EUGENE, Ore. - Tyler Mulder is so close he can taste it.
After finishing fourth in the 800m at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships for the past two seasons, the former University of Northern Iowa NCAA champion is aiming to climb one spot further up the podium at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials.
The first round of qualification for the 800m kicks off at Hayward Field on Fri., June 22, with the semifinals to follow the next day and the eight-man final slated to air live on NBC Sports Network at 9:47 p.m. (CT) on Mon., June 25.
Mulder will be joined by former Panthers Jacob Pauli (pole vault) and Shayla Houlihan (3,000m steeplechase) in the effort to trade in their purple and gold for the red, white and blue of Team USA.
A top-three finish would send them to London on the U.S. Olympic team, fulfilling a lifelong dream - a dream Mulder says he carried around the track with him during his time at UNI.
"Coming in as a freshman at UNI, I thought about it more as a dream," recalled Mulder. "I think every track athlete has that image in their mind at some point. For me, it became more realistic as I ran faster and faster each year."
Mulder came to UNI from Unity Christian HS in Orange City, Iowa, where he was a two-time Iowa high school state champion, winning the 800m and anchoring the Knights' 1600m medley team to a title in 2005.
As Mulder's Panther career unfolded, so did the reasons to believe. He became the school's indoor 1000m and outdoor 800m school record-holder. He earned eight All-America honors in four years, finishing in the nation's top-six in the 800m on four occasions. And he captured the 2008 NCAA Indoor 800m title, becoming just the third athlete in UNI's Division I history to win a national championship.
The freshman who entered with a dream left Cedar Falls as the most decorated track athlete in the school's history.
As he wrapped up his collegiate career at UNI in June 2009, Mulder found the professional track & field world to be more inviting than he might have expected. "Ultimately it came down to Oregon Track Club coach Frank Gagliano, who called (then UNI head coach) Travis Geopfert my senior year. They liked something in the way I ran because there were plenty of other runners to choose from, and they picked me," said Mulder.
"I ended up getting a Nike contract, but I knew I wanted to finish school and graduate college before I left, so I took a semester to do that," Mulder said. "I was really fortunate to get on with OTC. I had a great career as a Panther, being a national champion and multiple-time All-American."
Mulder has showed no signs of slowing down. In 2010, he took third at the USA Indoor Championships and fourth at the USA Outdoor Championships in the 800m. He claimed another fourth-place finish at the 2011 USA Outdoor Championships.
At the 2011 Oxy High Performance Meet in Los Angeles, Mulder ran a lifetime-best 1:44.83. He duplicated that performance in Barcelona, Spain, on July 22 of last year.
Mulder has finished fourth in the 800m at the Pan American Games. He ran on the distance medley relay (DMR) team that set an indoor American record. He captured a Penn Relays title in the DMR with Team USA this April. Now he's ready to take the next step.
Mulder competed in the 2008 Olympic Trials following his junior season at UNI, but did not advance to the finals. He enters the 2012 Trials with the fifth-fastest qualifying time among Americans.
The goals are simple for Mulder this week at Hayward Field in Eugene. Make the finals. Then make the team.
"It's always been a dream, and I never thought that I'd be this close," Mulder reflected. "It would mean absolutely everything to me. It would make my career. It would make things easier for me as a professional athlete, just having the title of Olympian."
"After getting fourth each year (at the U.S. Outdoor Championships), I can taste it. It's really close."
And if Mulder has his way, the results will be nothing but sweet.