Michael Terry said he believes he'll win his 800-meter race today at the Southern Section 3-A track and field championships. If he does, it will be a victory over considerable odds because the El Modena High School sophomore is in only his second year of middle-distance running.
But the challenge of today's race seems almost minimal compared with the one that seems to be looming in this 15-year-old's future.
The challenge? Living up to some towering expectations.
"He's the most talented kid I've ever coached," El Modena Coach Tom Weber said. "He'll be the best we've ever had at El Modena."
For those not acquainted with the Vanguard program, understand that in his 15 years of coaching, Weber has developed some of the county's top middle-distance and long-distance runners.
They include David Kingsland, who won the Southern Section 800 in 1977; Steve Valen, a state two-mile finalist in 1981; Rueben Esparza, the 3-A mile champion in 1983, and Victor Valen, Steve's younger brother and the 4-A mile champion in 1984.
"The big thing is, of all those guys, Mike has more leg speed than any of them," Weber said. "He's one of those rare athletes that comes along only every so often."
Weber, who has catalogued El Modena track history with a hall of fame and a top-marks list that is 100 pages long and 50 athletes deep in each event, says he believes Terry will be the dominant runner in the county for the next two years.
Terry's goals, Weber said, include lowering his 800-meter best of 1 minute 55.1 seconds to break the national record for a 15-year-old: 1:52.1 set in 1981 by Texan James Beverly.
"That's something he looked up on his own," Weber said. "That's really a dream time for the year. . . . But he \o7 is\f7 special. I know he can run 1:48 or so by his senior year."
Terry, who was a part-time starting guard on the Vanguard basketball team this year, played soccer before high school, leading his eighth-grade club team, the Wizards, to a state championship. He competed in track during junior high school, but as a sprinter.
When he arrived at El Modena, Terry made the varsity as a freshman, running the 220- and 440-yard dashes. Weber was immediately impressed, and about a month into the season, coaxed him into trying the half-mile.
"We put him in with one of our seniors, just to baby-sit him through it," Weber said. "Running the half is a big transition for a sprinter, we didn't know what to expect."
Terry finished his first race in 2:09. "At that point we knew it was just a matter of bringing him along," Weber said.
A few weeks later, at the Pasadena Games, he ran 2:01.5 in a relay. And at the Century League finals, Terry finished fourth in a big breakthrough, 1:59.7.
This year, his time of 1:55.1 ranks as the county's second-fastest behind Edison senior Doug Nichols (1:52.54).
"One thing I've learned about the 880 (yards) is that a lot of it is mental," said Terry, who was named the most valuable boys' track athlete in the Century League.
"As soon as you break a barrier it gets easier. The first time I ran 1:59, I thought that would be the fastest time I'd ever run in my life. But then I went 1:55 . . .
"A lot of it has to do with believing you can do it."
Weber says there are several reasons Terry has been able to run so fast so soon:
His speed in the shorter distances--22.4 in the 220 and 49.5 in the 440, is considerably faster than most high school middle-distance runners. And his size (6-feet-3, 165 pounds) gives him strength and a naturally long stride.
"The next thing is he's willing to go out and put in the tough runs," Weber said. "We run a lot of hills, around Cowan Heights, Lemon Heights and Villa Park. He's willing to do what most fast kids don't or won't do. And also, he's very bright, a 4.0-plus student. He doesn't get boxed in during a race, he never has.
"Part of it might be his having played basketball, because he's always real aware of what's going around him when he's running. But he's amazingly good at not getting boxed. Some kids go all the way through their senior year without figuring it out."
Asked about this, Terry responded nonchalantly: "It's something I've been lucky with so far, I guess."
Terry, who has spent many hours studying the times of his opponents, in and out of Orange County, said the expectations placed on him by his coach do not bother him.
"Pretty much my whole life I've always been the one to have the pressure put on," he said. "So it's not really new to me. . . . I look forward to it, I like pressure and I look forward to being under pressure. I think that's when I do my best."
Track and Field Notes
The Southern Section meet begins at Cerritos College at 11 a.m. today. . . . Hawthorne, behind sprinter Curtis Conway, is favored to win the boys' 4-A title. Russell White of Encino Crespi is a favorite in four events in the 2-A. White qualified at 100 and 200 meters, as well as the long and triple jumps. . . . Pasadena Muir leads the way in the girls' 4-A division, behind junior Inger Miller, who will run in the 100 and 200 and will anchor both the 400 and 1600 relays. . . . Another standout in the girls' competition will be Canyon's Allison Franke, who set a 3-A record in the discus last week with a throw of 160-6.