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Jacob Hernandez aiming for 2012 Olympics

Brom Hoban, Central Texas Running

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Growing up in tiny Magnolia, northwest of Houston, Jacob Hernandez tried a variety of sports, such as baseball and soccer. He excelled, though, at running, particularly middle distance track.

By the time he graduated from Magnolia High School, he had run the fastest 800 meters in the nation, 1:48:48 at the Texas Class 5A championships in 2004. Later, at the University of Texas, he continued to excel. At the 2008 national championships, Hernandez won the 800 meters and set a UT record of 1:45.31.

Later in 2008, Hernandez advanced to the semifinals of the Olympic trials before finishing fifth in his heat and failing to make the 800-meter team.

Hernandez graduated in 2009 with a degree in corporate communications and a desire to continue competing at the highest levels of track. Today he lives in Austin and with the support of Nike — which covers his living, training and travel expenses — he continues to run.

This summer Hernandez spent a month running on the European track circuit in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

"One of the best experiences I had this summer was at a meet in Lignano, Italy," says Hernandez. "It was a small meet, but (stars) Wallace Spearmon Jr. (U.S.A., 200 meters) and (world record holder) Usain Bolt (Jamaica, 100 and 200 meters) were there, and I ran pretty well. In fact, I ran my best 800 for the summer, a 1:46.5 for third place."

Hernandez has a year to prepare for the 2011 IAAF Track and Field World Championships — in Daegu, South Korea, next August — and the international experience will be important.

"To make the World Championships, he'll probably have to run a 1:45 or better at the 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships" next June, says Jacob Morse, a former Longhorn track runner who trains with Hernandez. "And I think Jacob can do that. He's strong, and he's got a long stride. He could be the next great 800-meter runner."

Training for the 800 is different from training for shorter distances like the 100, 200 and 400. The best 800 runners are a hybrid, combining the physical attributes of sprinters and distance runners.

"My training shares some of the same characteristics as a miler," says Hernandez, who is 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds and is working with coaches John Cook and Ryan Ponsonby. "In my training, I'll do longer runs up to 10 miles, tempo runs and hill work. But once the season starts early next year, I'll do shorter, more intense stuff like 200- or 300-meter repeats."

"Jacob has a tremendous amount of natural foot speed, and he really is a sprinter," says Ponsonby. "But he's strong enough to handle a tempo run with his teammate Leonel Manzano, who is a 1,500-meter runner. He possesses the characteristics necessary of a world-class 800-meter specialist."

But does he have what it will take to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, which is his goal?

Ponsonby says that, at a time when U.S. mid-distance events are very competitive, it will be a challenge.

"Making a world or Olympic team is not easy," says Ponsonby. "You must have the time standard and place in the top three at the U.S. championships/trials. Having said that, Jacob was third this year at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which is promising and a big step in the right direction.

"Jacob's personal best in the 800 meters is 1:45.31 and he has goals aiming for faster," says Ponsonby. "Based on what I know of the event, and Jacob, I think this is absolutely attainable."

"It's going to take a tremendous amount of sacrifice, yet at the same time I know there's a risk of putting too much pressure on myself," says Hernandez. "If I can find that balance, I'll be able to give myself the best opportunity possible. I feel like you have the most success when you are enjoying what you do. And I enjoy what I do. I have a passion for the 800. I love it. And I'm built for it. I was made to run the 800."