“You’re remarkable,” Shyan Vaziri kept hearing from his mother, Feryal, when he was growing up in San Diego. His parents had long since left their native Iran, but they remained true to their culture in naming their son. “[Shyan] means ‘remarkable’ in Persian,” he said.
There were a lot of ways for him to try to do remarkable things in sports. He played Little League baseball and club soccer, a sport his father had played at Point Loma Nazarene. When he was a freshman at Scripps Ranch High School, Vaziri went out for track.
“I loved it,” he said. “I won my first race. It was such a different feeling from other sports. You feel such pressure, so nervous. It goes away after you finish. The result is black-and-white — it tells you exactly how you’re doing.”
He was doing quite well by his junior year, breaking the two-minute mark in the 800 meters by several seconds. But it was still short of remarkable. “I flew under the radar,” he said.
As a senior, Vaziri suddenly flashed onto the radar. “My time improved by five seconds,” he said. At the 2011 California State Meet, he finished second in the 800 final in a time of 1:50.2, the fastest ever run by a San Diego Section athlete. It might have surprised some people that he chose to go to UCSB, a school where the running track is in serious need of restoration, but Vaziri’s decision has worked out remarkably well for him and for the Gauchos.
“Ryan Martin was my big brother my first year,” Vaziri said. “Ryan and Rusty Parker looked after me. They taught me how to manage life as a student athlete.” The three called themselves the “Eight Crew,” as all were 800-meter runners. Martin, a senior with a blazing kick, proved to be one of the best in the nation in 2012. He finished a fast-closing fourth in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
“We were screaming at the TV,” Vaziri said. “He came so close to making the London Olympics. Every runner’s dream is being in the Olympics one day. I dream of Ryan and me representing UCSB in 2016.”
Vaziri will be moving up from the 800 to get there. At the Bryan Clay Invitational at Azusa Pacific last month, he clocked 3:42.44 in the 1,500 meters, shattering the UCSB record of 3:43.80 set by Mike Chavez in 2007. The time equates to a four-minute mile.
The Gaucho junior’s progress to elite status in the 1,500 did not come overnight. “Coach [Pete] Dolan’s philosophy helped me,” Vaziri said. “You build your aerobic base over time. My first year, I didn’t do as many miles as in high school. Now I’m doing twice as much.”
The 5’8”, 130-pound Vaziri is a smooth runner with exceptional durability. That is evident in the 23 collegiate races he’s won and the five times he has been a double winner in the 800 and 1,500, most recently in a dual meet at Cal Poly two weeks ago.
“It’s amazing how strong he is,” Dolan said. “He’s unfazed by hard workouts this year.” The 1,500, 3 ¾ laps around the track, is a different challenge from the two-lap 800. Dolan said, “It comes down to tactics in the last lap” — how long to hold back, when to make a move — and that depends on how much a runner has left.
Vaziri did some surfing in San Diego and was delighted to find that Dolan may be the only Division I college track coach who regularly goes out on his board. The two have surfed together at Sands Beach near Isla Vista. Another discovery Vaziri has made is the Sam’s To U sandwich shop on Hollister Avenue. “I looked in the window and saw a picture of a Persian kebab,” he said. “It’s my favorite food.”
All things considered, this remarkable Gaucho runner said, “If I had my pick of any school in the nation now, I would stay at UCSB.”
MAGIC OF THE MILE: Roger Bannister broke through the four-minute barrier in the mile run on May 6, 1954. It remains the most memorable performance in track history. Yet it is rare now to see a mile run at a track meet. The 1,500 meters, a relic of the days there were 300-meter tracks, remains the comparable Olympic distance. In the conversion of tracks from 440 yards to 400 meters, most high school federations have substituted the 1,600-meter run for the mile. A four-minute 1,600 is fast but not fast enough, because a mile is 1,609 meters.
Santa Barbara resident Ryan Lamppa, media director of Running USA, is determined to bring the mile back into prominence. Two years ago, he founded Bring Back the Mile, an organization that is lobbying officials to restore the classic distance to championship meets. “It’s going to take a long time,” spokesperson David Monico said, “but every year there’s more and more buzz. This year is incredible in terms of the history of the mile.”
Monico noted that most mile events in the U.S. are for recreational runners and veterans. “They’re getting more popular,” he said, “and the prize money for mile events across the country is doubling. The State Street Mile is an example.”
Santa Barbara’s 15th Platinum Performance State Street Mile will be held on Sunday, June 1. It will offer $4,000 in guaranteed prize money. The top male and female finishers each will earn $750, with a $500 bonus for breaking a record — 3:49 for the men (Michael Coe in 2013) and 4:33 for the women (Melissa McBain in 2005 and Tara Erdmann in 2012). Coe was aided by the downhill grade of the course down State Street, but the Lompoc native is a legitimate four-minute man, having set the UC Berkeley record of 3:56.2 on the track.
NOTABLE MARKS: Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club (SBTC) broke through the 6,000-point barrier in the heptathlon for the first time in her career, winning the seven-event competition at the Mt. SAC Relays with a score of 6,043 points, the top mark in the U.S. The UCSB graduate set personal bests in the 200 meters (23.91 seconds), long jump (19’), and 800 meters (2:11.42). … Ashton Eaton, the Olympic champion and world-record holder in the decathlon, extended his preseason training camp at Westmont College to six weeks this spring. He will take the year off from the decathlon and compete in hurdles and jumps at various meets. His wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, will enter this month’s international heptathlon in Götzis, Austria… .UCSB junior Albert Hughes unleashed a personal best of 164’6” on his final discus throw to give the Gaucho men a three-point victory over Cal Poly in their dual meet… .The Gaucho women also won by a narrow margin, as sophomore Tori Tsolis won a hotly contested 1,500 in a personal best: 4:26.76… .UCSB will compete in the Big West Championships at UC Davis this weekend… .In the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships, two Westmont College juniors from San Marcos High were double winners. Shane Rowan won the long jump (22’5 ¾”) and triple jump (47’2 ¼”) as the Warriors repeated as men’s champions. Elysia Hodges took the women’s 400 (55.89) and 200 (24.84). Hodges earlier set a school record of 59.16 in the 400 hurdles… .In the UCLA men’s dual-meet victory over USC, two Dos Pueblos High graduates won their events while recording lifetime best marks — Nicholas Scarvelis with a throw of 64’ 4 ½” in the shot put and Sergey Sushchikh running the 5,000 meters in 14:23.41.