Before Saturday’s 800-meter race at the Len Paddock
Invitational all eyes at Ferry Field were on Nate Brannen and Kevin
Sullivan. It was a chance to see where Brannen, who is redshirting
the outdoor season, and Sullivan, the former Wolverine who took
fifth place in the 1,500 meters in the 2000 Olympics, stand in
their quest to compete in the Olympics in Athens.

Michigan sophomore Andrew Ellerton was well aware of the top
competition that would be in Ann Arbor this weekend, and was filled
with confidence after setting a personal-best time in last
weekend’s Jesse Owens Classic.

“I’d hyped this race up for a while,” Ellerton
said. “I knew all the big names that would be
here.”

Ellerton may soon be an equally big name if his rapid
improvement continues. The Windsor native nipped Brannen, who has
won two NCAA Indoor Championships in the event, with a time of
1:46.56. It was the third time in four weeks he ran a personal-best
time and 1.57 seconds faster than his time last weekend.

“I had been stuck at 1:49 since high school —
I’d run it a dozen times — so finally breaking that
time last weekend was important, and this was the next step,”
Ellerton said.

His sudden breakthrough has also altered his plans for the
summer. Ellerton’s time on Saturday eclipsed the Olympic
‘B’ qualifying standard and was just 0.85 seconds short
of the ‘A’ standard necessary to qualify for the
Olympics.

“The Olympics were a back-in-the-mind goal,”
Ellerton said. “I had confidence in my talent that I could do
it someday, but I didn’t really think it could happen this
year. The goals have definitely changed a little bit
now.”

Michigan coach Ron Warhurst joked after the race that he’s
going to need to find some money to send Ellerton to the Canadian
National Championships, where a top-four finish would clinch an
Olympic berth.

“It’s got to be a goal now,” Warhurst said.
“He’s got as good a chance of qualifying for the
Canadian Olympic team as Brannen does.”

Unlike Brannen and Nick Willis, Ellerton chose not to sit out
the outdoor season. Warhurst says he’s loaded with “raw
talent,” but because the Olympics are just now becoming a
goal, the two saw no reason for Ellerton to redshirt.

“Last year I was positive I would redshirt,”
Ellerton said. “But my season hadn’t been going well.
My times in workouts weren’t indicating I’d be running
these kinds of times now.”

Now that his ultimate goal is Athens, a concern may be how
Ellerton feels when the NCAA season ends. Brannen and Willis are
redshirting to avoid the week-to-week grind of the outdoor season
in order to fully devote time to their Olympic goals.

“The collegiate season is very long and tiring,”
Ellerton said. “It’s hard mentally to race at such a
high level for so long. In July I’ll probably say,
‘Yeah, redshirting would have made this a lot easier.’

Ellerton and his teammates will compete in the Big Ten
Championships in West Lafayette this weekend. Though Warhurst has
not yet set up a schedule to have Ellerton best prepared for his
run to Athens, he believes Ellerton may be able to go after the
‘A’ standard at NCAA Championships on June 12.

But no matter what the rest of the summer holds, after the way
he ran down Brannen on Saturday, at least some of the focus will be
on Ellerton the next time he’s on the track.

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