2012-06-06 / Sports

Andrews to face world’s best in front of family, friends

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

With a contract in hand, Manalapan’s Robby Andrews will run professionally for the first time in the metropolitan area on June 9. Andrews will compete in the 800-meter run during theAdidas Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium on New York City’s Randall’s Island.

“It’s going to be nice to run in front of my family and friends,” he said. “I’m excited.”

Andrews, who won two NCAA titles at 800 meters while he competed for the University of Virginia, will be racing against an international field that includes world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya (1:41.01).

“I never thought that I would meet him (Rudisha), let alone run in the same race,” Andrews said, before adding, “I have nothing to lose. Only good can come from it.”

The June 9 race in NewYork City will be Andrews’ final tune-up before he competes at theU.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., from June 21 through July 1. If Andrews finishes first, second or third in the 800-meter run at the trials he will earn a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team and compete in London.

In the days leading up to his appearance at the Grand Prix meet, Andrews signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Adidas.

“I can pay back some loans,” he joked. “It’s such a relief. I don’t have to stress about it. It’s so cool to achieve the status of a sponsored athlete.”

The Adidas deal was additional affirmation that Andrews’ decision to turn pro in March and forgo his final two years of college eligibility with Virginia was the right move.

“It’s amazing how quickly things can change,” said Andrews, who is a graduate of Manalapan High School. “Everything really fell into place. There was so much uncertainty in October and November and into this year. I feel so good about the decision I made.”

What makes Andrews so certain that the biggest decision of his career to date was the right thing to do goes beyond his contract withAdidas to how he feels every day about what he’s doing.

He said he recalls going to the track for a workout, looking around and thinking about “how happy I was going to practice every day. I really enjoy what I’m doing.”

Although the 800 remains his primary race, Andrews has become a player in the 1,500-meter run. Recently, in Occidental, Calif., he turned in a time of 3:34.78 for the metric mile, which equates to a 3:52 mile.

With a chuckle, Andrews said he would have liked to have run the extra 109 yards to make it a full mile so that he could have posted his first sub-4:00 mile.

What was most significant about his time of 3:34 was how quickly he ran the final 400 meters. He covered the last lap in 53.5, the same time he ran in 2011 when he ran the 1,500 six seconds slower.

“To know I can close with a significantly faster pace shows I’m really strong,” he said.

The timeAndrews put up for the 1,500 is also an Olympic A standard and as a result, for the first time in a national championship meet, Andrews will run the 800- and 1,500- meter double. Although attaining the qualifying standard in the 800 and the 1,500 gives him two shots at making the Olympic team, Andrews said the 800 is his focus.

“All my chips are in the 800,” he said. “I wouldn’t be running the 1,500 if I didn’t have the A standard.”

Andrews said he sees his future in the 1,500-meter run or the 1-mile run.

At the Olympic trials in Oregon, competition in the 800 will start on June 22 and end on June 26. Competition in the1,500 will start on June 28 and end on July 1.

With his training going better than ever and his early season races producing positive results, Andrews is ready for the biggest test of his young career.

“I have never felt this prepared for a race in my life,” he said of the Olympic Trials.

Higginson running for Saucony

Andrews is not the only area runner to earn a professional sponsorship. Colts Neck High School graduate Ashley Higginson, who was an All-American at Princeton, has signed with Saucony. Higginson turned professional in 2011 after graduating from Princeton and putting her post-graduate studies on hold.

“It’s such a good feeling,” she said of signing with Saucony. “It’s nice to be a part of a company that supports its runners. It was so kind of them to take me on. I am proud to help represent them. I feel blessed.”

Higginson has moved to the runnerfriendly community of Annandale in Hunterdon County where she eats, hangs out with, and trains with fellow runners.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “It’s so great to be with like-minded people who have the same goals.”

Among the favorite training paths for the runners is the Columbia Trail.

Higginson is a member of the New Jersey New York Track Club and goes to Rutgers University several times a week for workouts under the guidance of coach Frank Gagliano.

The new set-up has been working well for Higginson. She has run personal bests for the 1,500 (4:18.5), and the 3,000-meter steeplechase (9:48.83, which she ran in Occidental, Calif.).

“It’s exciting to run personal bests at those distances,” she said. “It’s credit for all the hard work.”

Higginson will try to make the U.S. Olympic Team in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the event in which she earned All- American honors while she was a student at Princeton.

Her early season form has shown she is “more fit than before. I feel strong.”

Higginson said she is looking forward to competing at the Olympic Trials.

“I think about it a lot,” she said. “It’s really, really exciting.”

Qualifying heats for the 3,000-meter steeplechase will start on June 23, with the final scheduled for June 29.

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