by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
Dathan Ritzenhein, a 2001 Rockford High School graduate, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in the 10,000 meters by finishing third in the U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials on June 23 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. He needed to finish third and also reach the American A standard of 27:45, which he handily did with a time of 27:36:09. This will be Ritzenhein’s third Olympics.
In 2004 Olympics, Ritzenhein ran in the 10,000-meter event but dropped out mid-race due to a stress fracture and in the 2008 Olympics he finished ninth in the grueling marathon.
Ritzenhein (“Ritz”) emerged as a cult figure among high school track fans during his junior and senior years at Rockford High School (RHS). He set numerous state and national high school records during this time. In 1999 “Ritz” claimed an unexpected national title in the 5k while setting the course record in 14:29. As a senior at RHS he set the Michigan 5k record of 14:10 at state finals and capped his high school career with six national championships.
“Ritz” followed up his storied high school years by having a dominant college career at the University of Colorado. He owned the American 10k collegiate record (27:38:50), and four Big 12 Conference titles (2003 cross-country, 2004 indoor 3,000-meter, 5,000-meter, and outdoor 5k). He also received four All-American titles (2001 and 2003 cross-country, 2004 indoor and outdoor 5k), the 10,000-meter school record (27:38:50) and the nation’s only undefeated cross-country season in 2003 to capture his first and only NCAA crown.
Rockford Public School’s Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. Ryan Kelley, has this to say about Ritzenhein – “Having been Dathan’s high school principal, I remember him as being one of the finest athletes we have ever had in Rockford. More importantly, I remember him being very humble and down to earth. He was the ultimate role model for the younger kids. To see Dathan on TV, competing in the Olympics, makes us all very proud.”
With a heart and work ethic as big as the outdoors he so dearly loves, “Ritz” has his entire hometown community proudly backing him as he “runs for the gold” in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Ritzenhein’s 10,000-meter Olympic event will be shown live on WOOD TV8 on Saturday, August 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the afternoon. All eyes in the greater Rockford community will be glued to their TV sets.