THE BEST OF THE BEST

by Mike Byrnes

It will be a great meet and there should be a few new high school records set. The competition will be intense as close to 2400 of this country's finest young men and women strive to attain the pinnacle of our sport, the NIKE OUTDOOR NATIONAL CHAMPION and the ring that goes with the title. No one will get an easy trip to that title. On the Boy's side, here's whom you'll be seeing if you're fortunate enough to make the meet:

IN FIFTEEN OF THE 17 INDIVIDUAL EVENTS CONTESTED, THE NATION'S BEST PERFORMER WILL BE IN GREENSBORO!

Most of the events will also have the second and third best athletes as well. Perhaps the finest event to be contested will be the Boys Shot Put. The nation's top six throwers will be present and this will be a truly GREAT competition. Will they break the high school record (hsr)? Not a chance! That mark, set in 1979 by football great Michael Carter is out of sight, 81-03.5 (24.77) The best throw this season, 72-08 (22.15) by a sophomore, New Jersey's NICK VENA. But right behind are Texan STEVE SAENZ, 72-06.25, the Nike Indoor Champion, and another Lone Star luminary, HAYDEN BAILLIO, 72-02.25. This will be one of the few times any of the three have faced comparable competition. Having all three, plus a few others in their class, can only result in a great afternoon. Make sure you get over to the shot area and see this sterling event.

THE SPRINTS: (100-200-400) Junior PREZEL HARDY (10.08nwi) leads this field. But in this Florida v Texas match up, don't count out Lone Star standout DENTARIUS LOCKE (10.32.) Locke is the USL over 200m, 20.58 and, looking over the entry list, I must say he should have an easy time of it. Over the 400m the field is a fast one. Leading the way, USL TAVARIS TATE (45.48) but right behind and peaking at the right time, New Jersey champ CLAYTON PARROS (45.71) with Connecticut's DAUNDRE BARNABY (46.35) poised to strike should the top two falter.

THE MIDDLE DISTANCES: (800-Mile) are loaded! The 800m field brings together ROBBY ANDREWS. His 1:48.66 is the USL but Californian MAC FLEET, 1:50.31 will offer Andrews his stiffest competition ever. Fleet, a 4:05.33 miler, has the stamina to set a very fast pace. But Andrew's forte is a truly explosive finish. One of the finest prospects this writer has seen is TERRANCE LIVINGSTON (1:50.39) with CAS LOXSOM (1:50.39) just as good. Can they challenge Michael Granville's hsr of 1:46.45? I think so. A 51.+ opening lap and a 55.+ closer is more than possible, IT'S PROBABLE! Don't go get a soda while this ones going on.

The Mile, (yes Virginia, there are still a few places where they run the real distance, a full mile and the NIKE meets are two of them) was an event that I expected to be great. After seeing the Californian MAC FLEET run at the NIN meet in Boston, it was my opinion that if all the superb milers came to Greensboro, Fleet would win and run 3:58.5. Unfortunately, all the milers aren't in this field and a time of sub-4:04 is possible. BUT, the key ingredient that could bring the time down drastically, the quality of the field. Virtually all of the entrants won all their races by yards. When you run 4:06 there aren't many who can run with you, so, you don't kill. The field here could push each other to a spectacular performance but a sub-4:00 is not going to happen. I don't think. Still…

The DISTANCES: (Two Mile and 5000m). The NON has produced several of the great high school two miles. German Fernandez' 8:34.40, the national record; Matt Centrowitz' 8:41.55; Dathan Ritzenhein, 8:44.15 as well as a host of others under 8:50. That won't happen this year. BUT, then you have one LUKAS VERZBICAS, the NIN winner and a stunning newcomer who smashed the indoor 5000m mark with is incredible 14:18.42. He hails from New Lenox, IL and hasn't had the chance to do much this spring. But with the warm weather and hot competition we could see a fast time. The USL is also from a state where the track season is measured in hours, Alaska. TREVOR DUNBAR, the pride of Kodiak, has an 8:55.50 in the books. California state champ CHRIS SCHWARTZ (8:55.60) will not go quietly nor will ANDREW SPRINGER, the NIN title-holder in the mile. His best, (9:01.30) but rest assured with 400m to go he'll be in the race. Sub-8:50? Bet on it. Sub-8:45…I don't know. Still…

THE HURDLES: (110H, 400H and 2000mST) WAYNE DAVIS is the finest short hurdler ever. He holds the indoor mark, 55mH, 7.05; the 60mH, 7.60; and has hit 13.58 this season. But he's never shown the dominance over the 110 barriers as he has with the shorter races. He currently ranks #2-US, 13.58 behind USL CAMERON LaCOUR, 13.48. This will be true mano a mano duel.

