There was a little bit of Maize and Blue in Grosseto, Italy this summer at the IAAF World Junior Championships. The July event boasted four runners — representing four countries — who would all go on to suit up for the Michigan men’s track squad this season.
For freshman Victor Gras (1500-meter), the World Junior Championships marked his first time competing for his native France. His family moved to the United States. from France when he was 12 years old.
Other than freshman Mike Woods, Gras didn’t know that there would be any other Wolverines present.
“I knew Mike was there because we had become friends before, but I didn’t know others would be there until I saw a guy who was wearing Michigan stuff,” Gras said.
That “guy” was sophomore triple jumper Michael Whitehead, representing the United States.
“My coach, Fred (LaPlante), told me we had a couple of recruits there, so I got to meet Victor, but not Mike (Woods),” Whitehead said.
Despite coming off an ankle injury and being unable to reach peak condition, the opportunity alone was memorable.
“It was like having cake and ice cream,” Whitehead said. “The opportunity was new because I’ve never been overseas before. I would have liked to have had my legs and done better, but I definitely had fun.”
The competition also pumped him up for the upcoming track season.
“It was definitely a good preparation for me because I got to see some good talent, which boosted expectations for myself,” Whitehead said. “I took away a heightened competitive spirit, humility and hunger to make a world team in the future. Expect big things this season.”
Whitehead missed qualifying for the final heat by less than two feet. He finished third last year in the triple jump at the Big Ten Championships.
Fellow teammate and friend, sophomore Stan Waithe, who competed for Trinidad and Tobago, also joined Whitehead in Italy. Waithe moved to the United States. at the age of two, but he still received a warm greeting from the Trinidad and Tobago national team.
Waithe’s 4×400-meter relay clocked a time of 3:11.33, good for 11th out of 31. He also got the chance to meet one of his future teammates, Woods, who competed for Canada.
“Right before I left, coaches told me about (Woods) and (Gras), and I thought it was awesome,” Waithe said. “It was crazy, but I only got to meet (Woods).”
Woods had just signed his letter of intent for Michigan before competing in Italy. Unlike the other three runners, Woods had previous experience running for his country.
“That was my fourth time representing Canada,” Woods said. “It was the best one by far. It was a bigger deal. I was relaxed, and I was running great.”
In the preliminary 1500-meter heat, Woods ran a personal record of 3:42. One of Woods’ goals for the season is breaking the four-minute mile mark, which would give him the junior Canadian record.