The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine that ensued in 2020 may have been a burden for the grand majority of people, but Niwot’s Zane Bergen took it in stride.
The junior track star had never been to a high school state meet before last month. Injury kept him away from Jefferson County Stadium during his freshman year. CHSAA canceled last year’s spring sports season.
But on June 24-26 of 2021, no common bystander would have known it was his first rodeo. Not only did Bergen win the gold in three individual events and a relay, but he broke the Class 4A state meet record in the 1,600-meter run. The nearly 20-year record, which David Olson set at 4 minutes,12.61 seconds in 2002, now belongs to Bergen at 4:09.51.
He credited that overwhelming success to a year and a half of preparation because the Niwot track team never took a day off.
“I’d say it’s just an accumulation of work,” Bergen said. “Since the start of COVID, a lot of teams around the state kind of took a few weeks and said, ‘Hey, it happens. We’ll figure it out as we roll with the punches.’ At least the coaches here at Niwot and with Real Training, they said, ‘Hey, this is our opportunity to get better.’ So we put our heads down and we’ve just worked for the past 18 months, basically. I’m so excited to see that work pay off.”
Bergen earned the BoCoPreps.com and CHSAANow.com athlete of the year honors after going from relative anonymity on the Colorado state track stage to walking away as nothing but a champion.
He didn’t expect to set a record in the mile, nor did he have any aspirations to do so. But he, much like all of the Cougars, wanted to do it for his team. Thanks to his efforts and the efforts of all the Niwot boys, they won the boys’ team title with 90 points.
Bergen scored 40 of them, either on his own or as part of the relay.
“His times show what kind of talent he is,” coach Maurice Henriques said. “This was his first state meet, people don’t realize. He’s never won in state before and in his first state meet, he wins three individual titles and 4×800, and he goes to nationals. … Talent? No. This kid has a lot of ability, but he works his butt off, brings his lunch pail and he’s always bringing people with him. He’s phenomenal when it comes to that and I can’t wait for his senior year.”
At the Nike Outdoor Nationals, which took place just a week after the state meet, Bergen took second in the mile at 4:03.90, just 0.6 seconds behind the champion, and won the 4×1-mile relay alongside Grayden Rauba, Simon Saia and Curtis Volf.
He may not have won the mile outright, but he still managed to record a personal best in one of the biggest races of his life. He believes that Niwot’s team-first mentality, and the work that each and every athlete puts in every day on the track, helped him reach his potential over 18 months of nonstop work.
Bergen, who doubles as a cross country runner in the fall, puts in anywhere from 40 to 50 miles each week depending on which season he’s training for.
“From (the start of the pandemic), it’s been pretty nuts,” Bergen said. “Kind of a big point, I guess, was when we went to Simplot Games in Idaho. That was kind of right before COVID shut everything down. I ran some pretty fast sophomore times, something like 4:27 or 4:28. I thought that was really, really fast and I was super excited.
“Looking around and seeing how everybody else was doing, I was like, ‘OK, there’s still a lot of work we can do.’ Going from them and into cross country this year and winning the team title in cross, going to Alabama (Running Lane XC National Championships) and becoming third in the nation, that progression was immense. I was like, ‘OK, let’s continue this on into track.’ I was surprised by how much times improved, but that just comes from trusting the process and running with the team.”