Widmann’s turbulent career pays off with team title win at Gans Creek Classic

The redshirt senior returned for a fifth year at Missouri and gave the team a title last Friday.

Michael Widmann listens to his coaches.

Their advice helped him in his redshirt freshman season, when he was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team. It helped him through the turbulent seasons that followed. And during the inaugural Gans Creek Classic on Friday, it helped him once more.

Widmann began the race hoping to be Missouri’s crucial fifth finisher. As the final runner to score, a fifth runner’s position can, and often does, determine a team’s place.

“As the fifth man, your job is to close the door,” Widmann said. “You’ve got to do your job as the fifth man and score those last points your team needs.”

With less than a quarter mile to go in the race, the Tigers needed Widmann. Engaged in a tight battle with Texas A&M, Missouri needed every position it could get. That meant Widmann’s placement would likely determine the team’s result.

“I was a little disoriented at that point,” Widmann said. “It was hot out there and I didn’t have a whole lot left in the tank.”

Luckily, one of his coaches was there to give him some advice.

“With 300 [meters] to go, I was like, ‘Man, it’s a one, two-point race one way or the other. Make the difference right here,’” coach Marc Burns said. “He looked up and he got them. He did it.”

Widmann didn’t know which runners he needed to pass, or how many. He just kicked — the tank-emptying, gut-busting effort that sends many runners to the ground as soon as they cross the finish line.

“I didn’t think I did it,” Widmann said. “But then [coach Brett] Halter came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me what my place was.”

Widmann finished 23rd, 10 seconds and three places ahead of the next Texas A&M runner. Missouri won by two points.

“He saved us,” Burns said. “His closing was the difference, him flip-flopping some places down the stretch. This was by far the best race he’s run, probably since he’s been here.”

Widmann isn’t normally known for his kick. He’s not the type of runner to fly past his competition on the final straightaway. He is, however, the type of runner to keep coming back.

“It’s been a long couple of years, trying to get him to where he can do what he did today,” Burns said. “To his credit, he’s really persevered … Most guys probably would’ve packed it in after four years and said, ‘Hey, we tried, it didn’t work.’ Michael’s not that way.”

After receiving All-SEC honors in his second season with Missouri, Widmann looked poised for a great career with the Tigers. Coaches were hopeful he’d rise to the top of a crowded men’s team as a leading runner.

Then the problems started.

Iron deficiency and overtraining were the principal concerns that led to long conversations with the coaching staff. Training adjustments, nutrition programs, even blood work went into Widmann’s recovery.

No matter how many coaches, teammates or family members were by his side, Widmann never found it easy.

“It tests your character, who you are as an athlete and who you are as a man,” he said.

Widmann choked up as he talked about those lost years. “Stuff like that takes it out of you. Honestly, you have no idea what the future holds. You have no idea if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

But he made it: made it to his fifth season, made it to the opening of his school’s new racing facility, made it across the finish line in 23rd place, enough for a team title.

Fellow redshirt senior Thomas George has been with Widmann since the start of their time at Missouri. While George has led the Tigers as a top runner, he’s watched his teammate battle to even make it onto the course.

On Friday, he watched Widmann get his moment.

“It’s great because he’s been plugging away for five years,” George said. “It makes everything that we do worthwhile.”

Widmann’s teammates presented him with the team trophy after the race, a token of appreciation and recognition for his effort and performance.

“The guys and the coaches, they were awesome,” Widmann said. “They were telling me I was the reason why we won the team title, but it’s a team thing. Everybody did their job. It wouldn’t have mattered what I did if we didn’t have three in the top ten. They were lifting me up.”

In the final year of his up-and-down career, Widmann is enjoying his victories — those with his team and those that he’s earned by making it this far.

Soon, Widmann will cross the final finish line of his collegiate career, and because of the lessons he’s learned with Missouri, he’ll cross it knowing that he’s won a battle.

“As long as you just stay in there, you don’t really lose unless you quit,” he said.

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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