Steve Kissane has coached Tim Cornell in cross country and track since Cornell was in sixth grade at Smithton Middle School, but his favorite memory of Cornell is about walking, not running.
During Cornell’s freshman year at Hickman, they played a round of golf the day before the Show-Me State Games track meet. Impressed by Cornell’s golf swing, Kissane asked him if he would consider playing golf instead of running. According to Kissane, Cornell’s reply was “Too much walking … I’d get bored.”
“I remember thinking, ‘My God, if this kid’s idea of taking it easy before a meet is doing this, he is really gonna be something,’ ” Kissane said.
Kissane said he was amazed at Cornell’s enthusiasm for athletics.
“One of the neat things about working with him has been how he has managed to keep sports in a fun perspective even as his level of running and expectations have risen,” Kissane said.
The Kewpies will compete Saturday at the District 5 cross country meet at the Cole County Fairgrounds in Jefferson City. The team can qualify for the Section 3 meet if it finishes in the top four. The top 30 runners also will qualify for the meet at Bethel Park on Nov. 1.
As he enters the postseason, Cornell’s goal is not only to qualify for the state meet, but also to go farther. His ultimate goal is 2,000 miles away.
That’s the distance from Columbia to Eugene, Ore., the home of the University of Oregon and one of the pre-eminent men’s cross country programs in the country. If he can shave three seconds from his best mile time of 4 minutes, 16 seconds, Cornell will reach an important step.
“They won’t even send you a recruiting letter unless you can run a 4:13,” Cornell said.
To most cross country runners, Oregon’s appeal is obvious. It was the home of Steve Prefontaine, the running legend who never lost a cross country race after his freshman year of college and held 14 national track and field records.
It was also the home of Bill Bowerman, the coach who led Oregon to four national titles and produced 24 individual NCAA champions, 44 All-Americans and 19 Olympians. This year, the Ducks are ranked eighth in the nation.
“There’s just so much history there,” Cornell said. “And to imagine putting on one of those jerseys...”
As a sophomore, Cornell finished 31st in the state cross country meet. He was All-State in track, finishing fourth in the 1,600-meter run in 4:16.90 and fifth in the 4x800 meter relay in 7:58.23.
This year, Cornell began the season by winning the MU Cross Country Challenge in 16:19.07. He also won the McCluer North Invitational and was second at Hazelwood Central.
“I’d say his times are 20, 30 seconds better this year,” Kissane said.
Despite his impressive racing, Cornell shrugged at being called a leader of his team.
“We have a really solid top four, and I don’t think any one of us could take over a leadership position,” Cornell said. “I need those guys as much as they need me.”
Cornell has the rest of this season and his senior year to improve his racing time to qualify for a tryout at Oregon.
“Tim is a quality student, and I think he will mix sports and academics quite well, if offered the opportunity in college,” Larry Cornell said. “If Tim stays healthy and keeps progressing, I’m confident he can compete at the college level.”