Feature Friday: Alex Sadikov Turns Heads At Penn Relays

It's very difficult to get the attention of more than 38,000 people at the same time.

But Alexander Sadikov managed to do it in electrifying fashion on the biggest track and field stage possible when the junior at Ocean Township threw down a jaw-dropping anchor split of 46.95 during the heats of the 4x400-meter relay at the 126th Penn Relays last Saturday at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

When Sadikov's split was announced, the crowd of 38,843 erupted, and when he heard what he ran he was in stunned disbelief.   

Sadikov's split was the fastest among all the thousands of US high school runners who competed in the 4x400 heats, and is one of the fastest ever run by a NJ runner at the Penn Relays. The great Reuben McCoy owns the fastest NJ high school split ever at the Penn Relays when he anchored Winslow to the 4x400 Championship of America title in 2004 with a 46.0 carry!

Sadikov's sub 47 didn't come completely out of nowhere (he ran 47.85 indoors), but the 46.95 is still a huge drop and makes him a big favorite to win the 400 at the Meet of Champions next month.

While all the attention has been on his 400 times, Sadikov has also evolved into one of the state's best in the 400 hurdles in his first season running the event. At the Rocket Relays last month, he ran a NJ No. 5 53.96 in the 400 IH, and he has also run a NJ No. 5 22.07 for 200, and has long jumped 21-7.

Sadikov's is coming off a very strong double at Thursday's Monmouth County Relays where he split 48.6 on the winning sprint medley relay, and 48.7 on the first-place 4x400.     

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Sadikov for an in depth Q and A where he shared some insight about a variety of topics, including his thought on the sub 47, how he got involved in the sport, his goals for the rest of the season, and a whole lot more. 

So lean back in your recliner or get comfy on your couch, deck, porch, dorm room, apartment or wherever you like to do your reading, and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on one of the state's biggest stars, Alexander Sadikov!!

NJM: First of all, congrats on your amazing 46.95 split at the Penn Relays!!!! That's one of the fastest ever run by a NJ runner at Penn.

Thank you so much! It means a lot to me. 

What was your reaction when you found out how fast you ran, and what does it mean to you to have run the fastest time of all the Americans during the 4x400 heats?

Right after that race I got pulled aside by a journalist from the Asbury Park Press (Jerry Carino). I didn't quite hear the announcer call my split as I finished, so when the journalist told me that I went sub 47, I couldn't believe him. For a couple moments all of my pain from the race and emotion went away. I was just speechless. A couple years ago, when I was just discovering my love for the sport, I dreamt of running times under 50 seconds, or maybe in the 48s, but to break the 47 barrier hasn't even touched upon my mind. Even right now, it still hasn't hit me, and many of my friends and teammates tell me that it'll never truly sink in. At least not until I reach that next milestone.

I know you ran 47.85 when you placed second at the Nike Indoor Nationals, so I am wondering what the biggest difference was on Saturday to drop your time nearly a full second? Did you go out harder, was it the adrenalin of racing in front of 38,000 people, or something else?

I'm not going to lie, the end of my winter season was an absolute high, yet the start of my spring season was a pretty big low. I was aware that the transition is almost never perfect, and I would be a fool to expect the same times in our first meets back. Despite me knowing this, it did kill a lot of my confidence to see a 49 split or high 48 split pop up in some of our opening relays. However, the biggest thing I've learned in life is that success comes with how quickly one can set aside what they cannot change. I knew that the Penn Relays was going to be my first big shot to show the world what I'm made of, and I wasn't going to waste that opportunity. I came into the race with a completely different game plan. I've run 300s and 200s prior to that race in fairly quick times, and each time I tell myself, "I can totally hold that pace for longer!" So i threw away most of the detailed strategizing I've done before my race and took that 400 all out. In the end it paid off, but it made me realize that there is still a lot I can improve on.

What was it like to run in front of that many people? In most high school meets there are probably no more than a few hundred people. It  must have been thrilling to run with so many people watching!   

