If you follow collegiate distance running to any degree, chances are you have heard the name Rory Linkletter. The BYU senior and Canadian distance talent is preparing for his final collegiate track season with national title aspirations and lofty goals for the summer. Among those goals are representing Team Canada on the world stage, qualifying for both the World Championships and Olympics, and even a potential shift to the marathon depending on what the next few months hold...
Preparing for World's
Let's rewind to this past indoor track season where the BYU veteran came up just short of qualifying for the Indoor National Championships despite running a time of 13:42 for 5000 meters. Although missing out on the national meet likely hurt, Linkletter believes that missing out on qualifying has allowed him to have a stronger build-up for the World XC meet this weekend...
“The last four weeks of training have been monstrous. I’ve been feeling really strong and really good because of that, it’s been a blessing in disguise"
But unlike some of his collegiate counterparts, Linkletter has extensive experience on the world stage, competing on the Canadian National team dating all the way back to 2015 when he was on the Beijing junior team for the World Cross Country Championships. Two years after that, he competed in Uganda as a member of the senior team and this weekend, he will once again represent Canada in Aarhus, Denmark.
As it turns out, not qualifying for Indoor Nationals has greatly favored Linkletter in terms of training. Still, don’t think that the BYU ace isn’t finding motivation from the near miss in qualifying. When asked about his goals for the upcoming weekend, he was quick to turn his attention towards other current and former NCAA athletes, mentioning names such as Jack Bruce (formerly of Arkansas), Matthew Baxter (formerly of Northern Arizona), Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse (Portland), and many more. The idea of matching up with so many familiar names should be an interesting subplot for fans to follow throughout the race.
The Transition to Outdoors
Of course, Linkletter isn't focused on just the World Cross Country Championships. With the outdoor track season already upon us, Linkletter has begun to layout what his spring campaign will look like. And the results in practice? They've been encouraging.
“I've been putting in big workouts and volume...Training has been really fun lately. I’ve been feeling good, the weather’s starting to turn around and I’ve got big goals and I’m super motivated after a disappointing indoor season.”
At last year’s outdoor national meet, Linkletter opted for the 10k/5k double, but ended up struggling in his first race of the weekend (the 10k). Luckily, he bounced back for an 8th place showing in the 5000 meters to salvage an All-American finish.However, this season will require a slightly modified approach after realizing the 10k/5k double could jeopardize his chances of going all-in for NCAA gold.
Right now, Linkletter is slated to make his outdoor debut at Bryan Clay in the 5000 meters and plans on toeing the line for the 10,000 meters later this season, an event that he is leaning towards racing at Nationals due to the potential for a national title (although nothing is set in stone).
If it was up to him, Linkletter said he enjoys strategic races that ramp up towards the end, noting he takes a lot of confidence and pride in his abilities to close races. If anyone is questioning his kick, the video of his finish at Pre Nationals this past cross country season should eliminate any doubts.
Yet, regardless of which event he ends up running, Linkletter is not worried about what happens on race day. After all, anything could happen...
“You go into every race with a vision of what a race looks like, but most of the time you just have to roll with punches”
Running for a Powerhouse
Linkletter is one of the best runners in the NCAA, but at times, he's not even the top man on his team. The Cougars have become one of the strongest distance running programs in the country (men and women) in recent years. Part of that can be attributed to culture.
“It’s been fun to even see the culture shift from when I got here. When I got here, making it to Nationals was a huge deal. Now, the everyday expectation for a guy on the team is that you should really expect yourself to qualify for NCAA's"
Linkletter is quick to acknowledge that having four or five guys who can score at a national meet helps to influence others within the program to “climb the totem pole” during workouts which has in turn, helped develop the younger members of the team. And while the increase in talent level only makes it more challenging to even earn a travel spot on the roster, Linkletter notes that the type of guys that make up the BYU squad thrive in this environment.
“It’s not about a personal vendetta or preferential treatment. Every guy is out for the team and loves to see the other guys succeed. They’re competitive with one another and every guy sees the guys around them and say ‘I can be better than them’ but at the same time these guys really root for each other and I think that’s special."
