nationals that year. In the last 1,000 meters, Smyth put on a burst of speed to run past 15 competitors and was the fifth Irish runner to cross the finish line, assuring the team would place third overall.

“I kind of came through in the clutch there, and that was kind of the springboard to the rest of my career,” Smyth said. “A lot of people see the individual side of cross country because everyone talks about the frontrunners and whatnot, but it’s really a team sport.

“I’d have to say that was my greatest accomplishment.”

The four-time all-Big East and two time All-American certainly has several accomplishments to pick from, and looks to add one more on Monday.