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After Drew Hunter and Michael Slagowski ran epic miles on opposite ends of the U.S. this weekend, MileSplit's Jojo Gretschel and Dennis Young got into an argument about who would win a race between the two.
Dennis: Jojo, We just spent 10 months hyping up Drew Hunter; I wrote an article this winter (correctly) saying he could be the best prep runner since Alan Webb. And now there's someone his own age who might be better. What a time to be alive! Michael Slagowski broke 4:00 on a cool day in Portland, with an incompetent rabbit--the poor kid physically knocked someone out of the race--while Drew's sub-4:00s were in pro fields on a blazing-fast Armory track with no wind. Could Slagowski beat Hunter in a mile? (By the way, 1K and down I'm taking Slagowski, 2K and up I'm taking Hunter).
Jojo: Dennis, Slagowski could beat Hunter in a mile. He ran 1:48.7 for 800m in a solo effort, nearly six seconds ahead of the next finisher. His open 400m best is 49.04, though he says he has split 48-mid on a relay.
Meanwhile, Drew's open 800m best is 1:52. Our database does not list an open 400m time, but I don't believe he has ever broken 50 seconds.
Apparently, as of December 2014, he had yet to break 59 seconds for a quarter mile.
Mile races always come down to who has the best kick, and I think Slagowski has it.
Dennis: Slagowski is a beast, and we should be careful with ascribing special powers to Drew just because he's a first-name-only-level athlete. I also think Slagowski could beat a runner of Drew's caliber in the mile, but not Drew himself. Many athletes of Drew's quality who are so much better than their peers fail to develop skills they'll need when they get better peers. For example, some of the best players in the NBA still can't shoot with their weak hand because their strong hand is so freaking good that over the course of their careers they've never needed to develop an alternative.
That goes for runners, too. When you're much better than your peers, the toolbox tends to be a little incomplete--Edward Cheserek losing to Jordy Williamsz at Penn last year is not a bad example of this. Ches is the best at so many things, but not the best in a dead-flat 100 sprint--and he's never had to develop his tactics or speed to account for that.
Hunter, on the other hand, is the most tactically astute teenage boy I've ever seen run. I think that Slagowski would have at least a coin flip's chance--if not better--against Hunter in a race that went through 1400 meters north of 3:30. As we saw on Friday, Hunter's kick is roughly on par with Jack Salisbury's (Obviously, Drew went out harder than Salisbury in that race, but still)! I think Hunter's tactical prowess and aerobic strength are such that he would break Slagowski with a long, searing grind with 600m or more to go.
Do you think Slagowski could beat Hunter in a fast, grinding race? Am I giving Drew unfair credit because he's more famous?
Jojo: I think it depends where they meet.
If both runners are invited to race the mile at the Pre Classic -- the elite men's mile, not the high school boys mile -- then Hunter has the edge.
(It doesn't have to be the Pre Classic, but essentially this scenario envisions a professional-/collegiate-level race with much faster runners pushing the pace).
Hunter has three professional-level mile races under his belt, including both of his indoor sub-fours and a crowded 1500m that ended in 3:42.42 (4:00.17 mile after conversion). We've seen Drew react to the crowded field of runners who are mostly better than him, and he is a consistent sub-four, top-of-the-pack performer.
Slagowski, meanwhile, is a bit of an unknown in that situation and would likely react according to his experience (or lack thereof).
But if it were Drew to do the grinding, not a 3:55 pro, I think the narrative changes.
If Slagowski and Hunter were to meet in a prep-only race, I assume Hunter would take the pace out hard and whittle the field down to two. Slagowski can grind. Remember, the third lap of his sub-four was his fastest in 57-high!
Slagowski hangs until it's time to kick. And then he goes.
Do you think there's a difference in winner given the race scenario? Or does the superior runner win every time?
Dennis: Co-sign that Hunter would have a big edge in a pro race, and that Slagowski would have a better shot in a "Teens Night at the Club" high school-only race. But I think that Slagowski is too much of a pure mid-d runner to handle a strength race. He finished 45th at his NXN regional; more pertinently, he's a 9:14 3200 runner, while Hunter is a 7:59 3K guy. And we'll get a better idea about Drew's range when he runs the 800 this weekend at Dogwood; maybe Slagowski will make us reconsider his range with like an 8:49 two mile somewhere.
Part of this is the devil we know. I'm certain Drew would perform well against teenagers in a strength-type race; until Slagowski shows that he's got that in his toolbox, I'm picking Hunter in any circumstance but a super-slow, pure kickers' race. And as I said earlier, the Hunter we've seen in 2016 would not let the race get to that point.
Drew told us on a podcast in February (before he even broke four!) that he was kind of done with competing against high schoolers. Now the matchup I want to see more than any other--more than Hunter trying to break Webb's high school record in a straight-up record attempt--is Hunter-Slagowski in a high school-only race.
Whatever method of digital communication cool teens use these days, get these two on it and have them figure out where they can race each other in a high school-only race. Dare I dream that they go at it at Brooks PR?
Jojo: Fact: we will not see Slagowski throw down a sick 3200m/two mile time, as he only plans to race the distance for points at his region/state meets in Idaho.
I do remember Hunter making it clear he was not interested in racing high schoolers anymore and we've seen it, too, as he skipped individual events for relays at New Balance and Penn.
But I have to imagine Slagowski's sub-four sparked some intrigue. Hunter wants to be remembered as the best ever, and if he and Slagowski never race, then there's some question if he's even the best in the Class of 2016.
Hunter vs. Slagowski is the Fisher vs. Maton that we never got to see!
Let's make it happen, boys.