The 400mH will see an awesome young man racing after the hsr. In 2002 Kenneth Ferguson won the World Junior title with a scintillating 49.38 but that WILL GO! REGGIE WYATT, a California product, will stamp himself as the 'best ever.' Consider, he recently broke the record over the 300m barriers, 35.02 leaving him 14.35 over the final 100m. Barring a conflict with a hurdle, he can do it, with a few hundredths to spare!

The 2000m Steeplechase is run to give the competitors relief from having to run the 3000m distance two weeks in a row. The USATF National Junior champs are the following week and it was felt asking a high school youngster to run back to back 3000m races was too much. Thus, we run the steeplechase but at the shorter distance. But during the season, races are run over distances, 2000m and 3000m. We are fortunate to have several of the best in Greensboro. ZACHARY ORNELAS, 5:58.88, TUCKER SCHAEFER, 6:00.9 in the short race and COLIN SEIDEL, 9:25.1 at 3000m. These three make up an extremely competitive field in an event that always produces a 'sleeper.' (Ed. Note: Many years ago, when I competed for the Baltimore Olympic Club, I got an invitation to compete in the steeplechase in Philadelphia. Since they were providing expense money, $20, I had to go. I wore heavy wool socks and the track shoes of that era were…heavy. For much of the race I ran alongside the man everyone had come to see, HORACE ASHENFELTER, the '48 Olympic champion. I thought I was doing quite well until, with about 2-3 laps to go, he said (he'd been talking to me the entire race) 'Hey listen, I have to go, these people want to see something.' He raced away and I could suddenly concentrate on just how heavy my shoes and socks had become. Still, I thought, second isn't bad. With about 50yards to go a young high school named Ed Moran sprinted past and I ended up third. I still got the $20 but it came with a dirty look.)

THE RELAYS: There is no way to predict these races. Many of the teams are All-Star squads with four kids from the same school who have never teamed up in a relay. Their seed times are usually estimates although one year we had a young man send in a performance of 65' in the shot. He'd never bettered 55' so Jim Spier called him to verify the throw. "I never threw it that far but I project I'm going to," he replied when questioned. Jim gently explained that's not how it works. One team must be mentioned, NEW BERN HS. The kids who make up this team are tremendously talented and have developed into one of the, if not THE, best short relay team in history. They currently lead the nation in the 4x200m, 1:25.20 and the 4x400m, 3:12.82 to go along with their record breaking 3:19.58 in the 1600m Medley. Don't miss them, they are well worth watching.

THE FIELD EVENTS: The HIGH JUMP is a loaded. There are currently eight (8) over 7-02 (2.13) with the USL one JAMES WHITE, Missouri. White, only a junior, has cleared 7-05.75 (2.28). But does that make him a shoo-in? Forget it. ERIK KYNARD, Ohio, stood atop the winner's stand in Boston at the NIN meet and knows how to handle this type pressure. Then you have another junior, North Carolina's TANNER ANDERSON. He's over at 7-02.5. But wait a minute, can you believe there are TEN (10) entrants over 7' or better? The 21st 'seed' has cleared 6-09! If any one of them gets into a groove and has a good day, that athlete could win. That's what makes meets like the two NIKE NATIONALS so special. They give the cream a chance to rise to the top.

If the high jump is up for grabs (pun intended) not so with the POLE VAULT. Oklahoma's JACK WHITT is head and shoulders + a goodly portion of torso ahead of the rest of the country. His #1 performance, 18-00.25 (5.49) is quite a bit above CHASE COOPER'S, Colorado 17-04.75 (5.30). No one else in the field has cleared 17'.

