Kyle Merber looked around with stars in his eyes, and to his left and right as well. Running with his heroes, he could hardly believe that his career had led him here. Merber, the Columbia University distance runner who grew up in Dix Hills and graduated Half Hollow Hills West High School in 2008, was competing in the 2012 Olympic Trials and the spectacle of it all was almost overwhelming.
“At the time that was, by far, the biggest meet I had ever run at,” Merber, 25, recalled in a phone interview recently. “I was running alongside people I had looked up to when I was coming up in the sport. Getting a chance to race against them was amazing, but I was also in awe. It’s hard to cut off someone that you looked up to in the middle of the race when, maybe, it’s time to take over their position.”
But, that was four years ago. Things are different now. Merber is one of the professionals and thus, is no longer star-struck. He’ll take another crack at Olympic glory, this time armed with the perspective that the college student of yesteryear didn’t necessarily possess.
His journey towards Rio and a spot on the Olympic team continues Thursday when he will run in the first round of the three-round 1,500 meter competition at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. If Merber is among the top three with the Olympic standard of 3:36.20 (something he already has attained) after Sunday’s final round, he will make the team.
“I think I have a very good chance if I run my best,” Merber, who lives and trains in New Jersey, said. “I think I’m in the hunt. On the right day, if things go well, I’ll make it. It’s going to be close. I think I’m in the position where it’s a very realistic opportunity.”
Instead of getting caught up in the fantasy of becoming an Olympian, Merber has chosen to make sure that the spectacle of it all doesn’t affect his performance this time around.
“I’ve obviously thought about it,” Merber said. “But, I try and put it in the back of my mind and just take it one round at a time. It would be incredible. It’s what I’ve been working towards for some years now. I’ve been trying to focus less on what it would feel like and more on making it happen . . . What I know now is that it’s just like any other day, any other race, where you just have to stay calm and get the most out of your body.”
Lately, that’s been easier said than done. Merber missed May with a hip injury and has only raced once since returning, at the Princeton Qualifier in June where he ran 3:41.25, he said.
“[The injury] came on really quick at the end of April,” he said. “At the time, I was in really good shape. Although I missed a month, I cross trained extremely hard and have been training hard since. My fitness is back and as good as if it’s every been.”
Merber doesn’t think the lack of races this spring will affect him at the trials.
“We’ve done things in practice to simulate races,” Merber said. “I feel like I’ll be fresh and ready to go on race day.”