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Track and Field: Spratling runs in a Pitt uniform for the last time

By Jasper Wilson / Sports Editor

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Brycen Spratling can’t stop running, not that he wants to.

The former Pitt sprinter and collegiate All-American came in fourth in the 400 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on June 13. Over the weekend, he finished seventh in the same event at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif.

While this more recent competition involved professional runners as well as college athletes, Spratling says his approach both during the race and leading up to it didn’t change from racing in college.

“I look at every race the same way no matter who I’m racing against or what kind of meet it is,” Spratling said. “[I] just keep myself from getting overwhelmed by it.”

He’d been in Pittsburgh training with Pitt track and field coach Alonzo Webb in the interim.

“To prepare, I just kept everything the same: couple normal weeks of practice. Pretty much kept my same routine to go out there and try to run fast,” he said.

From a starting field of 27 other runners, Spratling advanced from preliminary and semifinal heats to the eight-person finals where he ran a 45.90.

This year’s event — which occurred during an “off” period in the calendar with no Olympics or World Championships qualification to offer — still held importance for runners, like Spratling, who are starting to make careers of the sport.

“It’s still important to perform at the biggest meets of the year. This is one of the biggest meets because it’s an off year. For me to go through to make it through all the rounds and get to the final was big for me and my career,” he said.

For his performance, Spratling received $500. The person ahead of him received $750. Winner Gil Roberts, a professional,  finished 1.337 seconds ahead of the former Panther and received $7,000.

Webb and the other track and field coaches figured Spratling would compete in the event at the beginning of the year, unless he got hurt. There is a set qualifying time of 47.84 and Spratling beat it regularly this season. He also showed his capability when he competed in the same event last year, advancing to the semifinals before finishing just outside of the cut in 11th  place.

“If you look at it, you see all these great athletes who are making a living at this, and the USA Championships is only eight lanes and Brycen had one of them,” Webb said. “That says a lot about his ability: from a collegian, being able to step right in and compete with the pros and hold his own.”

On Saturday, Spratling will travel to Europe for two weeks for a trio of professional meets in Ireland, Belgium and Spain. He has an agent and is in the process of getting sponsored.

In August, he has a meet in Canada as a part of the U-23 United States Track and Field team in the 400 and the 4×400 relay.

Varying levels of sponsorship exist in the sport of track and field, creating a quasi-sense of the term “professional.” For example some “pros” receive performance clothes and footwear but no monetary compensation from a sponsor. Webb thinks the term isn’t exactly accurate. These runners might be competing at a high level but also need to work 40-hour weeks.

“Brycen, I think, is a little step above that. He’ll get a shoe deal,” Webb said. “It might not be huge until he works his way up into that. But it’s also very competitive. There’s only gonna be eight lanes.”

Athletes with shoe contracts, or more monetarily beneficial contracts, receive five- or six-figure salaries along with appearance fees and prize money from events, so the gap between the two ends of the pay scale is massive.

Webb said he believes Spratling will be able to maintain a career where he can focus just on running. To Webb’s knowledge, the 22-year-old, who majored in administration of justice, has no plans to do anything but.

“He has never mentioned anything about another job,” Webb said. “This is what he wants to do and good for him. This is what he wants to do and he’s gonna make it work.”

Spratling and classmate Carvin Nkanata have talked together about getting the latter type of deals and going pro for the past two years, since Nkanata transferred to Pitt from Iowa Central Community College.

“When I came to Pitt, that was the goal: to get better and to be able compete at the highest level. I’ve achieved that and I think having the chance to even get in those meets over in Europe shows that other people feel like I’m a high level right now and that I can compete with the best,” Spratling said. “To go over there means a lot to me. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be able to do something like this, even though I’m done at Pitt, to just continue running.”

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Track and Field: Spratling runs in a Pitt uniform for the last time