Rory Linkletter placed first overall in two of BYU’s three races this season, most recently leading the team to victory at the Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 14 — a race he almost didn’t make it to.
Panic started to set as the connecting flight taking the team to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Pre-National Invitational had just taken off, and one of BYU’s star cross-country runners wasn’t on it.
Before flying to Chicago, Linkletter realized his phone was missing and it was too late to go looking for it. The bus was leaving for the airport and he had to be on it. He would just have to go without his phone for the trip.
During the team’s short layover in Chicago, he decided to do some homework and get a bite to eat before their connecting flight to Louisville. It wasn’t until he came back to the gate that he realized something was wrong.
“I went back to the gate after finishing my food, and I saw that nobody was there,” Linkletter said. “I went up to the gate agent and I asked, ‘Did Louisville have a gate change?'”
Immediately the agent asked if he was Rory Linkletter. When he responded yes, she was blunt, saying, “You’ve missed your flight.”
Sitting in the back of the plane before takeoff, coach Ed Eyestone had looked around and realized Linkletter was missing. After confirming with the team’s trainer that he wasn’t on the flight, Eyestone stood up and alerted a flight attendant to the situation.
Linkletter had failed to hear the pages repeating his name over the airport’s loudspeakers and didn’t receive any of the messages from teammates and coaches because his phone was somewhere back in Provo. The plane had to take off without him.
With no way to contact anyone, and with the rest of the day’s flights to Louisville overbooked, things were not looking good for Linkletter. Luckily, Joe and Bonnie Merrill, who had been on the flight with the team from Salt Lake to Chicago and knew Eyestone, were there in the terminal. When they saw the frantic Linkletter, they offered to help.
Joe Merrill sent a message to Eyestone to let him know he was with Linkletter, but that still didn’t solve the problem of how he was going to get to Louisville in enough time to properly prepare for the race.
It was then that a senior missionary couple sat down near them in the terminal. They struck up conversation and Merrill, who is also LDS, asked where the missionary couple was going. They replied that they were flying to Cincinnati and were then heading down to Louisville, about a 90-minute drive.
“Joe ran over to the gate and asked if there were seats on the Cincinnati flight,” Linkletter said. “There were, and so he ran back to us and asked if the senior couple would let me drive with them to Louisville.”
They agreed. Linkletter felt both a sense of gratitude and relief that things were going to work out.
Ultimately, he arrived in Louisville just four hours later than the team. He was still able to fully prepare for the weekend meet, where he led the Cougars to a dominant first-place finish against a talented field of opponents.
Halfway through its season, the No. 2 men’s BYU cross country team is having one the best seasons in program history.
The Cougars faced high preseason expectations going into the season but have dominated every meet they’ve participated in. Linkletter, a junior, has been a key component of that dominance.
Linkletter started running competitively as a freshman at Herriman High School in Herriman, Utah, after a friend convinced him to come to a cross country team workout. It didn’t take long for him to realize he actually enjoyed the sport and that he was pretty good at it. Part of his motivation that first year was to prove to his mom that he really could get up for 6:30 a.m. workouts every day.
By the end of his first year, he was running on the varsity team. In his junior year, he started receiving attention from college programs. After visiting BYU, he knew it would be a perfect fit for what he wanted in a school.
“I wanted to be a part of a big school that I knew could fulfill all my desires,” Linkletter said.
He cited the program’s funding and tradition of having excellent track and cross country teams as other factors that helped him settle on BYU.
BYU has emerged as a very serious contender for the national championship this year, a fact that, rather than causing Linkletter to feel pressure, fills him with excitement.
“Every race begins to mean more and more at this point, but at the same time I’ve always thrived on people counting on me… and I’ve always prided myself on the ability to show up when it counts,” he said.
Eyestone, who has been coaching at BYU for 17 years, recognizes that Linkletter is playing a crucial role in the team’s push for a national title outside of just winning races.
“He’s a great leader, he’s very enthusiastic and he’s not afraid of having these big hairy goals,” Eyestone said. “The guys see that enthusiasm and buy into it, they wanted to (accomplish) those same things.”
Linkletter is focused on those goals for this season. As for the future, he doesn’t intend to stop running.
“I want to keep running as long as I can,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion for competing in various sports. Now it’s collegiate cross country, and I hope one day for it to be the Olympics and more.”
Linkletter seems to have all the tools and talents necessary to make it to those upper levels of competition — he just has to make sure he doesn’t miss any more flights.