Rory Linkletter and Matt Baxter joined forces to run professionally for NAZ Elite after coming from rival college programs where both often found themselves as the vocal leaders of their teams, voicing their pride and taking their shots at times on social media.
Neither were slowed down by the pressure of holding the "villain role," as their current head coach described it. It's just what leaders sometimes have to do.
“Leaders are what we are looking for,” said NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario, who signed the young runners in 2019.
The two have already made big impacts for the team in addition to making great strides in their own careers.
Linkletter ran his first-ever 26.2-mile race at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which he finished in 16th place with a time of 2:16:42. He recently set a team record in the half marathon, clocking a 1:01:44 for 15th place at Houston while making his career debut at the distance.
The rivals quickly clicked and turned into tight teammates.
“They take their craft very seriously," Rosario said, "so in a lot of ways they are very similar.”
It didn't take long for Baxter, who has now been with the team just over a year, to make his mark on the NAZ Elite record book either, as he recorded a 13:27.61 finish for fourth place in the 5,000 meters recently at the Boston University John Thomas Terrier Classic.
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Baxter's very first race with NAZ Elite ended as a victory at the New Zealand National Track and Field Championship 5000m in March of 2019. He won his debut in the half marathon in October with a time of 1:02:57 at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose.
“You want each new group that comes in, truthfully, to be better than the group before. There is no other way to put it," Rosario said.
Although his racing availability so far in his rookie year has been limited due to injury, rookie and Portland product Nick Hauger continued the trend of making statements and in a sense has completed the rival trifecta. Hauger made his team debut at the mid-January USATF Cross Country Championships, taking fifth place in 31:08 and earning a spot at the Pan Am Games in the process.
Hauger, Baxter and Linkletter still like to do the talking, they just do it together more often now. The three have a podcast titled "Running Rivals."
This weekend, Baxter and Linkletter compete in the same race for the first time as teammates. That is, if Linkletter's ankle will allow him to, as he rolled it during a workout not long ago.
The two are expected to race in Saturday's 3000m at the Boston University Valentine Invitational, the location of one of Rosario's favorite indoor tracks -- one he considers as possibly the fastest in the world.
Originally, Baxter and Linkletter were going after a qualifying time in order to try to make the world indoor championships originally set to take place in Nanjing, China, but World Athletics has decided to postpone the event due to issues surrounding the spread coronavirus in the area.
But just because the pressure to hit a certain time is off doesn't mean the effort to run fast won't be there. In fact, Rosario thinks it's just the opposite.
“Because the pressure is off, they can really take a swing at it," he said. "Before, if you really risked it and went out really fast, then you risk finishing slower. But now there is nothing to worry about, so you can just run with reckless abandon basically.”
Still, they might worry about not beating their formal rival.
Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.
“You want each new group that comes in, truthfully, to be better than the group before. There is no other way to put it."
-- NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario