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"When you look back five or six years ago," Jorge adds, "this program would get only one big hitter and be really excited. Now we're getting four or five guys who'd run No. 1 for any other school. Now, every fast kid in America wants a piece of the Buffaloes, to see what they're about."
That rep has allowed Wetmore to use a Zen recruiting approach. Although Jorge and Edwardo were considered top prizes for any number of university running teams (there was little question they'd separate after high school), the coach let them come to him. During their junior year, the brothers flew out to Boulder on their own, finally bumping into Wetmore almost by accident. And then he became really standoffish.
During an official visit, Wetmore bluntly told Jorge that scholarship money was tight and that he couldn't guarantee anything to him or his brother. Jorge recalls, "I'm thinking, 'Do I really want to come to Colorado when I could go to another school and get a full ride?" It was a question he had to answer by himself: Wetmore didn't contact the Torreses again until after they'd committed to Boulder.
Though successful by most measures, the first couple of years proved disappointing for Torres and the Buffaloes. Ranked No. 1 before the NCAA finals in 2000, the team ended up losing to Arkansas. Jorge, too, had been crossing the tape seconds too late at nationals. His sophomore year, he finished third individually. Last year he was favored to win the race outright. And he probably would have, were it not for the last-minute arrival of a mysterious new student at Eastern Michigan University.
A transfer from Kenya's Tambach Teachers College, Boaz Cheboiywo had run in only one meet before showing up at the NCAA pre-finals on a 10K course in South Carolina last October. But he didn't remain an unknown for long. In that first race, the Indiana State Invitational, he opened such a large gap between himself and the field so quickly that he turned around and motioned his teammates to follow him. They couldn't, though, and he set off on his own, setting a course record.
At the pre-finals last October 14, Cheboiywo blew away the field again, obliterating the previous course mark by nearly half a minute. (The record was held by Adam Goucher, another Midwesterner who was to become a CU star.) Torres finished eighteen seconds back in second place -- a record-setting pace had it not been for the sudden appearance of the Kenyan.
The NCAA finals a month later were a repeat. Setting yet another course record, Cheboiywo pulled ahead of the field quickly and stayed there easily. "I never gave up," Jorge Torres remembers. "And I was cutting the gap between us the last minute or two. I just didn't have enough." He ended up nineteen seconds behind, with another second place. Edwardo came in fifteenth, exactly a minute behind the pace. (Freshman Alan Webb, one of only four high-schoolers in history to break the four-minute mile, finished eleventh.)
For Jorge, that leaves only this year to grab the individual cross-country title, the sole accomplishment missing on his resumé. With a full scholarship to back him up (he and Edwardo finally began receiving one their sophomore year), he began chasing Cheboiywo in earnest this summer. Barring injuries, the two will meet again later this fall.
The work took place almost exclusively on hills, which burn the legs and empty the lungs. "I was teaching my body to go through the pain," Jorge explains. Mondays and Tuesdays began with twelve-mile trail runs. Then it was back for lunch and a rest before another five- or six-mile run in the afternoon. Wednesday mornings brought fifteen more miles, another lunch break and a six-mile pace run. Thursdays were easy days -- only twelve miles in the morning. Fridays, it was back to the grind: a dozen miles in the morning, some interval work later in the day. Saturdays were usually the same. Sundays meant twenty more miles.
The work was brutal, and sometimes Jorge's mind wandered. "I dream of races," he says. "The Olympics, or the world championships. I see myself surrounded by African runners, European runners, wearing different uniforms. And I'm winning.
"When I'm running by myself I think, 'Why do I do this sport? Why do I do it so much?' But then I'm jumping trails, looking at trees, the sun or rain beating down on me -- and it's like nothing else. It helps your soul. When you finish a run, it's like winning the lottery."
On a recent afternoon, CU's runners begin arriving at their workout, today a series of 300-yard intervals at a moderate early-season pace. Wetmore has stagger-scheduled them in small groups so that the field adjacent to the basketball arena doesn't become too crowded. A gang of young women arrives just as Wetmore and his only trainer are concluding a conversation in which she has made a plea to ban track athletes from scooters after yet another ankle injury. ("We start the year with 85 runners and end with 70," she says. "Lots of injuries.")