There is food for thought, and then there is food for speed.

Maxim Rychkov enjoys digesting and dispensing the latter to his Robbinsville High track & field teammates prior to meets in the form of “PR bread.” Its value is to help everyone who eats it set a personal record that day.

Maxim Rychkov

Maxim Rychkov.

“Essentially PR bread is just a joke that I have within the people from my team,” Rychkov said. “I usually bring bread as a snack to eat during a meet, and whenever I eat it everyone jokes around saying that it will make them PR. It’s pretty funny, actually.”

But it has its serious side, such as in this winter’s Indoor Meet of Champions at Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze Track & Field Facility. Rychkov entered the Mar. 5 event seeded seventh in the 55 meters. He proceeded to take second in the preliminaries in a PR of 6.54, and first in the finals in another PR of 6.51. The junior became the first Ravens boy to win an indoor MOC title since Craig Hunter in the pole vault in 2012.

“After I found out I won, I was super shocked and excited,” Rychkov said. “I’ve never done anything at the level of this performance before, and it was one of my goals for all of high school, to try to win a state championship in some event. So I felt amazing.”

His disbelief was shared by the coaching staff, teammates and parents who made the trip.

“In the 55, there’s only so much room you can grow and make a dent in that kind of event when you’re seeded seventh going into it,” Robbinsville head coach Trey Carnevale said. “When we got there we said ‘OK, just go out there and do your thing.’ And boom, he just pops off and we’re like ‘OK that puts him up into second, that’s really awesome.’ It’s hard to replicate something like that two times in one day alone.”

Hard, but not impossible, as Maxim proved in the finals.

“My thoughts going into the race were that I would try to not worry about anything and just chill with it,” he said. “After getting second place out of prelims, I realized that I could possibly have a shot to win it all, but I didn’t focus on that, as anything could happen. All I focused on was getting a good start, transitioning into a good drive phase, and finishing it off with my top end speed. It ended up working because I wasn’t super caught up in trying to just only go after the win.”

Carnevale said that Rychkov’s entire rooting section was deliriously shocked when he won; but then scolded himself and the group for feeling that way.

“I’m surprised that we were as surprised as we were,” the coach said. “That race has just been (indicative of) his whole season. When you think there’s nothing more Maxim can do, he pulls one out of the hat and he does it.

“That’s a testament to what kind of athlete he is. He lines up for the final. The gun goes off, everybody’s kind of neck and neck, he crosses the line and I’ll never forget it. The pure seconds after he crossed the line, our coaching staff and the athletes that were sitting there like ‘Did he just win? He just won the Meet of Champs!’ I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it.”

Maxim also took 13th in the 400 at the MOC with a PR of 49.73. A week later in the Nike Indoor Nationals at the Armory in NYC, Rychkov finished 19th in the 60 meters in 7.00, and won the 400 in 49.86 in the Emerging Elite division.

“I would say that went quite well,” he said. “I made it to the break first and held on to run a 49.8, which is actually slower than what I ran at MOC. The competition in the 400 is a lot tougher in my opinion, at least in our state, with multiple guys running 47 seconds, and even a guy splitting 46 in a relay. In the 60 I only got 19th because I was competing in the championship division, which is the highest level of competition at nationals. I ran 7.00, which isn’t bad but it could’ve been better because of the fact that I stumbled a little on my third step. But it still went pretty well.”

In comparing a gold medal in the MOC to his gold in the Nationals, Rychkov was prouder of winning his state rather than just claiming a lower division in national competition.

“Winning an MOC event felt way better,” he said. “Winning at states in my head means ‘I just ran faster than everyone in the state,’ versus winning the Emerging Elite at nationals. That felt good but not amazing, because I knew that there were still people way faster than me in the championship division.”

A 2018 RHS grad, Carnevale has enjoyed watching Rychkov’s progression over the years. The coach was a track & field teammate and best friends with Maxim’s brother, Roman (RHS ‘17), in high school. When he would visit the Rychkov home, he saw “this tiny kid eating cereal in the corner of his house. . .very shy, not very outgoing.”

That kid was Maxim and he was actually watching the success of his brother, who still competes with The College of New Jersey.

“My brother was the biggest influence I had with getting into track,” Rychkov said. “But there were other factors too. I used to play soccer, and I found that I was one of the fastest guys on the field at any moment, which helped guide my decision for taking up track.”

He started the sport at Pond Road running dual meets against other middle schools “but not anything super competitive.”

His real tests came in his first season at Robbinsville, when he was part of the 4x100 relay team that made the Spring MOC after winning the group meet. As a sophomore, Maxim reached the Indoor MOC in the 200 and 400 meters, finishing 13th and 12th, respectively.

Last spring, he was part of the winning 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams in the Mercer County meet, won the 400 and took second in the 200 in Central Jersey Group III. He took second in the 400 in the Group III meet but could not compete at Meet of Champions as the Nationals were the same weekend; and he finished 17th there in the 100 with a PR of 11.07.

It was those races that prepped him for this year’s success.

“Running multiple events at MOC and nationals helped me realize that yes, there are obviously going to be kids that are faster,” Rychkov said. “But I can definitely put up a good fight, and all I have to do is run my absolute best and I could have a shot at winning.”

Carnevale, who is in his first year as Ravens head coach but served as an assistant when Maxim entered the program, felt the talent was always there and that the runner just needed the confidence to go with it.

“Some kids, when you see them run for the first time, you think ‘Oh this kid might have a real future in this,’” Carnevale said. “It took time for Maxim to recognize this. He’s just a perfect example of somebody who’s put his nose to the grinder and worked.

“All of the success he’s getting is because of the passion and the love he has for the sport and the way that he works and continues to work out. He never settles on just calling it a day. This (MOC gold) isn’t the end for Maxim. That’s also the scary part. When you count him out or you think there’s nothing more he can do, he shows you up.”

Carnevale credits the success of his speed guys to assistant Amanda Luccarelli, who works exclusively with the sprinters. Her synopsis of Rychkov’s success is simple.

“Maxim is a great sprinter because he is disciplined, loves the sport, and simply has fun with it,” she said.

As the spring season approaches, Rychkov’s goals are daunting but doable. He hopes to make the Meet of Champions and Nationals in the 200, 400, 4x100 and 4x400. He feels his top event is the 200 and hopes to focus on that the most.

“I have a good combination of acceleration, speed and endurance,” he said. “In a long and fast sprint like the 200, I think I would be able to perform very well.”

Carnevale is also dabbling with throwing him in the 100 and high jump, and cannot wait to see what Rychkov does this spring.

“I don’t know if I could put a cap on his potential,” the coach said. “He can do anything. He’s just such a generically athletic individual. He’s a fighter and a grinder, he’ll go out there and compete and that’s all you want from an athlete.”

Well, that, and perhaps that he shares some PR bread with his teammates.

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