Read more: Doug Robinson: SUU's Levins runs large number of miles to reach lofty goals
CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah runner Cam Levins hit the backstretch on the final lap of his first collegiate 10,000-meter race with more than just a win on the line last Saturday.
For Levins, the chance to qualify for the Canadian Olympic team also hung in the balance.
The 10,000m race at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford had started out with a host of runners at the front of the pack, but by the end of it, just two runners remained in contention for first place — Levins and Sam Chelanga, a professional runner.
Levins blew past his opponent.
The Canadian beat out Chelanga to win the race in 27:27.96 and qualify for the 2012 London Olympic games.
Not only that, he posted the fastest time anyone on the planet has run in 2012.
According to the International Association of Athletics Federation, Levins' time is the fastest 10,000m time for anyone in the world this calendar year.
“I guess it was unforeseeable for me (to qualify for the Olympics) before the season began,” Levins said. “It’s incredible.
My entire life I’ve wanted to make it to the Olympics. To be at the level I’m in and to be one of the top Canadians ever is just mind blowing.”
Just a week prior to the Payton Jordan Invitational, Levins posted the second-fastest 5,000-meter time recorded this year in the world at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif. That time also qualified Levins for the 2012 Olympics.
Both his 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races were A-plus Olympic-qualifying times. Levins said he will likely only run one race but won’t decide until later this year.
The Black Creek, British Columbia, Canada native has worn Canadian team colors in other national events within the past two years, but said this would be a completely different feeling.
“You don’t get a chance very often to do this,” Levins said. “To go when I feel pretty young too and represent Canada — it’s so cool.”
Levins’ hometown is smaller than 2,000 people, and SUU isn’t exactly a huge college, making Levins’ journey even more interesting.
Levins has been named an All-American in three different cross country and indoor track and field events this year. He won the Canadian Cross-Country Championship for the second consecutive time in November, and he has risen to the top of the long distance community since running a sub four-minute mile in 2010.
It's almost crazy to think now that Levins actually struggled to find a Division I school coming out of high school. Eventually, he landed at Southern Utah, and SUU coach Eric Houle has reaped the benefits ever since.
“I felt like he was going to be a very good athlete for us,” Houle said. “Was he going to make it all the way to the Olympics? Did I know that? Heavens no. I thought he did stand a good shot to be an All-American.”
Levins’ running times were nowhere near record-breaking at first, but during the 2009 winter break, Levins said he found a book that changed everything.
The book, "Once a Runner," talked about long-distance running, and Levins said it inspired him to increase his training from 15 miles per day to 25 miles a day — and now 30 miles a day.
Shortly after increasing his mileage, Levins ran a sub four-minute mile, and now he is shattering records left and right.
“Any college would say, ‘Wow I didn’t know he was going to do this much,’” Houle said. “It’s icing on the cake.”
In addition to qualifying for the Olympics, Levins was added the Bowerman watch list Wednesday — the equivalent of the Heisman for long-distance runners.
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Levins will aim for a national championship in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the end of the month before training for the Olympics in London this summer.
“It’s exciting to see someone from Southern Utah — the 'Rudy' of the sports world — achieve levels that are through the roof,” Houle said. “You can only be excited about that. It just makes you appreciate not only him, but also the other athletes here that chase those kinds of dreams, to have a shot to have a personal record. To see that dream achieved is pretty exciting.”