By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEW YORK — Newburyport junior Nick Carleo placed sixth in the country in the mile at the New Balance National Championships yesterday afternoon, becoming the first Newburyport athlete in history to earn All-American status at the prestigious event.
Carleo finished the race with a personal best time of 4:14.35, beating his previous best time by about a second to claim a spot in the top six, which earned him a spot on the podium, a big medal and the coveted All-American distinction.
“I’m pretty excited right now, it was a little unexpected,” Carleo said after the race.
Carleo finished the race about five seconds out of first place. Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc, Mich., placed first with a time of 4:09.46 to win the National Championship, followed by Luke Gavigan of Blauvent, N.Y. (4:11.67), Garrett O’Toole of Weston (4:13.60), Wesley Pectol of Greeneville, Tenn. (4:13.93) and James Burke of Port Jefferson, N.Y. (4:14.29).
Don Hennigar, the Newburyport track team’s distance coach, said Carleo did a great job keeping up with the race’s leaders, and when things started to pick up he hung in there and didn’t let anybody get too far in front of him.
“He ran a smart race, stayed up front, and when things started to pick up he hung in with it,” Hennigar said. “A couple of guys got him right at the end, but it was very exciting to watch.”
Coming into the race, Carleo said his goal was to place in the top six, but ultimately he just wanted to do his best. Halfway through the race, however, he realized that finishing in the top six was definitely within his grasp, and he might even have a chance at finishing higher than that.
“About halfway through the race I thought I could be closer to the top group, but a kid took off and it kind of broke off from there,” Carleo said.
Regardless, Carleo’s time marked a new personal best, topping the mark he set two weeks ago when he won All-States. During that meet, Carleo beat out Paul Hogan of Burlington on the home stretch to win the All-State title with a time of 4:15.29. O’Toole, who runs for Middlesex and placed third at Nationals, did not compete at that meet.
Besides marking a new milestone in his running career, the performance also marked a bit of redemption for Carleo. Two years ago, Carleo competed in the New Balance Nationals in the mile as a freshman, but after qualifying as the third fastest freshman in the country, he ran a bad race and wound up adding seven seconds to his time.
Now, Carleo is an All-American, and as only a junior he still has another year to keep improving and potentially do even better at next year’s meet.
The same goes for Newburyport junior Tom Graham, who also competed in the meet on Friday and finished 23rd in the country in the 800-meter race with a time of 1:59.01.
Now with outdoor track scheduled to begin tomorrow, Hennigar said Carleo and Graham have earned some rest after all the hard work they put in preparing for this weekend.
“Those guys are going to get a week off — they deserve it,” Hennigar said.