Athlete Feature 40 - Paul Larkins - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 40 – Paul Larkins

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While Oklahoma State are the dominant men’s cross-country team today, it wasn’t until 2009 at Terre Haute that the cowboys took home their first team title in the modern era*. Through the years, British athletes have headed to Stillwater in the search of team titles and the NCAA dream. Farrell, Watts, Barnes-Smith, Stoves, Thompson, Hennessey, Wild, and Larkins. It is the latter of those names, Paul Larkins, that spoke to us about his time with the Stillwater outfit.

Paul Larkins set off from England with a 1500m PB of 3:44 to Stillwater, Oklahoma. Unlike the OSU recruits of today, there was no legacy of success, but keen to experience the NCAA Larkins was successfully recruited by Notts man, Steve Baker. Although at the time, OSU was his only offer on the table, it provided the perfect environment he was looking for. Larkins’ progress throughout the recruiting process was ideal. He was a 3:56 1500m man at point of first contact in the winter of ’81. That progressed to 3:49 indoors, and to 3:44 by the end of the season at the U20 AAAs. OSU at that point were particularly pleased at their new recruit. At the time, there were two Brits – Ian Stewart (II) and John Sharp – already there, so Larkins made his way Stateside with the knowledge of a few friendly faces.

Arriving in Fall of ’82, the first year was a struggle by his own admission. A new climate, new lifestyle and a new outlook of training culminated in a difficult transition.

“You have to give at least 12-18 months. I really can’t stress than enough. I couldn’t attribute it to one thing, as it was more than one factor. First time away from home, in a foreign country, and those everyday tasks that I had to do for myself. They all take a while to become comfortable with.”

Sure enough, after the initial bedding in period to the Oklahoman lifestyle, the results started to come.

In 1984, Larkins broke through.

“By that point, Steve Baker who recruited me had moved on. Dick Weis, although technically assistant coach at the time, was in charge of things. ”

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Larkins – far right

He broke 3:40 for the first time, running 3:38. Having made it through to the NCAA final at Hayward Field, OR, he finished 5th beind that year’s LA Olympic Champion over 800m, and 5th quickest man of all-time, Joacquin Cruz (pictured). The Brazilian was studying at Oregon at the time, and won both the 1500 and 800 at that year’s NCAA championships. At that summers’ Olympiad, Coe finished second, and in the middle of an NCAA sandwich with Eastern Michigan’s Earl Jones taking third.

1984 also saw Larkins record a second place finish to Steve Scott at the renowned Drake Relays in Iowa and set the still-standing Texas Relays 1500m record (3:41).

“I’m hoping it still stands to next year at least. I’m counting down to the thirty year mark! After that, I don’t mind so much if it goes. I’ve had a good run. ”

The 3:38.0 SB that year also stood the test of time until 2012 when German Fernandez’s late season 3:37 finally took the OSU school record. Some consolation exists though, with his 1:47.13 from Austin that year still standing as the quickest by a Cowboy.

For a school that has won three of the last four NCAA XC titles, it seems unbelievable that during Larkins’ time, OSU never managed to progress a team to the ‘Big Dance’. 1985 was his only foray into the National XC stage finishing a credible 28th in Milwaukee, WI.

But it was 1986 that Larkins’ most memorable moment came. As our in-depth article about the NCAA Indoor Mile shows, Britain and Ireland has incredible depth at this event. The previous year, 1985, Ireland’s Paul Donovan won the title for Arkansas. One year later, in Oklahoma City, Larkins took the title back down the I-35 to Stillwater.

“That was my best moment. I’ve had some good moments like winning conferences but they don’t compare to that. Winning a national title in front of a home crowd was fantastic. It was on the wooden yellow and orange track, 10 laps to a mile, it’s all a little removed from what we have today.”

Larkins just narrowly missed repeating the same feat at NCAA Outdoors that summer. At Univeristy of Indiana at Purdue, he narrowly lost out to Oregon’s Dub Myers, who two years previously had finished third in the NCAA Outdoor 1500m in which Cruz had won, and Larkins finished 5th.

After graduating in Spring of 86, he left Stillwater as a five time Big 8 Conference winner (85,86 Mile Indoors, 84,85,86 Outdoor 1500), four time All-American (1 XC, 2 Indoors, 2 Outdoors) and as a national champion.
As a post-collegiate Paul went on to run 3:35 over the metric mile and 7:47 for 3000m.

“I was over in Oklahoma four years ago for Coach Weis’s retirement dinner. It was great to see everyone and see Stillwater again, although they’ve paved some of our trail runs! We even managed to get on the (American) football field during an interval and were paraded to the crowd. I never had that opportunity when I was an athlete.”

He might not have got on the field in the 80s, but Larkins’ performances still measure up to the best in OSU’s history books.

* Their first title was in 1954 under the banner of Oklahoma A&M

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