From Loyola High to Cal-Berkeley to the Rio Olympics, David Torrence brought a fierce passion to everything he did in his running career.
Raised in the San Fernando Valley area of Southern California, Torrence was a standout prep runner at Loyola High School, the renown all-boys Jesuit school in Los Angeles. As a senior, he won a state cross country title with his team and then finished third in the 1,600 meters at the state track championships.
Torrence went on to run at UC Berkeley, where he gained popularity on and off the track. In the Cal jersey, Torrence ran 3:58.62 to break a 50-year-old school record in the mile held by Don Bowden, the first American to break the four-minute mile. But perhaps as a impactful were his legendary downhill road mile performances. Racing down a one-way street along the Berkeley campus, Torrence ran 3:46 for the mile — significantly aided, yes, but mind-blowingly fast nonetheless in the minds of so many runners who watched the viral YouTube clip in awe.
Like many runners, Torrence was unsponsored out of college, until a breakthrough win in the 3,000 meters at the 2009 U.S. Indoor Championships propelled him to a Nike sponsorship and a spot with John Cook’s elite middle-distance training group. He quickly found success with Cook and continued to be a force in the 800 meters, 1,500 meters and mile on the track and roads.
Torrence was undoubtedly a versatile runner who racked up remarkable personal bests in events ranging from 800 meters (1:45.14) to 5000 meters (13:16.53). His American record of 2:16.76 for the indoor 1,000 meters still stands. He was fearless, often surging to the lead of races in a Prefontaine-esque manner. And despite never making a U.S. team for an outdoor global championship, Torrence was always someone to look out for — whether kicking in the last lap of a 1500 meter race or with his arms raised in triumph after yet another road mile title.
In 2016, Torrence announced he had gained Peruvian citizenship and would represent the South American nation at that summer’s Olympic Games. In his only Olympic appearance, Torrence finished 15th in the 5000 meter final in Rio, setting a national record in the process. In multiple interviews, he shared how it was a dream come true to compete at the Summer Games and represent his mother’s native country.
Throughout these experiences, Torrence always brought an unmatched energy, charisma and passion about the sport of track and field.
I remember talking to Torrence at a party following the 2015 Lodi Mile. We got into an animated discussion about what could be done to grow the sport and make track and field a more prosperous venture for athletes, coaches and fans alike. We talked about how to make track meets more appealing to fans and how to drive more dollars flowing into the sport to the pockets of athletes, who he felt were too often neglected in the financial equation. With his immensely outgoing spirit, I wouldn’t be surprised if Torrence had conversations like that with thousands of others he met.
He always took the time for people, whether that meant stopping to sign autographs for high school kids or making an effort to talk to the media no matter how well or poorly he had raced (even if that meant chatting with someone like me who was just getting his start covering the sport in 2010).
Torrence accomplished so much in his brief time on earth, and we’ll only get to wonder how much more he could have achieved as a coach or leader within track and field’s governing bodies once his competitive career concluded.
The sky was the limit for David Torrence, whether on the track or in life. And that’s a fact that makes his death an even greater loss for us all.