The Rivalry: BYU and Northern Arizona
Another program touted for their culture is Northern Arizona and the battle between them and BYU has become the NCAA distance running equivalent to the Yankees and Red Sox. The NAU/BYU rivalry has become the headline story of the past two cross country seasons, with both schools fielding some of the best teams in NCAA history. While BYU has yet to dethrone NAU at a national meet, Linkletter thinks the rivalry has been a good thing for both schools.
“I'm a big sports guys. I think every great sport should have a great rivalry...I feel like it’s elevated us and also made them better because they’ve had to have known that there’s a team that can get them if they’re not on their ‘A’ game.”
Although NAU came away with the team title again this fall, Linkletter knows that on the right day, BYU is capable of chopping down the Lumberjacks. Still, he makes sure to note that regardless of the outcome, “it was fun to take a swing at them”.
Life After BYU
When asked about running after his time at BYU comes to an end, Linkletter left no doubt that his time in the sport was only just getting started.
“I know I have ambitions to run for as long as I can, because I just love the sport. I just can’t see myself doing anything else yet. I have too much left I want to accomplish.”
As of now, Linkletter is only just beginning his search for post-collegiate opportunities, but is confident that as graduation approaches, opportunities will also begin to appear. For a guy who finished runner-up in the 10k in 2017 and is a multiple time All-American, his confidence is more than justified.
Like many young runners looking to make it big in the sport, one of the primary goals in the next couple of years for Linkletter will be earning a spot to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This iteration of the Olympics has brought with it a new qualification system in track & field - one that has caused a bit of an uproar amongst the running community.
The basis of the system is that this year’s standards are substantially faster than before, with the goal to have half of the athletes qualify via time standards and half qualify via the global ranking system. Athletes improve their global ranking through performances in meets leading up to the trials and the Olympic games, where higher finishes equate to higher rankings.
And while it’s somewhat unknown how the new system will impact collegiates trying to earn Olympic qualification, Linkletter feels that he will do just fine in the system. One reason for this is although he has fast times, he considers himself to be more of a "racer" and the new ranking system would allow him to earn points for strong finishes at meets such as the Pan-Am Games over the summer. He also believes that the ranking system gives him more opportunities to improve his ranking throughout the season, rather than chasing one or two fast times at a meet like Payton Jordan.
The Potential for a New Event?
While the standards and rankings may only pertain to the Olympic games in 2020, his first chance to represent Canada post-collegiately will be at the World Championships in Doha this summer on the track. Making the team for Doha will require Linkletter to qualify for Canada in either the 5k or 10k by running the IAAF standard of 13:22 or 27:40, respectively. If he does not make the team this summer, he plans to move up in distance during the fall...
“If I don’t put myself in position to make the team for Doha, I plan on probably opening up my marathon at Toronto. I think both [the 10k and marathon] are doable and it seems logical to hedge your bets and put your name in the hat for either ”
Money is another motive for anyone looking to run professionally and Linkletter says that after speaking with many others in the business that he stands to improve his chances of a sponsorship if he moves over to the marathon at a younger age
Ideally, Linkletter would like to continue working with his current coach Ed Eyestone as he moves into his post-collegiate career. The thought process makes plenty of sense given Eyestone's extensive experience (and success) with marathoners. However, outside of working with Coach Eyestone, another perk of continuing to train at BYU would be the added benefit of training alongside 2016 Olympic marathoner Jared Ward.
Ward is a BYU alum and part-time statistics professor at the university while also being one of the top Americans in the marathon. Linkletter said part of the confidence behind his current fitness is that he has been crushing some workouts with Ward in his build-up to outdoors.
We asked him for an insider prediction for Ward at Boston and Linkletter is very confident that Ward will be top 10 finisher and will be able to earn an automatic Olympic qualifier in the coming weeks.
* * *
Many thanks to Rory for taking the time to chat with TSR!
To follow along with Rory and his final collegiate season, you can follow him on Twitter at @ThePapaLinks and on Instagram at @rory_linkletter. He will be racing this Saturday at the World XC Championships at 9am EST (there is a live stream) and will be making his NCAA outdoor season debut at the Bryan Clay Invitational in April.