No slowing Nuguse and his fast-track success

Edwin  - CEO March 1, 2024
Updated 2024/03/01 at 11:07 PM
12 Min Read
Yared Nuguse celebrates his win at the US Indoor Championships (© Getty Images)World Athletics
Yared Nuguse celebrates his win at the US Indoor Championships (© Getty Images)World Athletics

As the shift in strategy from sit-and-kick to more lead-and-kick, usually “hammering,” from the front continues to yield results


Yared Nuguse in action at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest (© Getty Images)

While his pet tortoise snoozes in hibernation, Yared Nuguse wakes daily to do whatever it takes to win a medal in the 1500m at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Karen Rosen reports for World Athletics.

Nuguse can’t wait for Tyro – named after tyrosine, an amino acid – to emerge from his dirt-filled, refrigerated box this spring.


Yet, as much as Nuguse, 24, relates to the tortoise, he has the speed of a hare. In establishing himself as the premier 1500m, mile, and 3000m runner in the United States, his strategy has evolved from sit-and-kick to more lead-and-kick.


In the last 13 months, Nuguse has claimed national and North American records at all three distances, usually “hammering,” as he puts it, from the front. Fresh off his US title in the 3000m, the former Notre Dame runner will race at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Glasgow 24 on Saturday (2).


But his heart belongs to the 1500m and the mile – whenever he can race it.


“The mile’s kind of like the perfect event for me,” said Nuguse. “I’m not aggressive, so an 800 doesn’t appeal to me.


“The mile – it’s four minutes of just going at it – seeing what happens. It just feels like it matches all my strengths perfectly.”


He’s finished considerably under four minutes in his last three miles. In February 2023, Nuguse clocked the second fastest time in history (3:47.38) in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games for a North American record, setting a 1500m record (3:33.22). Just 15 days earlier, Nuguse opened his season with a 7:28.24 to break Galen Rupp’s record in the 3000m.


Then, last September, Nuguse obliterated Alan Webb’s 16-year-old US outdoor record, running 3:43.97 at the Diamond League final in Eugene, Oregon. That eased some disappointment from his fifth-place finish in the 1500m at the World Championships in Budapest.


“I felt like that was the point of my season where I was tailing off a little bit, and I was still able to run something amazing and fast,” said Nuguse, who finished just behind Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s 3:43.73. “So I was very excited to get the next season started.”


Yared Nuguse and Jakob Ingebrigtsen go head-to-head in EugeneYared Nuguse and Jakob Ingebrigtsen go head-to-head in Eugene (© Getty Images)/World Athletics

Earlier this month, Nuguse went after the indoor mile world record in the Millrose Games but couldn’t quite get there despite a 55.96 last quarter mile. Nuguse posted a time of 3:47.83, still the third-fastest in history indoors.


“In my second year as a pro, to be just a little disappointed with not getting (the world record) is kind of crazy,” Nuguse said. “That’s what I love about indoor. It’s like the ‘See what’s to come’ part of the year.”


Nuguse never envisioned any years like this when he was a kid. His parents came to the US from Ethiopia, and Nuguse and his five siblings moved around a lot, eventually settling in Louisville, Kentucky, for his high school years. He played violin, and his biggest competitions were science fairs. Nuguse wasn’t into sports, except some fencing, a year apiece of YMCA basketball and soccer, and the bowling team.


“It was me living my best life, wanting to be like a scientist or something,” he said. “I was not a fan of physical exertion.”


Yet Nuguse’s natural talent came through in his physical education class. His teacher told the track coach. “I’m going to say track found me because I wasn’t looking,” Nuguse said. “The track coach came to me and was like, ‘You should do track,’ and I said ‘No,’ and he was like, ‘Please,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, OK.’”


Nuguse adapted well to his new routine. “I have a very chill, kind of ‘go with the flow’ personality,” he said. “I’m not too excitable in general.”


When Nuguse lost a shoe in his first 3200m race indoors, he calmly finished in under 11 minutes. As a high school senior, Nuguse won five state titles: cross country, 800m, 1600m, 3200m, and 4x800m relay.


