Greenwich’s 1600-meter sprint medley relay team of Thomas Foster, Jack Sias, Gianluca Bianchi and ZJ Jelinek entered the New Balance Nationals Indoor Championships hoping to break a school record in the event. Well, they indeed, shattered a school mark in the race, but also achieved an accomplishment most athletes can only dream of.
The Cardinals’ fast-running quartet finished fourth in the nation in the 1600-meter sprint medley on Friday at the New Balance Nationals Indoor Championships, registering a time of 3:33.08 at the Armory in New York, a performance earning them All-American status.
Racing in the third heat, Greenwich placed first in its heat in the event, which consists of 200-meter runs in the first and second leg, a 400 in the third leg and an 800-meter run in the final leg. Jelinek, a senior, ran the final 800 for the Cardinals and his split was a personal-record time of 1:55.37. His previous best time was 1:57.
“We were only trying to break the school record,” Jelinek said. “That was going to be our main goal. I ended up going several seconds faster than we expected. Pretty much our entire team did better than we all expected.”
Jelinek ran the final four laps, consisting of 800 meters.
“It was a little stressful, but very exciting to be the one to finish the race,” said Jelinek, who will continue his track career at Bucknell University next season. “Thomas Foster ended up giving us an early lead, which was amazing, handed off to Jack Sias, who maintained the lead and Gianluca, he did a great job in that regard.”
“When it was handed to me there was a guy who was sitting on me the first 400 meters,” Jelinek continued. “I didn’t realize it in my head, I was just hearing, run, run, run, run and coach, he screamed ‘you’re going too slow.’ Then, I ended up gaining three or four seconds and I ended up pulling away.”
The Cardinals’ sprint medley relay squad watched the race’s next two heats before learning that it was official – they placed fourth overall in the event in the country, good for All-America honors.
“You’ve never seen a bunch of guys jumping up and down, screaming and celebrating like we were,” Jelinek said. “My teammates did amazing, every single one of our legs amazing.”
Senior Thomas Foster gave Greenwich the early lead in the sprint medley relay with a split of 23.765 seconds in the first leg.
“It’s pretty hard to describe,” Foster said of the All-American effort. “It’s incredible. The joy and excitement we felt was amazing and the whole relay was incredible. When the race ended, we saw that we broke the school record by two seconds, but I wasn’t even considering that we were going to get All-American.”
In Greenwich’s All-America race to remember, Foster handed off to Sias, a senior, who kept the Cardinals in the lead in their heat. Sias’ split (200 meters) was 23.13.
“It was really exhilarating,” Sias said of competing in the race on the national level. “We were going into it thinking about going for the school record. It’s my first year doing track, so I was kind of nervous. It was a quick turn, so you don’t have much margin for error in the race. I ran my fastest leg and we broke the school record, which was great.”
Also a soccer player, this marked Sias’ first season competing in track and field.
“At first, I was doing it for conditioning,” Sias said. “My main sport is soccer, so I wanted to stay in shape and get in better shape. Then I really began enjoying this track season. I made some new friends, who I didn’t know before and we’ve trained some underclassmen training with the girls team, who have also competed at Nationals, finishing first in the Emerging Elite.”
Bianchi ran the sprint medley relay’s third leg for GHS, posting a time of 50.83 (400 meters), before handing off to Jelinek. Indeed, the Cardinals All-America relay athletes appreciated the atmosphere at Nationals.
“It honestly feels like the Olympics, the way they have it set up,” Jelinek said. “It’s a very professional atmosphere. It makes you feel like that you know you have to show up and do your best.”
“It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done,” Sias said of competing at Nationals. “If you mess up, the race is done. The culture in track is great and everyone at Nationals was saying ‘good job’ and supporting each other, which eases the nerves. Everyone is pulling for you.”
Greenwich was the top sprint medley relay team in Connecticut. Westfield (New Jersey) won the event in 3:28.49, while Union (N.J.) finished second (3:30.91).
Jelinek and Bianchi are competing in 4×400-meter relay at Nationals today, along with sophomore Harrison Goldenberg and senior Zach Carifa. Greenwich coaches Jeff Klein and Jennifer St. Jean, have guided and inspired the team throughout the season.
“Coach Klein, he has been doing this for a while,” Jelinek said. “He is really dedicated to Greenwich track, making the drive to where he lives in Trumbull to Greenwich every day. Every single race, he is on the sidelines saying everyone’s splits and cheering for everyone. Coach Jen is the distance coach. She holds multiple records for her age group and is great at preparing us for each race.”
Foster got all he could out of the indoor track season, ending it with an All-America finish.
“Without a doubt, it was a season I definitely won’t forget,” he said. “I joined track to get in shape and I’ve had a great time. My teammates are great guys, I got close to them.”