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June 14-15, 2002
North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC

adidas Outdoor Championships

Friday Highlights

by Marc Bloom

They came to Raleigh by the planeload, many helped by meet expense allowances, and they came by bus and van, many making all-day trips, to compete for national titles and stand up to the pressure, to run the relays in pursuit of records, to make new friends and, for some, to end their high school careers with a flourish.

They came to the adidas High School National Track & Field Championships, which got under way on Friday evening at North Carolina State University and conclude today. The event, under the auspices of the National Scholastic Sports Foundation, a non-profit group started in 1990, has grown to two events in one: a setting in which the elite teenage athletes take their first strides toward Olympic glory, and one in which a second echelon of performers, fueled by the opportunity to mix with the best, are motivated to reach higher berths than they thought possible.

They all had craved a spot in Raleigh: from Texas sprinter Kelli Willie, whose versatility was reminiscent of Olympic great Michael Johnson, to unknown racewalker Jasmine Brooks, who’d come by van from the Maine woods “to compete against people I don’t even know—and they’re all great.”

Brooks is a junior at Dirigo High in Peru, Maine. With two dads driving, Brooks and five other Maine athletes traveled 18 hours to Raleigh, arriving Thursday morning. On Friday, Brooks placed fourth in the one-mile racewalk in 7:44.73. On Saturday, Brooks and the Maine contingent piled back into their van for the 18-hour trip home.
But before they departed, Brooks, breathing heavily after her race, said, “I’m pumped up.” Raleigh was her Olympics. Asked what was notable about Peru, a small town in interior Maine, Brooks said, “Absolutely nothing.”

Not even a moose sighting?

“Oh, yeah, we have moose,” said Brooks.

In the strenuous grind of one lap after another, racewalkers and distance runners have a certain kinship. Brooks had something in else in common with one young distance runner in Raleigh, and it was not just that he made his own long trip by van from upstate New York. Josh McDougal is from the small town of Peru, in the vast northern Adrirondacks near Canada. There’s not much going on in that Peru either, said McDougal, a sophomore who’s home-schooled by parents who are teachers.

McDougal, who has no team and trains in obscurity, had a coming out party in Raleigh. It was his first big high school track meet. He was allowed to compete because the adidas meet is a post-season event open to all athletes who meet the qualifying standards. McDougal earned his way in on May 25 with an 8:26 3,000 meters in an open meet in Waltham, Mass. His time set a New York State record for sophomores and was the equivalent of around a 9-flat two-mile.

And on Friday night, with storm clouds threatening but keeping their distance, McDougal, who’d just turned 17, ran at the front of the deep field. All the hitters were in there including the three top finishers at last December’s Foot Locker cross-country championship: winner Tim Moore of Michigan, runnerup Bobby Lockhart of Virginia, and third-placer Chris Solinsky of Wisconsin, whose 8:48 3200 in April led the nation.

After a slow 4:36 first mile, the pace grew faster and McDougal fell back. Lockhart made the big move with 250 to go and held on for the victory in 8:59.19. McDougal was far back in 12th in 9:25.57. He was mad at himself but recognized that he’d learned a lot as a novice in the big time and vowed to come back.

High jumper Shaunte Howard of California expresed a similar sentiment in victory a year ago. A Georgia Tech bound senior at North High in Riverside, Howard returned to Raleigh even though she felt rusty from coaching herself in recent weeks. She’d come back not only for another gold medal. “The competition is intense but the girls are so friendly,” said Howard after repeating as champion in a meet record 6’1 ½”, best in the nation. “I really love that.”
You can’t say there’s a love fest in the boys’ 100 meters. Too much attitude. Show one little weakness and your opposition will eat you up. Add that the favorites were all Texans--who else seems to own the sprints?—and you have the pressure of an Olympic final. No problem for Kelly Willie of Sterling High in Houston, who said, “You just do it. You get your mind situated.”

And Willie wasn’t even a true 100 man. He was the nation’s top 400 runner in 45.52. But he captured the 100 in 10.39 over the defending champ, Brendan Christian, a long stride back in 10.50. It was Willie’s last high school race, a “bittersweet” juncture, he said, as he prepared to move on to “greater things” in college at Louisiana State.

Eric Fleming, an 800 runner from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was inching his way toward greatness. After winning a secondary section of the two-mile in a personal best 9:15.89, the Bishop Shanahan junior still needed to get comfortable in his runner’s skin. A soccer player in the fall, Fleming resisted the idea of running full-out in cross-country next season, the crucial base for aspiring distance runners.

After his “victory,” Fleming thought that maybe he’d do soccer and cross-country in the fall. Injuries are made from less. Absorbing the atmosphere at the track, Fleming said, “This is my first nationals and I know there’s no slacking off.”

Fleming said he planned to train over the summer. He also said he wanted to come back to Raleigh next year as a championship contender. Now if the young man can only get his fall priorities in order…
No question about the fall for Maggie Infeld, an Ohio junior at Beaumont High in the Cleveland area. Second in her state cross-country race last fall, Infeld developed into the state 1600 titlist in a nationally-ranked 4:51 earlier this month. But in Raleigh she was something of an understudy. Instead of venturing into the big individual races, Infeld stuck to the relays. Perfect preliminary work for next year. And she started off Friday with a well-paced, come-from-behind 800 anchor on her team’s victorious sprint medley team.

“The competition is amazing,” she said after outrunning her opposition from St. Mary’s of California and Willingboro of New Jersey.

For a group of 48 New York City athletes who’d made the 10-hour trip together by bus, the competition was all they’d hoped it would be, but they found a broader fulfillment. For most in the group, it was their first meet in a setting as lush as that surrounding Paul Derr Track at North Carolina State. Or, as a New York coach who came with the group, Bobby Orazem, said, “It was the first time they saw trees at a track meet.”

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