The Wolverine

August 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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AUGUST 2018 THE WOLVERINE 23 BY JOHN BORTON M ost runners might be in- timidated by finding them- selves seeded 23rd in a race featuring 24 contestants. Ben Flanagan isn't most runners. The fifth-year senior out of Kitch- ener, Ontario, made the greatest run of his life June 6 at the NCAA Out- door Championships, others' expec- tations notwithstanding. He surged through the field in the 10,000 me- ters, refusing to surrender his pre- race vision of winning a national championship. It wouldn't be easy. Ahead of him strode race favorite Vincent Kiprop of Alabama, leading the pack on his way to yet another apparent victory. Flanagan's feet set fire to that script. He sprinted past Kiprop in the final strides of the grueling race at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The ex- ultation on his face said it all, his career-best time of 28:34.53 making him the national champion. Talk about finishing a Michi- gan career with a flourish. "I'm so stoked," Flanagan said. "I tried to just approach the race like any other race. I tried not to get too emotion- ally overwhelmed, like it was my last [race] in a Michigan uniform, or my last chance to end up on top. "I took the opportunity for what it was on the day. Fortu- nately, things worked out the way they did." They worked out, and Fla- nagan thereby worked himself to another first-place finish. He is The Wolverine's choice for Michigan's Male Athlete of the Year in 2017-18. Like he did in Oregon, Fla- nagan stood well aware of the competition. That fact makes him appreciate all the more his newest distinction. "It is an incredible honor," Flanagan said. "You look at the University of Michigan athletic community, and it is filled with incredibly talented, inspirational, motivated, disciplined people. These people carry tremen- dous characteristics, and that's what makes them successful. "You look on every single team, and to be awarded an MVP in itself is a huge accomplishment. But to be recognized among all sports is truly amazing. It's unbelievable to me. I'm honored and incredibly grateful for that sort of recognition." Flanagan isn't any one-race wonder. He's a four-year cross country team captain at Michigan and a captain his final two seasons in track. He's twice earned All-America honors in the 10,000 meters, becoming the Big Ten champion in the event both of those years (2016 and 2018). He also earned cross country All-America plaudits in 2017. So the idea of Flanagan competing well in his last collegiate opportunity wasn't exactly audacious, despite many opponents featuring better per- sonal bests in the 10,000 meters than him. Flanagan wasn't thinking about competing. He was thinking about winning. "That thought crossed my mind about two weeks before the event," Flanagan admitted. "It was a very lofty goal, but it at least crossed my mind. "That in itself was a huge step for me. I never really considered myself at that level, to compete with that type of excellence. But as it got closer to the day, that little voice in my head started getting louder and louder." The volume became such that Flana- gan shared the notion with head coach Kevin Sullivan, who bolstered his standout's thought process. "When it came to race day, I brought it up to Sully," Fla- nagan recalled. "I needed any sort of affirmation, and that's exactly what he gave me. He assured me: 'Yeah, Flanagan, you're fit, you're closing hard. You make the right decisions today, and you can win this thing.' "You can never guarantee the win, so you never go in with the expectation of it hap- pening. But because I had the thought that it might, the goal was just to put myself in contention and give myself a chance, then let instinct take over when it came down to the final decisions." He always goes in with a plan, and this one involved not becoming too anxious. He could identify a number of runners who would likely be right there at the end, and therefore could trail a couple of them without an over-ex- erting sprint to the front early. "I knew there were some other athletes who were will- ing to take the pace out pretty hot," he explained. "With that in mind, the goal was to stay as patient as possible. "I didn't think there was much room for error. I only wanted to make one big deci- sion, one big move. I wanted to be the last guy to do that. The MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR BEN FLANAGAN Flanagan twice won Big Ten titles and earned All-America accolades in the 10,000 meters, achieving the feat in 2016 and this past season. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY

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