EUGENE, Ore. — It wasn’t too long ago that Daniel Michalski was running around delivering groceries for an Indianapolis-area Walmart.
Now the 25-year-old Xenia native is on the verge of running in the Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. track and field team. Michalski is in Friday’s finals of the 3,000-meter men’s steeplechase at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., and is in position to make the team.
He finished third in the first first heat on Monday in 8:22.03 to advance to the finals after entering the competition seeded sixth. He has already met the Olympic standard, so if he can maintain that third-place spot — or move up a spot or two — he will be headed to Japan as one of three steeplechasers.
“It would mean the world,” Michalski said by phone Tuesday, one of two rest days during trials, which began June 18 and conclude June 27. “I would be really proud to represent my country.”
The opportunity seemed unlikely at best a year ago when Michalski, then a Realtor, was laid off due to the coronavirus.
“Things slowed down and my job is real estate,” he said. “I had nothing to do, literally.”
So Michalski — who was a Division-II national champion Cedarville University and an All-American at Indiana University— went to Walmart to maintain some income. He was also able to make the short commute to Bloomington a couple times a week and train with fellow IU alum Andy Bayer and the rest of the team.
“I got a lot better training with him too,” said Michalski, who chopped 14 seconds off his time, going from 8:44 to 8:30. “That was a big drop.”
Then he and wife, Abby, found out they were pregnant.
“I said, ‘Oh shoot, I’ve got to get a full-time with benefits job,’ ” Michalski said.
Through his connection and remote training with University of Colorado Colorado Springs distance coach Mark Misch, Michalski landed a job at Division-III LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas in September 2020.
“I’ve been dreaming of getting into coaching,” Michalski said. “It’s gone really well, my first year there.”
While he couldn’t “sleep on somebody’s couch and be a running bum,” anymore, Michalski was able to continue to train. He didn’t have a packed schedule, but when he ran, he made it worth the effort.
In April, Michalski broke a decades-old steeplechase record at the Drake Relays, running unattached in 8:29.83. On May 9 he was second at the USATF Golden Games in Walnut, Calif., in 8:21.25, which satisfied the Olympic standard and was by far his personal best.
It will likely take a similar time to win Friday, as the first two finishers — Isaac Updike and Hillary Bor — finished Monday’s first heat in 8:21.02 and 8:21.09.
Bor ran at the world championship in 2019 and another runner in the finals, Donn Cabral, is a two-time Olympian.
“He’s a guy who knows how to make a team, apparently,” Michalski said. “(But) we’re going to give those older statesmen a run for their money.”
Michalski already has a mental picture of what Friday’s race will entail.
“I anticipate it will look pretty similar to my prelim,” Michalski said. On Monday, Michalski was seventh after the first of eight laps and then methodically moved up.
He expects to establish an early position in the middle to front third, no matter the pace, and be close enough to respond to moves off the front. Michalski said his sound hurdling will allow him to be more efficient toward the end when other runners start to hurt.
”It should be a really competitive race and really fun,” Michalski said. “I’m going to go for it. There’s not very clear favorites right now.”
But Michalski is definitely in the mix, something that seemed impossible a year ago.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.