Above: Jared Lautenslager leading the U20 1500m at the Capital Classic. Photo by Jo Murray.
Recently crowned national junior 3000m champion Jared Lautenslager is one of three brothers making their mark in both New Zealand and the USA. Steve Landells profiles the youngest of the siblings, who has just enjoyed a very special month.
When Jared Lautenslager enjoyed an emotional embrace with his father, Greg, moments after clinching the national junior 3000m crown in Wanganui earlier this month perhaps few would have noted the significance of the victory.
The Lautenslager family are, of course, one of the most influential distance running families in New Zealand. Jared’s father, Greg, is the director of the National Academy of Distance Running in Nelson and a four-time competitor at the US Olympic Trials.
Jared’s older siblings, Craig, 23, and Jeff, 21, have made a sizeable imprint on the New Zealand endurance scene and are currently both on US college track and field scholarships.
So, given the Lautenslager’s status in the sport, you might be a little surprised to learn that Jared’s 3000m victory in Wanganui was the first national title won by anyone in the household since mum, Debra (nee Elsmore) lifted the women’s 5000m title in 1986.
“It was great to finally win a title (for the Lautenslager’s),” explains Jared. “It was a goal we’d been working towards for the past five years. I couldn’t believe I had won. I felt pure raw emotion and I will never forget it for the rest of my life.”
“Craig and Jeff were just as happy for me too,” he insists. “They were ecstatic.”
With a family firmly ensconced in running, it was perhaps surprising that in his younger days Jared – the youngest of three brothers - was more interested in softball and basketball. A more than useful point guard – who once scored 52pts in one game for his high school - he only decided to follow in the footsteps of his brothers and pursue running seriously when he began life as a Year Nine student at Nelson’s Garin College.
He proved a quick starter. Taking inspiration that year by watching British distance runner Mo Farah clinch the 5000m and 10,000m double at the London 2012 Olympics - he claimed the Tasman Cross Country title in his maiden year in the sport. Meanwhile, on the national scene he finished a respectable 18th in the Year Nine race at the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Cross Country Championships and reached the junior boys’ 1500m final at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships.
“I had a lot more success early on than my brothers, who finished outside of the top 100 as Year Nine students at the New Zealand Cross Country Champs,” explains Jared. “I’m not sure If that means I had the most talent, but I think I figured out early I was determined to give it my best effort. I was a bit of a scrapper and I’ve maintained that attitude to this day.”
Under the coaching of his father and with the additional benefit of the knowledge accrued by Craig and Jeff to draw from as well as the work with his technique and conditioning coach, Jonno Gibbins, Jared enjoyed continued success. He 2013 he retained his Tasman Cross Country crown the following year while in 2014 – the year he finally quit basketball to focus 100 per cent on running - he maintained his progress by finishing fifth at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships.
In 2015 Jared made another significant breakthrough by earning his first national medals with a pair of bronzes in the men’s youth 3000m at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships and at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships.
However, the year also marked the biggest disappointment of his career so far, when the youngster looked set tp land the 1500m title at the South Island Secondary Schools Championship in his home track at Nelson only to lose his balance and fall five metres from the finish. A disconsolate Jared crawled across the line in fourth.
After stepping up his weekly training load last year to an average 120km per week he impressed to finish fourth at the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Cross Country Championships in Rotorua before two months later claiming fifth in the under-20 race at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships.
He ended 2016 by finishing seventh at the 3000m in the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships in 8:37.68 in Waitakere – but despite finishing well behind gold medallist Nick Moulai – who set a stunning championship record of 8:16.77 – Jared was far from downcast by his performance.
“We always aim to do our best and peak for the end of the New Zealand season and back then I wasn’t in shape to go sub-8:20,” admits Jared. “I still set an eight-second PB but the aim was always to peak for the 3km (national) champs, the New Zealand Track & Field Championships and races later in the season.”
Returning to training with a sense of purpose, he enjoyed a good block of training over Christmas and New Year and he was well prepared for the national junior 3000 race in Wanganui.
With Australian Corbin McCullough setting the pace for much of the race, Jared was content to cover every move. However, when home favourite Christian Conder made a victory bid Jared refused to panic - it proved the right card to play.
“I thought back to the 2015 New Zealand Championships in 1500m when I went too early and faded, so I thought to myself, I’m going to wait for long as possible until unleashing a big kick that I never knew I had with 200m to go.”
Jared was to prove unstoppable crossing the line in 8:37.96 to clinch a memorable win at Cooks Gardens by a victory margin of more than a second-and-a-half from Conder.
Just three days later, Jared proved this was no fluke by running the second fastest 1500m time of his life to win at the Capital Classic in Wellington in 3:59.93.
Now his next major target will be the 1500m and 5000m at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hamilton in March and beyond that he intends to have several outings in California including over the rarely run 3200m at the Arcadia Invitational - one of the most prestigious US high school meets
Yet before thinking too far into the future, he acknowledges the huge debt of gratitude he owes his family for his track and field journey.
“It has always been great to have my dad as coach because he has always been there to talk to him about anything track related,” says Jared, 18. “He always knows what I’m doing and if I have an issue, I can talk to him straight away.
“My brothers too have always been my biggest inspiration. To watch what they have done in their running career (Jeff is a four-time New Zealand track medallist), and earn a US scholarship has made me strive to be like them. We have such a good relationship and have always supported each other. In many ways, they are the perfect brothers.”
With Craig currently attending the University of Texas at Arlington and Jeff at Boise State University in Idaho – and also given his father’s US roots – it is little surprise that Jared is also currently pursuing a US scholarship and he is currently exploring his options to begin his Stateside adventure in either in August or January next year.
Possessing what he believes has a nice blend of strength and speed with a handy kick, a future in the US may beckon, but there is no doubting his long-term ambitions.
“The main goal is to one day make the Olympics,” says Jared,” who as a dual citizen is eligible for both the US and New Zealand.
Yet whatever he goes on to achieve in the sport, he will never be able to shake his deep-seated passion for running.
“I find the competitive side of the sport very rewarding and I like the fact what you put into the sport, you get out of it,” he explains. “I live for those days when I fly on the trails and feel great. I really hope I still enjoy that feeling long after my competitive days are over.”