Jan. 18, 2013
By Jon Cooper
If variety is the spice of life Shawn Roberts’ life these days with Georgia Tech Track and Field is pretty spicy. That’s the way he likes it.
The senior middle-distance runner offers Tech the option of running the 800 meters, a distance at which he qualified for the Outdoor National Championships last season, the mile or the 3,000 meters.
While the 800 is his best event, he’s trained enough and is race-tested enough to compete at the D-I level at all three. For now, which event he’ll run on a given weekend is his guess and his coaches’ call.
This weekend Roberts take on the mile at the Auburn Indoor Invitational at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala. It’s a very competitive field, as among the top-25 participating teams in the men’s field are No. 11 Auburn, No. 16 Florida State, No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 23 Ole Miss. On the women’s side, top-ranked Clemson, No. 11 Central Florida, No. 17 Georgia and No. 24 Auburn will be there.
“What we’re looking for this weekend is just to make some improvements across the board,” said women’s head coach and men’s distance coach Alan Drosky. “It’s a fantastic facility. The competition’s great so we have a great opportunity for our kids to improve their marks from last week. We’re kind of using the first two meets to come off the holiday break and see where everybody is, see where we are, see where we can make adjustments and improvements and then kind of get ready for the next phase, which will be Kentucky and Notre Dame (at the Rod McCravy Invitational in Lexington, Ky.), which will be a big weekend and will be a great opportunity as well.”
This weekend is an opportunity for Roberts to measure himself in the mile.
“I’m really looking forward to a big race and hopefully a fast time.” said Roberts. “So it would be nice to drop my time down a little bit. This weekend I’m only running the mile. Next weekend I open up in the 800 at the University of Kentucky.”
Roberts is excited about his Spring debut, as he did not accompany the Jackets to last weekend’s Crimson Tide Indoor Opener, actually held at the same venue, only with the University of Alabama as host, going home to attend the funeral of a close friend. Coach Alan Drosky also is glad to have the versatile senior back.
“He’s in great shape and I’m eager to see him open up,” said Drosky. “With Shawn, you have great range. He can run the 800, he can run the mile, he’s done really well in the 3,000. So the first couple of meets for Shawn we’ll kind of bounce around a little bit with the mile, the 800, try to figure out which one we’re going to focus on when it comes championship time.”
Given the choice, Roberts would run the mile, an event in which he had three first-place finishes in last year’s outdoor season, and the 800, the event at which he qualified for the Outdoor Nationals last spring and placed 20th with a time of 1:49.83.
He admits he’s lobbied Drosky to let him do both — so far to no avail.
“It’s pretty tough. I try to be as respectful and forceful as possible. That combination,” he said. “I trust my coach completely, so I know that he knows exactly what is best for me but I still try and say, ‘Hey, Coach, can I run the 4×4 this weekend?’ ‘Hey, Coach, can I run the 800, too?’ I ask him and I’ll just ask him every week and hopefully one week he’ll say, ‘Yes.’ And once he signs me up, I’m in.”
Roberts understands that the depth of the men’s team at middle distances makes Drosky hesitant to run him in more than one event. It’s a nice situation to have.
“The depth in our middle-distance team is incredible,” Roberts said. “[Last] weekend, we actually had four of our mid-distance runners in the 3K and one of them (senior Eric Powers, who ran 8:23,00, 8:24.32 in the finals) won the event. We have a lot of guys that can win races.”
Depth of talent and character has made this group a special one.
“When you train with them, it just makes it that much better because if I’m having a bad day out there training or one of them is having a bad day we can all help pull each other through,” he said. “It’s all about working together. We’re just trying to make each other better. Then, when we get in the race, we don’t have to worry about being in a race that’s slow because we know that we can all push the pace and make the race fast.”
Drosky’s goal for Roberts is to get him peaking in the right event come the ACC’s then the NCAAs.
Getting back Nationals would mean so much to Roberts. It’s something he desperately wants to experience again, this time as a veteran, familiar with his surroundings, unlike his first time last spring, which was humbling and intimidating, but, at the same time, motivational.
“For someone who makes it there their first time, you’re going to meet somebody who has been trying and watching all these other stud athletes get there, people that you’ve seen and watched on TV,” he said. “It’s like, I would imagine, a rookie going to the NBA and the first game going up against Kobe Bryant. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m on the same level as him now. I can’t look at him like that. I’ve got to make sure that I’m competing against him and not trying to watch him.'”
“There’s no substitute for it,” agreed men’s head coach Grover Hinsdale. “That’s the biggest stage in the life of a college track athlete. A lot of times going there the first time there’s just so much that’s new that it’s an eye-opener for a lot of the guys. But having been there, we certainly anticipate him getting back in that arena again and having been there, we would fully expect that he would be very competitive at that level. He certainly has the talent for it.”
Living that dream is something that drives Roberts and will all spring.
“When you work all season to get there it really is [a dream],” he said. “You feel so accomplished when you finally do get there. So it’s pretty awesome.”
It would be awesome to make it in more than one event, but he’s not getting greedy.
“I can’t say the thought hasn’t slipped into my mind a few times but I’ve got to focus on making it in the one first,” he said, with a laugh. “If I get greedy and think about making it in both, then I might not make it in either.”