 This experience was completely unmatched to anything I've ever done before. I was constantly reminded before the meet of how many people there are going to be, but I never took the time to really understand how much 30,000 really is... until it was too late. Standing on the line waiting for the baton was the most mesmerizing, yet stressful thing I've ever done.

What has running sub 47 done for your confidence, and what kind of times are you now targeting for the rest of this season in the 200, 400 and 400 hurdles? 

Running under 47 seconds at this point in the season has boosted my confidence through the roof. It came really unexpectedly, and it forced me to push my goals further up. I taught myself to set ridiculously high goals that should be completely unattainable in whatever I'm doing. Then in the end, I will inevitably fail, but each time I do, I realize that I destroy whatever "reasonable" goal I could have set for myself. This helped me in my winter season, and it is helping me now. As of right now, I'm hoping to run a 46 second open 400, to break the 22 second barrier in the 200, and to break the 53 second mark in the 400 hurdles. 

In case you are wondering, the state record in the 400 is 45.71 and the state record for a junior is 46.28. What are thoughts on trying to break those records, and how much of a goal are those to go after?

These records have been talked about by my team and my friends, but I've never considered chasing after them. Maybe I can open my doors up to more goals and potentially run one of those times soon, but I think right now I have to focus on what's in front of me and mainly develop my consistency.

How about the 400 hurdles, Alex. What made you decide to start running that event this year, and what are your goals for that race this season?

During my freshman year in the winter season, I actually considered the 55 meter hurdles to be one of my main events. When I started hurdling, I quickly picked up a four-step and very rarely did I break into the three-step territory. Spring season was cancelled due to covid, and as we returned as sophomores, my 400 times started to become serious. Only until my outdoor sophomore season did I run my first 400 hurdle race. With my only experience being limited to open 400s and the tiny hurdle knowledge I retained from freshman year, which was not a lot, I ran a time of 56 seconds. That was my only 400h race until this spring season. I spent some time rebuilding my hurdle form and trying to couple that with my quick 400s, but I haven't had that 'right' opportunity yet. I believe I have a lot more potential in the 400 hurdles, and hopefully get that chance real soon

Looking at your times from last spring to this spring, you have dropped your PR quite a bit from 49.06. What have you been doing between last year and this year that has enabled you to cut so much time? 

The biggest change this season that stands out to me is my mindset. In the beginning of the winter season, my coach gifted me a book, "Slaying the Dragon: How to Turn Your Small Steps Into Great Feats" by Michael Johnson. I immediately fell in love with this book. In this book, Johnson brakes down everything. He discusses the steps you need to take to success, how to plan out the right goals, how to battle with pressure, how to pick your head up after failure, and how to develop the necessary mindset you need for victory. Reading this book really changed my approach to the whole sport. I've become a lot more aware of attitude I carry with me towards practices and meets.

I see you ran cross-country for the first time last fall. What made you decide to run XC, and how much has that helped with your stamina in the 400?    

Junior year has been my biggest step towards track. I used to play school soccer in the fall and club soccer all year  round. However, this fall is when I hung soccer up for good so I can focus a lot more on running. The first thing I've noticed is that I have no endurance compared to even the most average cross country athletes in my county. I was placed into an environment where all of a sudden, I became nothing. I was able to focus on developing the stamina I needed to improve my 400, and I was able to focus on building up my mindset.

I noticed that you didn't run any of the state meets this past indoor season. Did you have an injury that kept you from competing or a scheduling conflict?  

Every good thing comes with an equal and opposite bad thing. At least that's what I believe happened at the sectional meet of my winter season. Two days prior to that I had an incredible run at ocean breeze, for the first time, where I broke 49 seconds and qualified for nationals. That was my first huge milestone of my junior year. At the time, my 48.25 marked me 4th in the country. Now in sectionals, I felt great, I had a good two day recovery, and I expected to challenge myself on a flat indoor track, but unfortunately I got ahead of myself and I jumped the gun. The false start kicked me out of of the race, which dropped me out of groups, and the MOCs. Now I know it was very upsetting for me, and it should have been avoided, but I quickly picked my head up and focused on moving on.

