Cade Flatt Wants The Smoke. It Just Might Make Him Better.

* Marshall County's Cade Flatt is quickly becoming a must-watch 800m runner

Photo Credit: Matt Hernandez/Portfolio

"I want them to look through the peephole and see what I'm like. That was the intention. I want all the pressure, all the eyes on me."

By Cory Mull - MileSplit

If you were wondering if Cade Flatt was putting on a show at New Balance Nationals Indoor in March, you would be partially right. 

For starters, let's begin with this quote:

"I wanted to drag these guys into deep waters."

But it's also important to clarify that Cade Flatt wasn't digressing from type. He is a showman. And he was being the type of athletic auteur who you might encounter on Monday Night Raw, or on the main card of some massive MMA fight.

Track and field athlete? You rarely encounter a personality so big that it sparks debate. Just check the message boards. But that bravado? You would be wrong in assuming it's one-note.

What else? Flatt's surefire confidence has also had a multiplier effect.

For as many historic performances as the Ole Miss signee has had in the last two months -- and there have been some good ones -- so too has his team. He's spurring personal record mania at Marshall County High School. 

"Cade has a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove," said Marshall County coach Andrew Johnston, 31. "He talks about making sure his name is left in the books, that people remember his name. That's kind of his trademark right now. He's running with something to prove. But it's gotten to be contagious on the team. Everyone is running without limits."

Just how much? Johnston said nearly 90-percent of Marshall County's team has PRed in 2022 so far. 

"They're breaking barriers," Johnston added. "And it's largely because of Cade's confidence."

This weekend was another big reminder that Flatt, 18, is out to do some damage to the record books.

On Saturday at the Joe Walker Invitational at his future collegiate home in Oxford, Mississippi, the Marshall County senior ran shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the NCAA's top 800m runners -- Mario Garcia Romo -- and finished second overall in 1:47.04. 

The effort was the third-fastest performance in high school history. 

"Like I said, self belief," Flatt said recently. "All week, whether I'm racing a workout or every rep, whether it's a national championship, I'm saying 'Best ever.' I'm telling myself these things because I believe it and I'm instilling it. There's no reason for anyone to be in front of me. I believed that. Why would I sit back?"

That performance hasn't been his only success. Flatt opened with a U.S. top 15 performance in the 400m, going 47.29, and then lowered it a week later in 47.07. 

So what to expect of his future? Perhaps now is a good time to say the 800m is deep: A total of six athletes have already broken 1:50, and so there could be a handful of athletes who could challenge Flatt for national performances. 

Could the high school national record go down? Michael Granville's mark of 1:46.45 has held since 1996. 

"Staying focused, keeping that belief," Flatt said. "Knowing what brought me here. I don't want to stay like this. I don't want to live there." 

At the same time, let's have some perspective. Flatt's career hasn't always been easy. During the pandemic, there wasn't a lot of racing. And so gauging success -- no less improvement -- was harder to come by.

Johnston thought Flatt was harder on himself over that span. 

"I think there was a lot of pressure as a junior to hit times, to get these marks," Johnston said. "He's got the pressure of signing. He knows he's big-time, but he absolutely wants to deliver. So I think there was this pressure. We were chasing 1:50, chasing 1:50, chasing 1:50, trying to break it."

When it didn't come in 2021, the burden was there. But then came his signing to Ole Miss in November. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Things began to feel easier, workouts, tempos. Everything. 

In his first indoor 800m in February, Flatt dropped a 1:49.76 at Kentucky. 

"A weight was lifted," Johnston said. "We hoped he would go 1:52. He blows it out of the water. And then he comes back in. I think there's been a weight lifted. It's really impacted."

"Cade has a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove. He talks about making sure his name is left in the books, that people remember his name."

The indoor campaign ended up being a crucial confidence-builder.

In March, Flatt made a point of making a statement in the 800m, hammering down the first 400m of the indoor national championship at New Balance Nationals Indoor. He finished with the third-fastest time in high school history indoors, clocking a time of 1:48.86 and winning by just over two seconds. 

That moment revved him up. 

"I could have had a fake smile. I could have said 'All these people really pushed me to run my best race. I wouldn't have run so fast without them. Congrats.' Was I nervous, was I not nervous? I wasn't really worried about those people My thing was, 'Let's let people know if they like Cade Flatt or not.'"

Then came those infamous quotes, the words that got everyone talking. 

"I wanted to drag these guys into deep waters." 

"I had bad intentions."

It was like something out of a telenovela. But here's the thing: Flatt wasn't doing a schtick. This was a show, but it wasn't an act. 

The Marshall County (KY) High School star has always prescribed by the theory that in order to achieve it you must believe it, and to believe it you must live it. He has never believed that talk is cheap. In fact, talk can be priceless.

That idea might be the very thing that lifts a personal goal into manifestation.

Flatt credits that line of thinking to his early inspirations in MMA, and Steve Prefontaine. 

    "These guys (MMA fighters) believe in themselves. Prefontaine, the way he had self belief and how far that took him," Flatt said. "It's a mindset that I've kind of always had. (At NBNI), I wanted to bring it out. Watching track and field, and watching people race, sometimes it's mindless beings. There's no story. There's no emotional attachment. I want people to know who I am, whether they love me or hate me.

    "I want them to look through the peephole and see what I'm like. That was the intention. I want all the pressure, all the eyes on me."

    Of course, let's not forget the whole point of this, that Flatt has broken through as one of the nation's top 800m runners in 2022. There's a very good reason for that. 

    The other thing that's not often talked about?

    It's how technically gifted Flatt is in the 800m. Beyond all the talk, he's actually a true tactician. A year ago at the KHSAA Class 3A Championships, when he won the state title in 1:51.89, he was nearly dead-even across the distance, going 55 and 56 in consecutive laps.

    At Brooks PR roughly three weeks later, he went roughly 55 and 55. This year at NBNI, he went 54.2 and 54.6, running 27s like a metronome.

    When you talk about the best 800m runners in the country, you think about how clean their races are, how there isn't any drop-off from the first to the next 400m. 

    It's one thing to run fast. It's another to run even at an elite level. NCAA Division I coaches clearly took notice. 

    Flatt says it's in the DNA.

    "I've always been like that. From middle school all through my life," he says. "I've always been real even." 

    Of course, he isn't satisfied. He still wants to sure up his race plan, to get better in that first quarter, to throttle it up.

    "I would like to go out a little bit faster on my first lap," he says. 

    But sometimes, you just have it.

    And right now, Flatt has exactly that.

    Better yet, he's willing to tell you about it, too.