WHEN CADE FLATT (Marshall County, Benton, Kentucky) came to the Armory for the New Balance Indoor Nationals 800, he came to win. And while he did that in a big way, his 1:48.86 leaving the rest of the field far behind, what possibly made a bigger impression on the press corps was his straight-talking demeanor, telling interviewers, “I wanted to drag these guys into deep waters. I wanted to make it hurt the whole time, make them question why they were in this event. I came out there with bad intentions.”
Now he’s got even more to back those words up, after a stirring 1:47.04 performance at the Joe Walker Invitational, on what will soon be his home track at Ole Miss. The mark made him, the No. 3 high schooler ever, trailing only national recordsetters Michael Granville (1:46.45 in’96) and George Kersh (1:46.58 in ’87).
All of this, Flatt’s outspoken nature and his brilliant running, can trace its immediate lineage to how his junior year went. “Last year I was like seventh or eighth in the nation [No.8 at 1:50.25] and granted, I got 4th at Brooks, but I was wanting to do a lot better than that. I saw these big things for myself and I just didn’t fully believe it. I was running other peoples’ races. I was scared going into big-time races, you know, I was hoping to, ‘OK, they’re going to run this first lap, I’m going to sit off them and…’ base myself on other peoples’ strategies.
“And then, I just wasn’t happy with the results.” He talked it over with coach, Andrew Johnston, and they came up with the plan: “We switched that whole thing and now we take every race and do what we want and other people follow. That’s the plan now.”
Training changed a bit as well. “It’s actually less of a workload than it was before,” he reveals. “I believe it’s less mileage than we did last year. It’s more speed and power and the whole mindset thing switched. We work hard. We get good workouts in, the intensity is up, but it feels like less.”
Of being coached by Johnston, he says, “The chemistry’s great. I’d do anything for him, he’d do anything for me. We work great together.”
The results have been notable. Flatt opened his brief indoor season with a 1:49.76 on Kentucky’s oversized track before taking the NBIN win a month later. He remembers walking inside the Armory and feeling no doubt: “I wholeheartedly, wholeheartedly, believed that I was going to go in there and win. The weeks before I was in a state of Zen almost. I wasn’t nervous. I was telling my coach when I was warming up, ‘There’s no kid in high school who can beat me on this track today.’ And that’s what happened. I went out there, took it from the front, took it from the gun, and won the thing.”
Since then, in his early outdoor meets, he sharpened his 400 speed with PRs of 47.29 and 47.07, coming after running legs on the 4×8.
Then came the 1:47.04. He says, “I went out like I wanted to, went out fast [52.01], everything was great. The wind was there; it definitely wasn’t perfect conditions. I crossed the line, they kind of ate me up on that homestretch. 1:47.04, I can’t be mad about that, a lifetime PR outdoors by 3 seconds.”
At the finish, Mario García Romo, Mississippi’s NCAA Indoor mile champion, crossed just 0.14 ahead. Says Flatt, “If I’m going to lose to somebody, I’m going to lose to that guy right there. NCAA champion, a Rebel, an Ole Miss guy, I can’t complain. Mario’s great.”
The decision to attend Ole Miss in the fall, says Flatt, “wasn’t too tough, really. It checked all the boxes for me. Great program, great coach, great guys, relatively close to my house. It’s an SEC school. It just did everything for me.”
And that race, the fastest prep 2-lapper in 26 years, has Flatt thinking about bigger things. “It’s only April, so we got a lot of time to train up and get that down a half-a-second. We’re there, we’re going to be there.”
Flatt started out playing hoops, admitting, “I was a basketball kid for the longest time. Where I grew up, basketball’s really the main thing. And then I guess in middle school, I was kind of bouncing off the walls and my parents thought I’d be good in track. They threw me out there to run and it kind of just took off from there. I didn’t really like it at first, but then the second meet I was gonna quit and the coach put me in the 800 and I won. So I never stopped.”
Much of his inspiration in sports, he says, comes from the mixed martial arts scene. “I don’t really watch basketball or football or anything like that. I pretty much watch MMA and track. I’m a huge MMA fan and those are my athletic role models that I look up to. It’s that individual sport, who wants it the most, who can dig the deepest, kind of the same thing as track.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Flatt reveals that when he’s cross-training, that generally means he’s doing boxing training. “I guess it’s my side hobby.”
In the final analysis, the driving force within Flatt is his competitiveness. “No one gets remembered for being sixth-fastest or fifth-fastest or third-fastest,” he says. “People get remembered for being the best to ever do it and for being No. 1.”
Of his junior year he says, “I was falling under the radar. And you know, I don’t want to be average. I don’t want to be just another one of those guys, just another top guy. I want to be <em.the top guy.”
He’s not afraid to tell anyone, either. “I guess I get kind of sick of the whole… track & field thing, where everyone’s so nice to each other and trying to make running buddies on the weekend. I don’t really need that. I’m here to win. I’m not making stuff up to say for attention. I believe these things and it’s kind of a mind switch I had. I was tired of being in the back, making fake friends with my competitors. This is my life. This is what I eat, sleep and breathe. You know, it’s not really a game to me; we’re serious about it.”
Now he’s eying the World Junior Championships (“that’s the big one”) as his prime focus for the summer. As for other meets, he says, “I’m kind of waiting to see what everybody’s running this year. If someone does something in high school that’s crazy or that’s worth coming down to a race… The 800 is the main event this year. We’ve got 6 guys under 1:50, so we could run one of the greatest high school races ever if we get all together, so I’m just seeing what other people do.”
As for the national record of 1:46.45 he says, “We haven’t planned anything yet. Give me a month-and-a-half, or two months to train on that. If everything works out, we’ll get [a record attempt] in June. I’m putting in my time, racing almost every weekend, the 400 and the 800, waiting to see what other people do.”
He concludes, “I think I’m the best. That’s the plan. I’m not doing this sport to be third-best, second-best, anything but No. 1. I see myself as being No. 1 someday. I see it now, but we’ve got to deal with some other people first.”