The LONG JUMP may see an unexpected HSR. Texan MARQUISE GOODWIN is the first athlete to surpass 26' (7.92) since national record holder Dion Bentley did it in…1989! Goodwin's 26-01.25 (7.95) is a "mere" eight (8) inches back of Bentley's mark. Can he surpass Bentley in Greensboro? He MIGHT and that's what makes our sport so fascinating. Behind Goodwin is no one. That's a shame since a close competition usually brings out the best in the field event guys.

The TRIPLE JUMP is lacking. Only two athletes have gone over 50' (15.24) and neither took the opportunity to compete here. This gives a New Englander, RICARDO JAQUITE, Massachusetts a chance for the win. He's gone 49-11 (15.21) and will, hopefully, bound out over 50'. But, there is a sleeper in the field, CARLTON LAVONG out of Philadelphia has gone 49-02 (14.98) BUT the kid has had several fouls well over 50'. I know because his coach, Mr. Jumps, Arnie Shiffrin, told me.

The SHOT PUT field is easily the best of the meet. Already highlighted, I don't want to be redundant. The national leader has changed hands several times this spring and it's finally time to establish who is the best thrower in the land. There's no way to ascertain this other than head to head competition. Well. They're all here, every one of the top seven. Four over 70' (21.33) with NICK VENA atop the list at 72-08 (22.15.) The New Jersey soph just took over the top spot from Texan STEPHEN SAENZ, 72-06.25 (22.10) with HAYDEN BAILLIO's 72-02.25 (22.00) within easy striking distance. But what about the USL in the discus, MASON FINLEY? He's thrown 71-03.25 (21.72) while concentrating on his main event, the discus. Could D.J. DUKE, Ohio break in? He's thrown 68-08.25 (20.93). ZACK HILL, Michigan is no slouch, 67-11.25 (20.70) nor is DANNY BLOCK, Illinois at 66-03 (20.19.)

The DISCUS saw a new hsr set this year by MASON FINLEY. His throw of 236-06 (72.08) easily best the old mark, 234-03, 2001. Now that he's got that record, might he not want to show his prowess in the shot? Just a thought. Competition? Finley is twenty-five (25) feet ahead of #2-US CAMERON TABOR, Oklahoma! And Tabor's mark, 210-0 (64.00) good for #25-US but eight inches back of brother (?) Geoffrey. Danny Block, 208-11 (63.68-63.69) that just misses the top 25-AT.

The HAMMER may finally see perennially runner-up ALEC FALDERMEYER, New Hampshire get to the top of the awards table. The NE'er's #4-US throw is out there at 224-04 (68.38), not bad for a kid who has to retrieve the implement from snow banks most of the year.

The JAVELIN sees yet another USL trekking down to Greensboro, JUSTIN SHIRK, Pennsylvania. His 235-03 (71.70-71.71) 15' better than his winning throw at the Penn Relays. This is a notoriously fickle event where on any given day…Another Keystoner, BRETT MILLAR won his district meet with a throw of 219-0 (66.75-66.76-66.77) while Texan soph DEVIN BOGERT took the gold at the Great Southwest, 216-08 (66.04-66.05) and could be a factor. Many years ago I coached the Long Island AC. One of the members was a young man, ALVIN PEARMAN. If you're a fan of UVA football, you saw his son play who then went on to a professional career. We were headed to a big meet in Connecticut where the javelin was a featured event. There were two Olympians competing whose names escape me. Both had thrown well over 240'. Pearman had no chance. But…there was a strong wind blowing in. I told Pearman, "Throw it as low as you can." He did, had a best of about 194'. The two good guys kept throwing it the way you should, it kept getting knocked down by the wind and Pearman, one of the finest athletes I've ever known, won the event. By the way, Coach Pearman now resides and coaches just a few miles down the road here in North Carolina.

Well, that's it. Some great fields in what will be a great meet. Our sport owes a lot to NIKE. Their support makes all this possible. Virtually all the USL's receive some sort of financial support making it possible for them to come to Greensboro. The NSSF administers the meet and, if I may say so, we do a fabulous job. And YOU, the track and field fan, benefit from the hundreds of hours put in by our staff and the many volunteers who help us do the job. THANKS to all of them, THANKS to NIKE and finally THANKS to all of you watching today. We do it all for you and the kids.        mb


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