Sumner’s sights set on 400m, 200m at Nike Indoor Nationals

by Steve Underwood

Although Will Sumner has already made prep track history indoors at distances from 500m to 800m this winter, his biggest goals for his senior year have always been to focus on his sprint speed. So when he takes to the track at the NSAF's Nike Indoor Nationals next month, he’ll have his sights zeroed in on doing some spectacular things at 400m and 200m.

Sumner is one of the most outstanding athletes entered at NIN so far, which will roar to life at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex, Friday-Sunday, March 11-13, 2022.  He has set the T&F world on fire the past several weeks with jaw-dropping national HS records at 500m (1:01.25) and 600m (1:15.58), as well as history’s #2 prep 800m at 1:48.14.

But the Woodstock, Ga. senior and UGA recruit is outstanding at the traditional long sprint distances as well, coming off a Kentucky Invitational double where he set new PRs at each (46.78 and 21.58). So at NIN he’ll contest those events, starting with Friday’s prelims at each distance. With the 400m/200m being a very difficult double for Saturday’s finals, he’ll have a choice to make.

“At the beginning of the season the plan was to focus on speed, mainly the 200 and 400,” said Sumner, “so my parents and I think running these events at Nike Indoor Nationals would be a great opportunity to further develop my sprinting.”

Indeed, Sumner’s parents know what it’s like to have that electrifying mix of long-sprint and middle-distance talent and deciding what to do with it. His parents, Brad and Tosha Sumner (nee Woodward) were All-American half-milers at Villanova. They coach their son, along with Dominic Demeritte, a coach at nearby Life University.

When Sumner smashed the 600m HSR in Chicago, it was extra special. Will’s father had set a record at that distance once himself during a prep career that included an 800m triumph at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships. The elder Sumner was a senior at McQuaid Jesuit HS (NY) that year.

The NSAF connection goes even further for the Sumners. Older sister Brynne (Class of ’19) was selected for the NSAF’s annual Caribbean meet in 2018 and went to the Bahamas with Team NSAF to compete in the 800m and 4x400m. She also ran in the NSAF’s Indoor and Outdoor Nationals.

As exciting as his recent forays have been, Sumner definitely appreciated returning to his sweet spot in Kentucky this past weekend.

“It felt great getting back to my main events,” he said. “I was really pleased being able to go sub-47 since that had been my goal since last season. Overall, I’m really excited to keep running those events and bring my times down further.”

Sumner brought PRs of 21.55 (outdoors), 47.01 and 1:51.67 into 2022. The 1:51, in fact, had been nearly three seconds faster than he’d run before at a distance that was a clear #3 on his priority list. He had never raced 500m or 600m before this winter. He started out very fast in December, with (then) new indoor bests of 47.69 and 1:52.58.

Then came the featured 500m at the VA Showcase on January 15. Against an elite field of long sprinters, Sumner blasted a stunning 1:01.25 that lowered the HSR by nearly half-a-second. A week later at the CYUP Misfits Invite in Chicago, he obliterated the previous HSR for 600m with his 1:15.58 – two full seconds under the old standard. Both previous marks (1:01.68 and 1:17.58) were set by Strymar Livingston in 2012.

Then Sumner was invited to compete against the pros at the NBIGP meet at Ocean Breeze, where on February 6 he ran a very well-paced 1:48.14 – a 3-second PR and #2 all-time high school. What an incredible three weeks. Sumner admitted that his new status in – and reaction from – the T&F community has been an adjustment.

“It’s definitely been a change compared to what I’m used to and sometimes the attention seemed like a bit much,” he said, “but it hasn’t changed my mentality as a runner. I still feel like I have a lot of work to do in the sport and have a lot of goals that haven’t been met. My parents have definitely helped keep me in check as well because they see the bigger picture and know I’m still early in my career.”

At this point, Sumner looks like the runner to beat in the NIN 400m. He now ranks as #11 (all-conditions) in indoor prep history along with being the only high schooler under 47 so far this winter. Although it would be folly to say Elzie Coleman’s 2004 HSR of 45.92 is out of reach, Sumner can compete without the pressure of setting a record over his head. In the 200m prelims, the object will likely be simply to race well against other stellar 1-lappers and try and push that PR under 21.5.

A lot of Sumner’s motivation for his 2022 performances had been the way the 2021 outdoor season concluded at The Outdoor Nationals last summer. After a great spring in Georgia and a 47.01 400m best, he was unable to break 50 at Hayward Field.

“I just didn’t run well at all,” Sumner told last month. “I didn’t feel all that well physically, and mentally I don’t think I was really checked in either. But that taught me a great lesson. It made me change my mindset and my mentality.”

So far, that new mindset and mentality have served him well. Don’t be surprised, then, that when Sumner hits the track at Ocean Breeze he’ll run some races to remember.

Photos submitted by Brad Sumner: (1) Will (left) and Brad at the Gately Center after Will's HSR 600m; (2) Will during the 600m; (3) Brynne Sumner (right) and NSAF teammate Meghan Hunter during Team NSAF's 2018 Bahamas meet trip.

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