Bizzarri wins first-ever, 5000-meter run

Portrait by Wesley Fane

Portrait by Wesley Fane

By Anthony Zilis

Heading into the Brutus Hamilton Invitational last weekend in Berkeley, Calif., Angela Bizzarri had the second-fastest time in Illini history in the 1500 meters. But when her coaches decided to put her in the 5000 meters for the first time, the 2006 All-American cross country runner didn’t know what to expect.

“I had no clue because I had never done it before,” Bizzari said.

Being new to the race didn’t seem to affect her, as she took the lead early and never relinquished it.

“I pretty much ran pretty alone for the race,” Bizzarri said. “I think the first three or four (kilometers) my goal was just to keep my splits pretty even and the last K or two just see what I had left.”

The sophomore phenom blew away the field, winning the race by 48 seconds. She finished with a time of 16 minutes, 16 seconds, good enough to put her second in the Illini record books.

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Bizzarri had no idea she was so close to record-breaking pace, finishing only three seconds behind Jaime Turilli’s all-time Illinois best.

“It was kind of funny because I thought I was a little slower, because my first mile was a little slow, until I saw the clock,” Bizzarri said. “I thought I was about 10 seconds slower until the last 100, (but) I was on a faster pace than I thought I was.”

But it wasn’t as if Bizzarri has no experience running longer races. The sophomore was the Illini’s leading cross country runner every race this season and finished third overall at the Big Ten Championships in the 6000-meter race.

Head coach Gary Winckler knew what type of talent Bizzarri possessed since recruiting her out of Ohio.

“We all knew ‘Bizz’ had that kind of ability so what she did was no surprise,” Winckler said. “Anybody who runs a cross country race as well as she does … it’s a great feat, don’t get me wrong, but it was no big surprise either.”

While the Co-Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week is excited about her standing in Illini history, don’t expect her to completely ditch the more glamorous 1500.

“I’ll probably stick with the 1500 this year unless I have a really good 5K race at Big Tens,” Bizzarri said. “Maybe at some point I’ll switch to the 5K, I’m not quite sure right now.”

Coach Winckler said the only question about Bizzarri this year is not whether she will make it to the NCAA National Championships, but which race she will run at the meet.

Winckler also hinted that Bizzarri may someday succeed in the 10,000 meters, but when asked, she quickly shot the idea down.

“No, definitely not, the 5000 is the longest I’m going,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s just, the training for 10K just takes more miles than I think my body would be able to handle.”

Whatever the event, distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen said the decision on what race she will focus on in the regional meet will be up to Bizzarri.

For now, she will continue to run both events as the Big Ten Championships approach.

Rasmussen knows this race is just a sign of things to come for Bizzarri.

“The exciting thing for me is that she’s only a sophomore,” Rasmussen said. “If she’s able to stay healthy, she’ll be able to do better than anyone who’s ever set a foot on this campus.”