 You obviously have a great chance to win a Meet of Champions title this season. How big of a goal is that and what would that mean to you, Alex?

Winning the Meet of Champions wouldn't just be an amazing achievement for me, it would symbolize the dreams of my younger self coming true. I was told many stories about the Ocean greats competing at previous Meets of Champions, and I've always want to have my stories passed down, along with the legacy I leave behind. 

How and when did you get started in the sport of track and field? How did this all happen? 

I started running track for the first time in 6th grade and I always felt like I could have a future in this sport. However i faced a pretty serious injury (Osteochondritis dissecans) in 7th grade that forced me to quit any physical activities. I wasn't allowed to run, jump, or even carry heavy things for a straight 11 months. In 8th grade, after I finally returned to the sport, I realized that all of my speed was completely stripped away, along with my confidence. Before the start of my freshman season I forced myself to work harder than anyone on my level, and soon I noticed my strength coming back, along with my confidence. I remember my last middle school race, I overheard my parents asking my older brother (Andrew), who was the prominent runner of the family, whether or not he believed I could continue track in high school and if I could really make a name for myself. My brother responded that he wasn't sure but the first step for me was that I had to break 60 seconds. So there I was with one thought on my mind, getting ready for the most insignificant, middle school dual meet, that ended up being one of the most important meets of my life. If the official who timed me didn't announce, "59.99", I might not be here today.

When was your big breakthrough, when you realized that you could really be a great sprinter and do big things in this sport?

The first big breakthrough I had was when I ran my first race at Ocean Breeze. Our coach was trying to register us into a meet on any banked track for a really long time, and he finally got that one opportunity in the STCA Last a Chance Meet. I was completely mind blown by the bank and how much of a difference it made. I shattered my outdoor PR and by almost a second abs I qualified for some big meets.

What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?

My favorite part of being a track and field athlete is being able to meet new people. At every meet, whether it's Penn Relays, or my county meet, there is always someone new who I get to know. It's always a lot of fun to hear people's stories and their goals for the future. I find myself really comfortable around other track athletes. It is where I feel most like home.

What do you consider your greatest strengths as a sprinter, and 400 hurdler? What makes you as great as you are?

The 400 being my prime event makes me a really strong endurance sprinter. My top end speed isn't crazy good compared to most 200 meter and 100 meter athletes, however, my ability to sustain my speed for just about 400 meters makes me a strong 400 meter athlete. Each time I run a 400, I notice that the second half of my race is where I usually see my strengths kick in.

Which track and field athletes do you watch videos of to try to pick up things that can help you? What do you learn from watching them?

I absolutely love watching professionals and great college athletes run. I would watch videos of guys like Michael Johnson, or Wayde van Niekerk, or Michael Norman. There are so many other athletes that I can list off who constantly captivate my interests on running. There are also certain videos that I watch of coaches such as Clyde Hart explaining techniques and form gives me a better understanding of what I am doing.

A lot of track and field athletes feel the 400 hurdles is the toughest event on the track to run. What do you think about that, and what makes it as tough as it is?

My teammates constantly get into arguments over which event on the track is the hardest. I believe that the difficulty of the event is determined by how much the athlete is willing to fight. For example, I would consider the open 400 to be harder than the hurdles, and that's mostly because I know how to give my all in that event. I'm still learning the quarks of the 400 hurdles, but when I get to the same level in that as I am in the open 400, then they will both be equally hard.

What has your training been like this season? Any specific workouts/drills you are focusing on, and what areas of your races are you focused on trying to improve the most?

Recently, I built up a lot of stamina in my cross country season. I like to say that my lungs are outrunning my legs. To balance it out, I've been focusing a lot more on the shorter sprints. I am trying to develop my acceleration and top speed more than anything right now. We used to focus a lot more on 500s or 300s in workouts, but now things are looking more towards 200s and 100s. I feel like a big step for me is to spend more time in the weight room as we rarely every train strength and power.