When Mason Ferlic reached the finish line of the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Payton Jordan Invitational last Sunday, the first thing he did was look up at the scoreboard.
And when he saw that he had finished with a time of 8:28.77, he couldn’t help but feel discouraged.
“I was actually frustrated, because I thought I had missed the standard by less than a second,” Ferlic said. “I was disappointed and pretty down on myself, and (Michigan assistant) coach (Kevin) Sullivan was telling me that I still did great and still had the collegiate lead.”
Ferlic had hoped to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials by finishing with a time under the U.S. Olympic Standard, but his time was 0.77 seconds too slow.
Or so he thought.
After the race, Ferlic was congratulated by other competitors, and while he initially assumed it was in response to him setting the NCAA personal record, it was actually because he also came under the Olympic standard, which had been recently changed from 8:28 to 8:30.
“It wasn’t until about 20 minutes (after) that finally one of the coaches was like, ‘No, you got it, it was 8:30,’ ” Ferlic said. “We didn’t believe him until we pulled it up on our phones. That was a nice mood-booster. Originally I crossed the line and wasn’t pleased with the race, but then I found out I hit the standard and went from feeling mediocre to feeling pretty awesome about it.”
For Ferlic, the result was the culmination of a career’s worth of work and preparation. But even he didn’t initially expect to experience such success.
Earlier in his competitive career, Ferlic aimed for smaller objectives, such as just making a Big Ten team. As he checked these off his list and continued to improve throughout his career at Michigan, he realized there was potential to achieve even more.
“If you had asked me the same question last year, if that was a reasonable goal, I would have probably said no,” Ferlic said. “But as I’ve improved, recently it has become a very realistic goal of mine.
“I look back at it and realize I’ve been making these huge jumps and leaps, and the run at the trials is something that I’m ready for and it’s a great opportunity. I feel like I can compete with anyone and that I have a legitimate shot to be one of the three Americans to go to Rio for the steeplechase.”
For Ferlic’s two primary coaches, his finish at the Payton Jordan Invitational was somewhat expected.
“I actually thought he was ready to run an 8:25,” Sullivan said, who is also head coach of the men’s cross country team and has worked extensively with Ferlic all year. “He’s a touch off that time. Running 8:28 was within the range of what I expected. I was hoping he was gonna be somewhere between the 8:25 to 8:30 range, and so from that standpoint we accomplished what we were looking to do this weekend.”
Added Michigan men’s track and field coach Jerry Clayton: “He’s had a really excellent year. Just one race after another, he’s just really stepped it up. Went on (the distance medley relay team) and ended up (an) All-American at the indoor nationals. With what he ran last weekend, we really felt that he had those capabilities, and coach Sullivan has done an outstanding job with preparing him to run at that level.”
Ferlic’s next task will be to continue his ascent to the top. Plans for him are to sit down with Sullivan and craft a plan that will prepare him for both the upcoming NCAA Championships and the U.S. Olympic Trials in July.
He certainly recognized the significance of what he has done and what he might accomplish in the coming months.
“To represent Michigan and be the one wearing the ‘Block M’ is huge,” Ferlic said. “I’m representing an institution that over my five years has given a lot to me, so I feel this is a way to give back, to represent it at the highest level.”