BYU Track: Why Conner Mantz Decided Now To Go Pro

Conner Mantz, the two-time NCAA cross-country champion, is spending his final year of track and field competing professionally and will soon sign a lucrative four-year contract with Nike. He has already made his presence felt on the professional scene.

Two weeks after winning the varsity cross country title, he won the US Half Marathon Championships in South Carolina, setting the seventh fastest time ever for an American (60 minutes, 50 seconds).

For Mantz, the decision to return for another season of varsity cross-country competition, rather than signing a contract last summer, has paid off. Footwear contracts are the lifeblood of professional runners. Most of these companies had exhausted their budgets by the time the Olympic track and field trials in the United States ended last summer and most of the money went to those who would compete in the highly visible Tokyo Games.

Conner failed to make the Olympic team – he was the top college finisher (sixth place) in the 10,000 – so he missed out on a big payday. He received offers, but for less money. Mantz changed his plans, returned to college competition, and won his second NCAA title.

“My agent said if I had accepted an offer this summer I would have gotten half of what I’m getting now,” Mantz said.

“It gave him one more fall to shine, and over the course of the season he showed he deserved a multi-year contract,” BYU coach Ed Eyestone said.

All three BYU 2021 national champion runners followed the same plan. 2021 NCAA cross-country champion Whittni Orton and 2021 NCAA 1,500-meter champion Anna Camp are also negotiating professional contracts. Like Mantz, they returned for one more cross country season and then turned pro.

In her first post-varsity race, Orton finished second in a quick 5,000-meter indoor race in Boston with a time that qualifies her for the world track and field championships this summer. The race was won by Annie Rodenfels in 15: 08.80, followed by Orton in 15: 09.47 – a time that would have smashed the college record of 15: 12.91 had she not exhausted her NCAA eligibility.

Courtney Wayment, a BYU senior, was third with a time of 15: 15.46, the eighth fastest indoor 5K ever by a college student and well below Orton’s school record of 15: 22.98 set in 2019.

Meanwhile, the finer details of Mantz’s contract are being worked out but are expected to be completed early next month. After garnering the interest of several shoe companies, Mantz and his agent, Ray Flynn, chose two finalists: Adidas and Nike. Mantz asked Eyestone to advise him in the negotiations. Eyestone was a four-time NCAA champion at BYU and a two-time Olympic marathoner who built one of the most successful and enduring road running careers of all time, until his late 30s.

“(Eyestone) had the career that I wish I had,” Mantz said. ” That’s the point. And he is one of the most respected coaches in the world. It was nice to have him with me in the negotiations. He has a hold when he speaks. He helped me answer tough questions and think of things I hadn’t thought to ask.

Mantz, who plans to complete his mechanical engineering degree at BYU next semester, will continue to train with Eyestone in Provo throughout the summer with the goal of making the US squad for the track world championships this summer. . Usually, once runners sign with a shoe company, they train with that company’s coach and team, especially when it comes to Nike and their successful Bowerman team. But given Eyestone’s coaching qualities and Mantz’s school commitments, Nike was comfortable allowing them to continue working together.

“They encourage athletes from most schools to come and train with their team (Bowerman), but they don’t think BYU runners necessarily have to, which is a nice compliment,” Eyestone said. “I’ll be talking a lot about training with (Bowerman’s coach) Jerry Schumacher. And when the Bowerman team trains in Park City this summer, we’ll send Mantz there.

“It’s just smart to share the load, and that would make the transition easier for Conner. We have the possibility that he could eventually join the Bowerman group. I wouldn’t necessarily discourage him from doing it as it would give him the opportunity to train with great athletes.

Mantz, who turned 25 this month, will train for the next season on both indoor and outdoor track, as well as a few road races, hoping this will prepare him to place in the top three of the 10,000. at the US Track Championships. That would qualify him to represent the United States at the world track championships, which will be held in mid-July in Eugene, Ore., Home of Nike. He plans to attempt a marathon in the fall with the long-term goal of being part of the U.S. Olympic team over that distance in 2024.

“The plan is to train with Coach Eyestone during the world championships and after that I’m not sure,” said Mantz. “I want to try and train with the Bowerman group. I have a lot to gain by training with athletes who are better than me.

Two members of the Bowerman team – Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid – were part of the US Olympic team.

“The (contract) gives me opportunities and flexibility,” he said. “I can choose the races. I can make a living. I can start a career earlier. Running will be my full time job.

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