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Kal Lewis moves closer to 4-minute mile: Former Island star opening eyes in the Big 10

When Kal Lewis arrived on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City last summer, he came as a recruited 4:17 high school miler hoping to successfully make the transition from a small town runner to a Big 10 athlete scoring points for the Hawkeyes. 

He would have to shave at least 10 seconds off his best high school time to score in most college meets.

Scholarship athletes are usually expected to make the transition by their sophomore year. The freshman year is typically needed to adjust to university life, get physically stronger and faster and learn from the coaches and upperclassmen. Next year he would be expected to score big points.

Lewis had a different plan. He opened his collegiate career with a decent 4:19 indoor mile, close to his personal best and his Shelter Island High School record. Then, in successive races, he reeled off a 4:14, a 4:07 and a 4:04, scoring points in all those races.

The final meet of the indoor season was the Big 10 Championships. Lewis qualified in two events and contributed valuable points to Iowa’s first Big 10 men’s title in nearly a century. 

His 4:04 ranks 4th on the Hawkeye’s All-time Indoor Mile list and is the team ’s fastest indoor mile since 2011. Lewis had made the transition and proved he was ready for the outdoor season.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has opted to contest the 1,500-meter distance in lieu of the full mile during the outdoor season. Known as the “Metric Mile”, the 1,500 is approximately 110 meters less than a mile.

The NCAA feels this policy better prepares our collegians for international competitions, such as the Pam Am, World and Olympic Games in which the 1,500 is contested. A 3:43 time for the 1,500 is generally accepted as being equivalent to a 4:00 mile.

Two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes traveled to Florida where Lewis, in his first ever 1,500 race, turned in a very respectable 3:49.26, roughly equivalent to a 4:06 – 4:07 mile. A good start to the outdoor season, but not an indicator of what was to come.

On the evening of April 16, at Bloomington, Indiana, in front of his father, Ken Lewis, Jr., who had flown out to watch his son compete, the freshman took his game to a new level. Dad got to see a good one.

The leaders took the pack of 10 racers through the first 400 meters in quick 58 seconds. Lewis was dead last, two seconds back. As they circled the track, at times it looked as if he was back too far, but according to Iowa Coach Randy Hasenbank, “Kal can run our speed sessions in workouts with the very best of our veteran middle distance runners. We knew the pace was going to be a fast one. I asked him to hold back and use that speed in the last lap.”  

The strategy worked. The young Hawkeye stayed comfortably in last place through the next two laps. He passed 800 meters in 2:01 and 1,200 meters in 3:02 in last place but still only a couple of seconds behind the leaders. Then, with less than 200 meters to go, Lewis moved to the outside lane, unleashed his patented kick and passed seven runners in the home stretch to finish third overall in a blistering 3:43.42 — roughly equivalent to a 4:01 mile.

The race was won by Nick Foster of Michigan in 3:41.45 with 2nd place going to Wisconsin’s Jackson Sharp in 3:42.06.

His proud dad said, “I was impressed by how relaxed he was during the whole race. He seemed to just bide his time at the back of the pack looking for the right time to make his move. It’s clear to me that Kal made the right choice picking Iowa to get his education and continue his running career. Coach Hasenbank is doing a great job with him”

Lewis’s 3:43.42 moves him to 2nd on the University of Iowa’s all-time performance list for 1,500 meters, only a tick off Jeff Thode’s 3:43.02 school record from 2010.

In a post-race interview, Coach Hasenbank said, “Kal is a racer. He loves competition. Some kids train well in practice and do not compete to their training level in races. Kal and several others on this team just get better the more they race. They seem to live to race.”

Lewis’s next competition will be on April 24 at the University of Illinois where he is scheduled to run the open 800 and either a 4-by-800 or 4-by-400 relay.