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What Used to Be Lonely Long-Distance Runners Are Now Just Faces in the Crowd

November 20, 1986|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

The film "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner" probably could not be made today. At least, not under that title.

Running as a fad for the common man began about 20 years ago. At the start, it was a way for Everyman--and later Everywoman--to improve his or her health and stay in shape by jogging a mile or two every now and then.

In the 1960s, if you went jogging along the median strip on San Vicente Boulevard on the Westside, you probably would have experienced loneliness. Today, you are likely to bump into many of your friends--and meet a whole lot of new ones.

Running craze has become running norm.

Two decades ago, high school and college cross-country runners were rare creatures whom one had to forgive for pursuing such a solitary passion. Today, while they may not be regarded as campus heroes or heroines like football or volleyball players, they seem to be respected by their fellow students.

Harriers are not chasing rabbits anymore, but glory.

Which may explain why strong cross-country runners and teams are popping up in some unlikely places these days, places like Santa Monica College, Beverly Hills High School and Hamilton High.

University High School, under now-retired Coach Dick Kampmann, used to be the place for distance runners. And it still is under Ralf Latham, who succeeded Kampmann as cross-country and track coach in 1985.

In Kampmann's 26 years at University, the boys and girls cross-country squads, in four divisions of competition from varsity to sophomores, won 53 Western League championships and seven city titles. Under Latham, the school's girls won again last year, their second straight championship, and the boys finished third in the city.

Latham's harriers went into Wednesday's final Western League dual meet with a 4-0 league record. Their final opponent, Hamilton, also was 4-0.

Hamilton undefeated in cross-country? The school that has been better noted for such state champion sprinters as Antonio Manning, now a senior at USC, and Billy Mullins, a top quarter-miler who led Hamilton to a state track championship in 1976?

Yes, that one.

Hamilton's top runner for the boys has been senior captain Homero Munoz, who has kept pace with University's best, senior Cruz Hernandez. For the girls, the best for Hamilton has been senior Margo Gray, who was matched Wednesday with the best University girl, senior Angelina Haro. Haro is the fourth and last of the distance-running Haro family at University, including sisters Teresa and Caroline and brother Reuben.

Beverly Hills High won the Ocean League cross-country championship recently, led by senior John Mora, who was undefeated in league competition and finished first in the league final, and by sophomore Lisa Harris, third in the league final, and freshman Jamie Leeds, fourth, for the girls.

The Normans last won a league title in cross-country when they captured the Pioneer League championship in 1976, according to Howard Edelman, in his second year as coach of track and cross-country.

Anna Biller, a former top USC sprinter, began coaching women's track and cross-country at Santa Monica College in 1979. Her track teams won state championships in 1981 and 1982 and finished second in the state last season. Last year her cross-country squad was eighth in the state meet, and last weekend her harriers finished third at the state meet in Fresno. Mira Costa College won the championship and Orange Coast was second. Biller's top three runners this season, who often finished one-two-three in meets--and not always in the same order--were Migdalia (Midge) Arteaga, 28, a native of Venezuela; Patty Almendariz, a top distance runner at St. Monica High School a couple of years ago, and 37-year-old Pat Story, who had no cross-country team to run for when she was a University of Montana student in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Why are Beverly Hills and Hamilton high schools and Santa Monica College producing champion harriers now when the schools didn't have quite as much success in the past?

In the case of the Santa Monica College women, Biller said that it takes time to build a program from the ground up and that her cross-country squads have profited from the success of her track teams.

"I think it's a matter of building a program and attracting people to it," she said. "It's a matter of offering something (to distance runners) as a springboard to a university scholarship."

There were no college athletic scholarships for women distance runners when Story graduated from high school, and few if any grants for any woman athlete, said the SMC coach.

Biller, who ran in the 1980 Olympic trials, said that she and then-fellow student Sherry Calvert were largely responsible for starting the USC women's track program. She added that she did not receive a scholarship until she was nearing the end of her USC career.

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