POY Alumni: Verzbicas chasing triathlon gold

Two-time Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year Lukas Verzbicas is leaving the University of Oregon to pursue an Olympic triathlon gold. Associated Press

Lukas Verzbicas, the two-time Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, will end his running career at the University of Oregon after just one semester to pursue an Olympic future in triathlons.

One of the most decorated high school distance runners in history, Verzbicas announced Thursday that he will relocate to Colorado Springs and join the recently-established Elite Triathlon Academy, giving him full access to the facilities at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Verzbicas also plans to enroll at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs for the spring semester.

The only boy to win both the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship and the Nike Cross Nationals in the same season, Verzbicas has juggled pure distance running with triathlons throughout his young career.

As a Carl Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.) senior, he won his second consecutive national Foot Locker Cross Country Championship with a time of 14:59 and also captured the Nike Cross Nationals Final title in 15:59.2. He also captured two straight Illinois Class 3A state meet individual championships in his final two prep seasons.

In September of this year, he captured the International Triathlon Junior World Championship in Beijing. A knee injury suffered in that event, however, hampered him once he got to the Oregon campus.

He competed in just two events for the Ducks' cross country team -- finishing 62nd at the Wisconsin Invitational, then taking 23rd at the Pac-12 Championships, the fourth Oregon runner across the line.

Verzbicas is not yet a U.S. citizen, which would make him ineligible for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team. He has also never competed at the Olympic distance, which is twice the distance of the junior triathlon. The 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, however, are a realistic goal.