Izzo achieves facing best of U.S.

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, June 17, 2021
Arkansas' Katie Izzo runs the 3,000 meters during the SEC Indoor Championships on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Fayetteville.
( Aaron Skinner)
Arkansas' Katie Izzo runs the 3,000 meters during the SEC Indoor Championships on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — A running career that has been filled with substantial peaks and a deep valley will reach a milestone for 5,000-meter runner Katie Izzo of the University of Arkansas.

Izzo will run in the 5,000 at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Friday in Eugene, Ore., five-and-a-half years after breaking her tibia and fibula at the NCAA West Regional Cross Country Championships.

Izzo transferred from Cal Poly to Arkansas, rehabbed through five consecutive cross country and track and field seasons with a 12-inch titanium rod in her leg, then helped lead the Razorbacks to consecutive NCAA championships in cross country and indoors.

“I knew I would come back to running, and I knew I would come back better, faster, stronger, but I don’t think I ever would have imagined everything that has happened to me since then,” Izzo said Wednesday from Eugene. “My goal was always to make it to nationals, ever since I was a freshman, and to be able to fulfill that goal six years later …”

Izzo said the U.S. Olympic Trials have been more of a recent dream.

“As soon as I got to Arkansas and saw my running career take off and then I had teammates excited about making the trials, that’s when it became a dream,” Izzo said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, if my teammates are trying to make the trials I can, too.’ And so yes, I always say it, but it’s really a dream come true.

“There’s been so many people that have helped me get to this point. The broken leg has brought me so many blessings. So yeah, you never know what life has in store. I keep saying I’m very excited just to be here.”

Izzo said she’s had such a wonderful time as a Razorback that she’s considering taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility that is available.

“I could write a book about that,” Izzo said of her racing journey. “I’m very grateful for my two years here. I have a seventh year and the program is so great, I’m constantly considering taking that indoor/outdoor seventh year and be the oldest person in the NCAA maybe.

“No matter what happens, I’m just grateful to be a Razorback.”

The decision on that seventh year is for the future. In the here and now, the native of Tucson, Ariz. — whose family moved to Seal Beach, Calif., for her senior year of high school — is looking to concentrate fully on the 5,000 after being a key scorer for the Razorbacks at multiple distances.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to just run a fast 5K,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for the trials so long, it’s crazy that it’s here.

“I’m just grateful to have made it here. It’s been a dream of mine. It’s crazy that it’s in two days. It’s been a wait and there has been so many great moments in between.”

Izzo hit her qualifying standard at an indoor race at Boston University back in late 2019. At that race, she knew she would easily beat her personal best of 16:08.

She looked up the qualifying time with former UA teammate Taylor Werner, saw that it was 15:20 and thought she might have a chance on the quick track.

Werner won the race, but Izzo came in second in 15:13.09, the second-fastest time in collegiate history.

When the NCAA indoors were canceled in early 2020 — not long after Izzo’s third-place finish and Werner’s fourth helped Arkansas to its first NCAA Cross Country championship — and the Olympic Games followed suit, Izzo had a long wait for the trials.

“I did have great momentum going into that indoor national championship,” she said. “I was on a really good roll and so was everyone else, so it’s hard to say what year I think I would’ve been more prepared for.

“I’m lucky to have a shot at trials. This is going to be a great learning experience so we’re able to come back in three years when we’ll all be professional runners and trying to really make the team.”

Izzo will be joined by many Razorbacks, former and present, including distance runner Krissy Gear, who is entered in the 1,500 and the steeplechase.

“I love the 1,500, so I think a lot more of my energy and focus is going on the 1,500,” said Gear, who finished second in the NCAA indoor mile. “That’s what my workout was more focused on [Tuesday]. It’s just a bunch of opportunities.

“I just hope to go out there and do my best in both of them. I’m not really asking for a certain time or result. It’s just really cool to be able to get out there and experience the trials and if it’s still a dream down the road, I guess technically three years from now, being able to have this experience under my belt, when I come back in three years I’ll be able to handle it.”

Gear said she feels like her body has been asking “Are we getting a break? I’m like, not yet, not yet. But mentally I’m excited.”

Izzo feels fit and ready to run.

“It’s been a nice progression for me this outdoor season,” she said. “I felt that every race I just kept on improving. So I feel like I’m on that right trajectory. I would love a PR, an outdoor PR.

“I’m going to give it everything that I have and hope to just be completely maxed out, everything left out on that track, and that would be amazing to make the finals, but I will be very happy with a personal best and just knowing I gave it my all.”

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