Scott City, MO native and Southern Illinois University sophomore Brandon Shemonia will get the chance to do what most cross country and track and field athletes in American dream of: compete for Team USA in international competition. Shemonia will run the 10k at the Pan American Junior Games in Medellin, Colombia, Saturday night August 24, as part of the USA track and field junior team, during the three-day competition.
Shemonia, was a standout runner at Scott City High School where he was a Missouri Class 2 state champion in cross country in 2011. Shemonia was one of the top male distance runners in Missouri in the class of 2012 and decided to continue his running career at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Il. And so far the decision to run for cross country and distance coach Matt Sparks and head track and field coach Connie Price-Smith, a Missouri native and four-time Olympic shot-putter, appears to have been a good one.
After running unattached during the 2012 cross country season and redshirting, Shemonia capped his 2013 indoor track season with an 8th place finish in 14:52 in the 5k at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships. Outdoors Shemonia notched a 3:59 1500 meters to improve over his converted high school 1600 meters best. At the outdoor conference meet, Shemonia clocked 30:37 in his first ever 10k to earn a 5th place finish. That time earned him a berth to the US Junior Championships, where he would race for a spot on Team USA.
The 2013 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships were held in Des Moines, Ia. in June. While the senior or open championships served as a qualifier for the recently completed IAAF World Championships in Moscow, the junior championships are open to athletes 19 and under and serves as a qualifying meet for a different international competition, depending on the year. This year that meant the top two finishers in each event, who had met the Pan Am Junior Games qualifying standards would earn a trip to Colombia for a competition between countries in the world’s western hermisphere.
The meet was originally supposed to be held in Peru, but that fell through and Colombia became meet host. When other events were scheduled in Medellin on the original planned date, the meet was pushed back to late August.
So with one of the top times entered in the Junior Mens’ 10k, what was Shemonia’s outlook? “The whole goal going in was to make (the team). At the conference (meet) I ran 30:37, had a good freshman conference race there, (and) got fifth. So we had big goals. There was expectations to make the team.”
Despite the 9 p.m. start on Friday, June 21, the Midwest heat and humidity quickly became a factor. The pace slowed and the race became much more tactical. Eventual champion Matt McClintock of Purdue made a move half way through the race and Shemonia responded: “After about the 5k, McClintock took off and dropped (the pace) down, so I just went ahead and went with him, even though we felt terrible.” The move spread out the field and eventually Shemonia fell to third. “I kind of struggled from there, just tired from the long season. I went from running from three months at a time to 12 straight. But I held on and got third.”
McClintock won in 31:14 while Syracuse’ Daniel Lennon was second in 31:35. Shemonia was another 40 seconds back in 32:15, and thought he’d blown his chance of making the US team. A bronze medal was what Shemonia was going to have to settle for; at least that’s what he thought, for a few minutes. “The top two make the team, but the guy who got 2nd was 37 seconds off the standard, so my time got me in. I was pumped, I thought I didn’t make it when I finished I was so mad,” Shemonia said in an interview at the St. Louis Track Club Cross Country Kick Off race in St. Louis’ Forest Park August 3.
But a few minutes later Shemonia got good news and had to deliver some bad news. “(An official) handed me the card and he told me I made (the team) from the standard. It was a huge relief.” Shemonia spent a few minutes after the race upset walking around the track, but his mood changed after the official tracked him down, and unfortunately had to deliver his good news to the race’s runner-up, whom for which it wasn’t good news at all. “I had to break the news to the second place guy cause they didn’t tell him. I felt bad…”
There aren’t many opportunities to make a USA track and field team. Even though there are spots on youth-17 and under, Juniors-19 and under, as well as Senior and Masters levels teams, there are probably only about 10 squads put together each year for American athletes to compete for a USA team in international competition. Shemonia left no doubt that he is excited for the opportunity. “Trying on the jersey for once was just awesome in itself, this is the stuff Olympians wear, this is the stuff of champions. I’ve never been out of the country, I’m excited.”
Shemonia added “I’m excited to go down there, meet new people, see people from others countries, race against international competition. International experience is key, especially coming back for cross (country), I’ll have that experience of racing guys that are at my level or faster.” Shemonia said it not only will be a great experience, but may give him an edge up on some of his college cross country competition as he’ll be past the shock of a first race after a long summer of mileage.
The meet and race isn’t exactly set up for Shemonia to have success though. The meet is at 5000 feet elevation and comes not at the end of the track season, but more like the beginning of cross country season with mostly big miles filling up his running log the last few months. There hasn’t been a lot of fine tuning. So what about racing at 5000 feet?
“Yeah that’s the rough part. We actually haven’t been training for this specifically. It’s kind of one of those things where we are going for the fun, I want to run well, but the main goal is cross. There is no way someone who runs at 100 feet of elevation (like that of most of Illinois and Missouri) can run fast at 5ooo without training there.”
USA Track and Field officials even suggested he should train at elevation after the US Champs in preparation for the meet, but with just eight weeks until the event, that’s nearly impossible to plan and pull off. He’ll do his best though, getting to Colombia five days before his race.
Shemonia says the opportunity to wear the USA uniform and toe the line representing his country is a dream come-true. “It is something you dream about. It’s not the Olympics, but…I’m representing my country, the country I love, the country I‘ve grown up in…To be able to do that is one of the few experiences someone will ever get. Ever since I started running I’ve been like ‘I want to make an Olympic team, I want to make a World team,’ and this is the standard for 19 and under, and so I’m making steps towards that.”
Shemonia says it’s not only gratifying to make a US team but also simply putting in the work and getting better. “It’s just a satisfying feeling to show how much hard work can pay off, and especially just in the last year of improvement. I would have never been able to compete with any of those guys a year ago; I could barely compete in Missouri. I was just kind of a little top 10 guy, now I’m to be considered one of the top 19 and under guys in the nation. It hasn’t really sunk in honestly, once I get on the plane I think it’s really going to (hit me) and I just won’t’ be able to believe it. But right now I’m just ready to get down there, and see what happens.”
No matter what happens in Colombia and how Brandon runs, he has already accomplished a great feat, one that makes many American runners, and track and field athletes and fans jealous. And whether he is happy with his result or disappointed, it appears clear that this is just the latest in Shemonia’s running career, with many more down the road.
Shemonia runs the 10k Saturday night at 8 p.m. Colombian time and 7:00 p.m. CST. The meet is supposed to be webcast here: http://www.justin.tv/panamericanodeatletismo#/w/6590875248/2