He made his first US national team for the World U20 Championships in Finland in 2018 but says with a laugh that he “did terrible,” failing to advance from the heats. A year later, he was the NCAA champ for Notre Dame in the 1500m and broke the famous four-minute barrier as a sophomore.


Nuguse qualified for the US Olympic team by placing third at the trials but did not compete in Tokyo due to a quad strain.


His senior year at Notre Dame was marred by injuries, and he applied to some dental schools.


“I’ve always been passionate about that more than anything,” Nuguse said. “When I was a kid, I had messed-up teeth and loved my orthodontist. I feel like I had a solid connection to him; how he helped people was how I wanted to help people.”


Nuguse liked knowing he could see something in a child’s mouth and fix it. “That’ll be fun,” he said. “I’ll get there one day.”


But he had unfinished business on the track and withdrew his applications to turn pro, joining coach Dathan Ritzenhein in Boulder, Colorado.


Ritzenhein, a former US record-holder at 5000m, told that he expected Nuguse to progress, “but not this quick. He’s a special talent.”


Nuguse trains with world-class runners including Mario Garcia Romo of Spain, Olli Hoare of Australia and Geordie Beamish of New Zealand.


“We push each other to our limits,” Nuguse said.


As a pro, he has increased his workload. “It feels easier than everything was in college because I have more time,” said Nuguse, who earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a masters of science in management. “Having that one focus has helped me become the runner I always felt like I could become.”


He also has time to read fantasy novels, play video games, and draw. Nuguse has been working on a dragonfly in charcoal and pastel. He’s also become more of a student of the sport, learning the names of runners from the past.


That’s fitting since Nuguse is part of the wave of the future, along with rivals Cole Hocker and Hobbs Kessler. His laidback personality is also attracting attention. For his yaredthegoose Instagram page, Nuguse filmed a “Get Ready With Me” video showing Tyro getting ready for hibernation. For World Athletics, Nuguse did an interior monologue while training, where he popularised “snack and field.”


After Nuguse broke the North American record in the 1500m at the Bislett Games in Oslo on 17 June, clocking 3:29.02, he captured his first US title. When he subsequently won his first Diamond League race, the expectations for Budapest ratcheted up even higher.


But the World Championships final was unlike any race Nuguse had ever experienced. He regrets not running a more intelligent race and believes he should have gone out harder. The race got away from him. Nuguse said he should have fought to be on Ingebrigtsen’s shoulder. Instead, Great Britain’s Josh Kerr took the upset win.


Nuguse watches videos of the race to learn from it.


“A lot of championship races are just being comfortable and then striking when you want to,” he said. “I couldn’t find that comfort, which made me a little more tired at the end of that race.”


Nuguse had not finished lower than third place in any other meeting in 2023. He went on to win the Diamond League race in Zurich before his record-breaking performance in Eugene, where Ritzenhein said he was “super dialed in. For Yared especially, everybody thinks he’s so calm, but man…”


The coach even thought Nuguse would catch Ingebrigtsen with 80 meters to go, but the Norwegian was too strong.


The last US runner to win an Olympic gold medal in the 1500m was Matthew Centrowitz in 2016, breaking a 108-year drought. His winning time of 3:50.00 in a highly tactical race was the slowest since 1932.


“I couldn’t do that,” Nuguse said. “I’m not that kind of racer. I get antsy waiting like that. I think I’d probably take the lead at that point. But that worked very well for Centro.”


Nuguse said that as his reputation has grown, “people expect you to set the tone. I’m in a position where I can make the race whatever I want. I’ll always kick, but maybe not so much sit.”


Yuguse expects the Olympic final, should he make it, to be much more complex than the World Championships.


“I’m in the right mindset to give it everything I have at that level. The last time I was at the Olympics, I couldn’t compete, which was sad. Now I’m at a point where I should be more than capable of putting myself where I want to be.”


Ritzenhein said that if Yuguse had won the world title in Budapest, it might have shortened his career.


“I don’t want Yared to be in dental school in 2025,” the coach said following Nuguse’s US record in Eugene. “If Yared won the World Championships (in 2023), won the Olympics and set the world record, we would probably not see him any more in 2025.”


Ritzenhein joked: “We need to slow him down a little bit.”


That’s something a tortoise could appreciate.


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