by Stephen (steveu) Underwood
RALEIGH, June 15, 2001 -- Friday night's distance-running action at the adidas Outdoor Track and Field Championships saw one high school record in four events. But the fact that valiant attempts were made in each race had the crowd at a fever pitch all night long.
So here's a closer look at each of these awesome efforts.
Friday night's boys 4 x 800 battle of titans South Lakes (VA) and Atlantic Community (FL) was everything track fans were hoping for. But this time - unlike those classic DMRs at Nike Indoor and Arcadia - it was Alan Webb and the boys from Reston (7:35.33, No. 5 all-time) that crossed the line first.
Richard Smith had a great third leg (1:53.2) for South Lakes, but they still trailed the Florida gang by over a second entering the anchor. But Webb's world-class 51.7 first lap blew away the crowd and overtook John Jefferson just as the pair entered the final circuit.
Both runners slowed, but Webb and his team's margin grew to two seconds at the finish - despite Jefferson's fine 1:50.8 (7:37.31 total). SL coach Scott Raczko told his athletes not to talk to the media at the finish, but an exhilarated Jefferson tried to fill in the gaps.
"I knew Webb was close and would probably catch me," he said, "so I tried to run my own race and keep going for a great time. When he passed me, I wanted to try and sit on his shoulder, but he really made a big move (with a lap to go). I started to come on with 150 left, but he surged again."
South Lakes' unofficial splits: Jonathan Kebede, 1:58+; Kanda Karmo, 1:56.3; Richard Smith, 1:53.2; Alan Webb, 1:47.3. Atlantic's: Josh Randall, 1:56.0; Sean Jefferson, 1:54.0; Ken Schappert, 1:56.5; John Jefferson, 1:50.8.
An exciting battle for third was waged on the final leg as Marc Sylvester thrilled the crowd with his 1:47.2, giving his St. Ignatius (OH) team a 7:41.22.
So what was it like blasting from behind on that last lap? "That was the first time I've had to do that," Sylvester said. "My adrenaline was really on overdrive there!"
And speaking of distance relay rivalries South Lakes and Atlantic hardly have cornered the market. Boys and Girls (NY) and Rockford (MI) have it going pretty good in the 4 x 800 and DMR, too as was first seen at Nike Indoor.
But the Bed-Stuy powerhouse has a stranglehold on the former, at least for now. The team of Keziah Fernandez (2:16.3), Meisue Francis (2:16.2), Tameka Johnson (2:10.7) and Stacey Livingston (2:07.9) took 1.25 seconds off the mark they set almost three months earlier at the Penn Relays. Their 8:51.60 topped Rockford (8:56.53) by nearly five seconds - though the Lady Rams could take solace in the fact that they moved to No. 5 all-time and beat their winning time from last year.
The race took some interesting twists and turns before B&G took control. Fernandez appeared to be shot out of a cannon as she opened her leadoff leg with a 60-second 400. Christy Cazzola (Kaukanuna, WI) reeled her in and gave her team the lead at handoff one with a 2:14.1.
Meanwhile, Rockford's Linsey Blaisdell opened in 2nd with a 2:15.5. But the Michigan team took the lead when Kalin Toedebusch split 2:15.1 in leg two. Johnson, however, quickly got B&G back up to the front on the third leg against Rockford's Kristi Powers, eventually overtaking the latter's 2:14.6 with that 2:10.7.
Livingston's anchor also began with a 60, but she was able to maintain enough to continue to expand the lead. She slowed dramatically the final meters, but the crowd knew they had witnessed history when she crossed the line.
"First and foremost, we wanted to try and win," said B&G coach James Jackson, whose squad survived a horrible travel situation from New York that got them to Raleigh just a few hours before their race. "We knew it would be very competitive; Rockford's been a great team for years. But we wanted to get in there and run with them and let our speed take over."
Rockford, which finished nearly 10 seconds up on third-place Kaukauna (9:06.30), had nothing to be ashamed of. "We were proud and really excited, even though we got second," said Keenan."
Next spring Jeff Nelson's national 2-mile record will be 23 years old. And you have to wonder now if it will ever be broken.
Rockford's brave titan Dathan Ritzenhein took his best shot at it Friday night, fighting solo after the first 100 meters. He was rewarded with a meet record 8:44.43, also nipping Alan Webb's indoor 8:45 for the best mark of the year. He won by nearly 15 seconds.
But Nelson's 8:36.3 remains maddeningly elusive.
"I think people underestimate that record a little bit," a wiped-out Ritz said several minutes later. "I started a little slower than I wanted to and, all alone, it was tough at the end. But I'm happy with it."
In a crazy spring that has seen everything from Belgian world cross country glory at 8K, to a spectacular shot at Gerry Lindgren's 5K HSR at Penn, to a ponderous dual meet schedule that had Ritz constantly adding 800s and 4x800s to his repertoire well, even the best can be spread a little thin. Ritz's final stop before "Running for the Buffs" will be in Eugene next week. "I may have a better shot at the 5K record," he admitted.
But on Friday, Ritz quickly found that no one else wanted to challenge the clock early and he escaped a knot of competitors after the first 100 meters. After a 66.2, he picked it up to 63.7, but that sequence took the edge off a little and by the mile (4:21.0), it looked like Nelson would be safe.
The happiest camper may have been Robert Smitson (Carmel, IN), who finished with a bang to top Erik Grumstrup (Black Hawk, SD) in the battle for 2nd and 3rd, 8:58.95 to 8:59.57 (big PRs for both). "I started in the back of the pack, then just picked off a few runners a lap," said Smitson. "With three laps to go, I really felt like I would get second."
Pace and patience, learned during a championship career, again proved to be a winning formula for Anita Siraki.
After narrow losses in last fall's Foot Locker CC Championships and the Cal State 2-mile, the Hoover HS (CA) senior was again the distance queen in Raleigh. Smartly staying away from a stunning early pace set by Molly Huddle (Elmira, NY), Siraki moved up gradually to catch Huddle and Erika Odlaug (Bannockburn, IL) after a mile (5:03), then win decisively in the final three laps.
Siraki's reward: A meet record 10:12.48 and a defense of her 2000 title.
"I was just like, 'They're going out way too fast,'" she said. "I knew what I wanted my pace to be and I tried to maintain it. I was really confident towards the end and I'm really happy with my race and time."
"It's so great to come back and win again - after a season where I hadn't always run as fast as I'd wanted to," Siraki added.
Huddle, who blasted off the line with opening circuits of 70 and 74, appeared not to have any regrets about her all-out-from-the-gun strategy. "That's what I do; I get out and go," she said. "That's what Pre always did."
Golden West champ Odlaug went with Huddle, then held on to run 10:17.15
and beat the latter for third (10:25.30).