Purdue’s track team lists a dozen runners with 1500-meter or mile marks. Only three are faster than the 3:50.85 for 1500 that Joel Gomez ran Friday morning at the U.S. Paralympic National Track & Field Championships.
Legally blind, the 19-year-old lowered his own American record in his classification by five seconds. It’s equivalent to a 4:09 mile.
Why mention Purdue?
Gomez, who grew up in Encinitas, is a sophomore studying industrial engineering at the West Lafayette, Indiana, school. He inquired about joining the school’s track team but never heard back.
“I emailed them multiple times and they just really never showed any interest or even cared to respond,” he said. The school won’t even let him train on the university track.
But Gomez, who took 10th in the Tokyo Paralympics 1500 at age 17, doesn’t hold a grudge.
“I’m really happy with Coach [Joaquim] Cruz,” he said, referring to the 1984 Olympic champion at 800 meters who sends him workouts. And Gomez is putting academics first anyway — and maintaining a straight-A grade average.
The 2021 graduate of Classical Academy High School of Escondido, with a rare form of color-blindness, now sets his sights on bigger things — a podium finish at the Paris world para athletics championships in July and a milestone mark — the first sub-4-minute mile by a visually impaired runner.
He easily won his race Friday at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, hosting its first para nationals.
He’ll be joined by 44 other American men and women in July at the world meet — a number set by his sport’s international governing body. (Team USA would take many more if it could, a spokeswoman said.)
Gomez, who also won his 400-meter race Friday afternoon in 51.53 seconds, ran his first 300 meters in the metric mile in 45 seconds — a 4-minute mile pace. After 350 meters, when the pace began to slow, he “decided just to go” and ran ahead by himself.
With about 40 meters to go, the 5-foot-9 runner saw his time could be 3:40-something — and realized he’d achieved the world meet qualifying standard.
- Watch: Livestream of events at Chula Vista training center
- See: Results for U.S. Para Track & Field National Championships
“I was kind of laying off the gas a little bit towards the end just because … I just didn’t want to be too dead” for the 400-meter dash, he said.
The 1500 world record for T13 is 3:48.29 by an Algerian at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics. But since T12s and T13s race each other, his real goal is the T12 record of 3:41.34 by an Australian in 2021.
That Aussie — Jaryd Clifford — ran a mile in 4:01.98 in February. So the race for sub-4 is on — just as American Wes Santee and Englishman Roger Bannister battled for the first sub-4 in the mid-1950s.
“There’s still a chance that I could be the first one” under 4, he said, “The sub-4 is still my goal after all. … So just a bit more chipping away and I should get there eventually.”
He says he’s training at a really high level now — and ran 800 meters in a speedy 1:51.53 at a recent Azusa-Pacific meet. That distance, his coach’s, would be his preference. But it’s not contested in his T13 category at worlds.
“I’m gonna see if I can email somebody about that,” he said, “just to like make it known that it would be nice for them to have because there’s so many T13-15, 800-meter runners.”
Gomez was joined by a pair of other teens notching American records Friday.
Ezra Frech of Los Angeles, who turned 18 this month, long-jumped 6.62 meters (21-8 1/2) in the T63 class (competing with prosthesis). High school senior Samantha Heyison of Adamstown, Maryland, set a F44 discus record of 37.89 meters (124-3 3/4).
San Diego State University adaptive athletics coach Isaac Jean-Paul, who is visually impaired, won the long jump with a 7.33-meter leap (24 feet) and the 100-meter dash in 11.02 seconds.
“This is a beautiful experience,” Jean-Paul told TeamUSA.org. “Seeing all of these adaptive athletes out here with university names on their chests, it’s special. It’s one thing to compete, but to see the sport grow, it’s beautiful.”
The meet resumes at 8:45 a.m Saturday with throws and 800-meter races.