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10th Nike Indoor Nationals

March 15-16, 2008 at Prince George's County Sportsplex, Landover MD

Sunday - Boys

Fast, deep 2-Mile overshadows even HSR and dazzling relay show

By SteveU, News Editor

How often does a track race receive a massive amount of pre-meet hype, trumped-up expectations, and preliminary bluster – and then exceed everyone’s wildest expectations?

Very, very rarely. But it happened Sunday.

Almost everyone thought prep distance titans Luke Puskedra and Colby Lowe would push the pace and hold on enough in the Nike Indoor Nationals 2-mile that they would not only break 9:00, but run as fast as 8:54-55 – and lead a small parade of others under that magic barrier that as many as three had exceeded in one indoor race only once before.

Well, they couldn’t put four or five under 9:00, but how about six under 9:02? And how about jaw-dropping times of 8:49.58 and 8:50.79 for Puskedra and Lowe? The 2-mile once again rose to the occasion to be the overwhelming highlight of a Nike national indoor or outdoor meet.

That those performances could seem to overshadow the tying of a national record, or a superlative relay quadruple, is demonstrative of a pervasive love of the deuce within the sport – or maybe also the level of expectations already attending said record-setter and relay team. Southeast Raleigh NC jr Wayne Davis has been so fast and consistent all winter that a record attempt is looked for every time he steps on the track – and he came through Sunday with his USR-tying 7.62 60H. The bar is raised every time Track Eastern Carolina (New Bern NC) steps on the track as well, and they also excelled, taking both their second gold (4x800) and second silver (4x400) of the weekend, and receiving an individual title effort by Fuquawn Greene.

Few surprises as favorites come through

As for the rest of Sunday’s proceedings on the boys side, where there were solid favorites, those favorites came through – though in some cases they struggled to do so. Half Hollow Hills West NY sr Kyle Merber, the king of the mile in every race but Boston this year, outlasted Hoover AL sr Patrick McGregor in the mile, 4:16.47 – 4:16.79. Toledo Rogers sr Erik Kynard needed a jumpoff, but got past two others to win the high jump with 7-0.25. Colorado Flyers sr Joe Morris needed every 100th of his 6.76 to win the 60.

Others had an easier time. Rowlett TX sr Marquise Goodwyn ruled the long jump in 24-09, with five of his six jumps better than anyone else’s.

The shot put favorite was Brandon Pounds IN, but really several putters who came in over 60 feet were given a strong chance. With a huge PR of 66-03, Jersey Village TX sr Michael Barbas emerged with the gold, while Red Oak TX sr Michael Carter Jr. – son of the HS outdoor record-holder and former NFL star Michael Carter – made it a Texas 1-2 with his 62-05.25.

There weren’t clearcut favorites in the 800 and 400. The former saw Godby FL sr Joe Franklin outkick Juneau WI sr Andrew Perkins, 1:54.09 to 1:54.65. Bethel VA sr Ja-Vell Bullard held off Michigan Accelerators (Belleville HS) sr Varick Tucker at half the distance, 48.81-48.93. Bullard then finished the day by anchoring his school to an easy 4x400 title, with their 3:20.79 winning by more than 3 seconds in the final heat (Track Eastern Carolina getting 2nd from back in the 2nd section).

Three golds and two silvers for Carolina relayers

That brings us back to Track Eastern Carolina. Never ones to settle for 2nd-best, Coach Nick Sparks brought in a half-dozen athletes hoping to win five golds (relay plus individual). Their bubble burst a little in the first event in which they were entered Saturday, the 4x200, when Waldorf TC (Westlake MD) rolled to a 1:28.90 and relegated them to 2nd. While that wasn’t their best event, Sparks had his team zeroed in there because he knew that would be the toughest one to get.

The team regrouped, however, to capture the big sprint medley showdown later Saturday (3:29.24). On Sunday, they asked to be in an earlier heat of the 4x400 so they’d have more rest between that event and the 4x800. So knowing they’d have to push hard on their own to put up a hard-to-match mark for the day’s finalists, they dropped a 3:22.12 in that second section, winning by almost six seconds. Greene then ended his weekend the 21.98 200 win. Then four of the others from the tired squad ran a measured 4x800, with Hendrix pulling away in the final leg for the 7:58.18 victory.

Finally, they all watched the 4x400 final at the end of the meet from the medal stand area, hoping what transpired would enable them to top the podium. As Bethel pulled away in the final leg, it was pretty clear that only the Virginia school had a chance to top Track EC’s time. Bullard made sure that happened, but the New Bern runners still had the silver.

“We came in wanting all four relays,” said Coach Sparks. “But (Waldorf and Bethel) ran fast and deserved to win. Bethel did it just like we did, all by themselves.”

Pace was perfect in high octane two-mile

In the two-mile, though, no one would have to do anything by themselves. While there was a lot of excitement over how fast the race would be at the front, it was the depth and how fast the whole group would finish that elicited the most frenetic pre-race calculating by the “experts.” Only one indoor prep deuce in history, more than 30 years ago, had seen as many as three duck under 9:00. If the pace was right, not only could Puskedra and Lowe do it, but those likely to chase them would be able to as well. A 4:25 first mile might be too fast; a 4:30 might be too slow.

Many times races like this didn’t achieve the anticipated immortality because of dawdling paces. But those races didn’t have Puskedra and Lowe. Fans watched in amazement as the two front-runners, about nine inches different in height, took turns leading while clicking off 33-35 second 220s, never running a 440 slower than 68. The mile was hit in 4:27.2. The field was strung out behind the big two, yet close enough to sniff the big sub-9. Perfect.

That amazement grew as, unlike so many other races, the pace didn’t fade in the second mile. In the final 800, though, the leaders stopped switching off leading and Puskedra’s pace just became a little too hot. With 400 to go, the Judge Memorial UT sr was at 7:47.0 and his Southlake Carroll TX sr running mate a tick back. Surely they could hit at least 8:52 or 53.

But these guys have developed kicks to go with their front-running games, even off a pace like this. Fans’ amazement turned to exhilaration as the duo powered in the final 440 in 62 and 63, respectively, and the winning time flashed on the scoreboard. 8:49.58! No way!

Way. Puskedra and Lowe had entered territory reserved for the Distance Gods … and pulled the rest of the great field to depths previously uncharted. The record for sub-9s in a race was “merely” matched – Brian Leung’s 8:59.66 (and taking down of Kevin Byrne’s New Jersey record) saw to that – but the race still set new standards for depth. With Wes Rickman CO (9:00.38), Brandon Jarrett NJ (9:01.63), and Pete Dorrell VA (9:01.70), six had broken 9:02, definitely a first in the annuls of prep distance running.

“It was good to have someone to push the pace with,” said Puskedra. “My coach and I broke the race down into three segments – two 1200s and the 800 to finish. From the 800 on in, I just tried to gun it.”

It was simple, old-school, hammer-from-start-to-finish distance running. Puskedra and Lowe have always done that; now they have the ability to back up their fast starts with strong finishes. The expectations were exceeded.

But there will more more great expectations – for the two milers and the rest of the weekend’s stars. One of the most amazing things about the 2-mile is that it was achieved without the previous cross-country season’s biggest stars. What will happen if any of these guys gets in a race with Chris Derrick, Mike Fout or German Fernandez? Or by not participating in this grand affair, did that fast trio just watch the train leave the station? In this renaissance era of prep distance running, you can’t afford to get left behind.

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