Jeff Kolpack, Published June 17 2013
NDSU runner Fitzke breaks 34-year-old record in final collegiate event
It was the story behind the story, and for all these years, nobody doubted the talent of former North Dakota State runner Mike Bollman. The fact that he was an NCAA Division II cross country champion was probably not a surprise to those who coached him.
It’s how he did it that is the stuff of legends.
He won a meet in 1977, despite a stress fracture in his shin bone.
“Strength of mind,” said Bruce Whiting, his NDSU head coach.
Bollman also set the North Dakota State school record in the 1,500 meters, a record that stood the test of time – 34 years to be exact. It was broken over the weekend by NDSU senior Travis Fitzke, who did it in the last race of his celebrated Bison career.
He ripped off a time of 3 minutes, 42.32 seconds in the elite 1,500 field at the American Milers Club High Performance Series in Indianapolis, breaking Bollman’s record of 3 minutes, 42.85 seconds set in 1979 at the Drake Relays. Sadly, Bollman never saw his record fall – he died suddenly a decade ago.
His work ethic and legacy, however, will not be forgotten.
“He was out of bed at 5 in the morning to get his mileage in,” Whiting said of Bollman. “Then he would come back in the afternoon and do whatever we had on the workout sheet. We recruited him out of St. Paul Harding and he had that
inner-city, get-after-it mentality.”
Fitzke is from Pierre, S.D.,
a city that has been very good to NDSU in recent years, starting with basketball player Michael Tveidt. He was followed by
national-qualifying hurdler Matt Tetzlaff, Fitzke and current track and field standouts Alec Espeland and Parker McKittrick.
“It’s cool to see and I’m glad everyone is enjoying it, too,” said Fitzke, who said Tveidt is the reason he came to NDSU.
Fitzke’s college career looked to be done after the NCAA West Preliminary meet on May 23. He entered the American Milers Club meet to get one more chance at Bollman’s mark.
“It’s been a goal since I started here,” he said, “but it’s been a serious goal for a little over a year.”
Helping his pace was an elite group that included professional runners. Fitzke told himself to stay in the middle of the pack and see what would become of it. He finished ahead of Olympian Alan Webb.
“I knew the time would be there if I competed well and raced well,” he said. “It was awesome.”
It was awesome for him to finally move to the top of the 1,500 school ladder. He held the second-best time for over a year, but still had to cut four seconds to reach Bollman.
Although he no longer holds the record, Bollman will probably best be remembered for a classic battle with former Olympian Steve Scott at the 1977 Division II national meet at NDSU’s old outdoor track.
It was a race that Scott, who coaches at California State San Marcos, still remembers well to this day. He and NDSU head coach Don Larson discussed it when they ran into each other at a meet recently.
“He had incredibly kind words to say about Fargo,” Larson said.
Meanwhile, Fitzke plans to stay in Fargo and train under NDSU distance coach Ryun Godfrey. He battled mononucleosis during the indoor season and perhaps is just hitting his stride now.
The fact he bested the oldest record on the NDSU track and field books is more remarkable considering the advances in technology the last 34 years.
“Consider the shoes and track surfaces and the training philosophy as compared to the ’70s,” Fitzke said. “I’ve heard stories from Coach Lars about (Bollman). He was quite a runner. It is an honor to be mentioned with him.”
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