By Jay Bendlin
The elusive twenty-one-second barrier, few have run faster in the 200 meters. UAlbany senior Jan Michael Gutierrez Almedina is now a part of the rare breed of runners to run under that barrier.
Despite having tremendous success on the track the past three seasons at UAlbany, taking down runners from sprinter powerhouse schools like South Carolina or LSU, there was one goal he had not yet achieved.
On February 22, 2020, the Boston University Track and Tennis center were filled with dropped jaws. The clock read: Jan Michael Gutierrez Almedina, 20.98.
Almedina did the incredible. He set a meet, school and America East record with that time.
When first crossing the line, Almedina saw a nine and believed he ran 21.09 but when the clock corrected itself, he locked eyes with his family.
“I know I’m ready,” Almedina told his father before the race. “I know that I can, this is for you guys.”
Confidence in one’s strength is half the battle and that wasn’t lacking with Almedina. He had run under 21.10 on two separate occasions prior to the conference championships, it was only inevitable.
Having his family there was a special and crucial part for Almedina. In the fall of 2018, he moved from his native country of Puerto Rico to pursue an opportunity to train and race with the best.
“When I came here, I saw athletes running fast and I knew this is where I belong,” said Almedina. “If I want a future, this is the best opportunity right now.”
Since moving to the comparative arctic climate, Almedina has adapted and fit in well with the help of fellow Puerto Rican head coach Roberto Vives.
The 39-year veteran Coach Vives has coached Olympic athletes such as fellow Great Dane Grace Claxton as well as national teams for the United States and Puerto Rico.
Being an international student can be extremely difficult. In his time at home, Almedina was fueled heavily by his family for motivation. He deemed his family as the “most important part of me” and it is difficult when they can only spectate meets that warrant a costly trip from Puerto Rico.
This conference championship was their first time watching Almedina run indoors because they had only traveled for outdoor championships and the climate in the Caribbean nation allows them to compete outdoors all year round.
Through three semesters of working hard, eating right and getting stronger, Almedina has secured six conference titles between the 200, 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
The America East named Almedina the most valuable track performer at the 2020 Indoor championships.
In 2019, Almedina ran 21.16 at the East Regional Preliminaries for the national championships. His 20.98 would have advanced him to the semi-finals in last year’s championships.
With the spring season kicking off at the end of March, the goals shift from indoors to outdoors and hope of making the national championships in June.
“Talking to Coach Junior [Brunette], he says ‘JM you are going to run less than 20.6,’” Almedina said.
With short term goals of qualifying for the national championships and lowering his personal best to the mid-twenties, the concept of competing for a spot on Puerto Rico’s national team appears over the horizon.
Although the Olympic standard is a blistering 20.24, a mark that must be met to compete at the games, all eyes are on Jan Michael Gutierrez Almedina.