"I don't really focus on the times," he says. "If I focus on training and put in good solid workouts, I feel confident I'll run well. I want to run as fast as I can and feel like I put in a good effort."
Wyant claims he knew Saarel was "special" the first time he saw him three years ago, and he can prove it. During Saarel's sophomore season, Wyatt dared to compare his young runner to Puskedra in an interview with a local newspaper.
"When he was a sophomore, I told people he is going to break Puskedra's records and nobody believed me," says Wyant. He says Puskedra's coach playfully told him he was much too premature in making such a pronouncement.
"He was right — it was a crazy statement to make — but he has lived up to it," says Wyant.
Saarel took up running relatively late. A freshman at West High, he had just given up soccer as his long-time sport of choice when his sister Emma invited him to join her on the school's cross country team.
"I thought I'd try it a year and be done with it, but I started enjoying it," he recalls. He skipped the track season, but after transferring to Park City High the following year, he signed up for both cross country and track. He has claimed three state cross country titles and two state titles in both the 1,600 and 3,200. He showed early promise with times of 4:17 and 9:28 as a sophomore, followed by a 4:16/9:14 showing as a junior.
Saarel's success this season triggered a recruiting war and so many phone calls from coaches that the Saarels asked Wyant not to give out the family's phone number. Saarel took official recruiting visits to Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado and Stanford (and an unofficial visit to Princeton). He plans to pursue his studies in the sciences, as well as his running career, at Colorado in the fall.
Saarel comes from an academic family. His parents, Doug and Tess, are both Princeton graduates, and Emma attends Swarthmore College, the famous brainiac school. Tess is a cardiologist and Doug a stay-at-home father and former employee of Columbia Pictures.
The family lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast before moving to Utah four years ago. They live in the Salt Lake Valley and chose schools for their children based on academic programs. Ben chose to commute to Park City High daily for the school's AP program.
"I work hard at school," says Saarel. "I just enjoy learning new stuff. I love math and sciences. If I can pick up anything new there, I enjoy it."
"He's really academic, very smart," says Wyant. "He's one of the top kids in the school academically. But he's surprisingly humble and shy about all this stuff. I think the attention has been overwhelming."
When he's not studying, Saarel is running workouts that most preps would not attempt. He runs 70-75 miles a week, but much of it is close to a five-minute-per-mile pace. "He does not run many miles that are slow," says Wyant. "His tempo runs are very fast. He would be setting state cross country course records on some of those runs."
Shortly after returning from the Mt. SAC Relays, Saarel was hard at it again, preparing for another big test.
"I'm catching up on my sleep," he said, "and studying for the AP test."
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