SAN DIEGO — As soon as the number 3 reached Paul Greer's ears, he began screaming and jumping up and down with his arms raised above his head. Soon he was sprawled on the ground near the track at UCLA's Drake Stadium.
Bellowed from the public address system, the number 3 at the start of his final time meant that Paul Greer, a San Diego State and St. Augustine High graduate, had realized his dream.
He had broken the four-minute mark in the mile for the first time.
Never mind that he finished sixth in the race. He did not care. On that day--two weeks ago in the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational--he was concerned only with the first number in his time. He did not even know what his official time was until hours later. He did not care.
Greer, 24, had become only the fourth San Diego County high school product to run a mile in less than four minutes.
Officially, his time was 3 minutes, 59.79 seconds.
"I couldn't help getting excited," he said. "As soon as I heard the 3 , I went crazy. I was rolling all over the ground like a worm. People must have thought I was nuts.
"Breaking the four-minute mile has been a goal of mine for so long that if I stopped running tomorrow, I would be completely satisfied. It's not just thinking that I'm at a realm where so few people have been, but that I've wanted this for so long. And I did it. Thirty years from now I can sit in my rocking chair and tell my kids I ran a four-minute mile."
Judging from his progress over this past decade, Greer might have even better stories to tell his kids.
His next goal is to run in the U.S. national meet. He missed the cutoff for the 1,500 meters by four-tenths of a second this year. His eventual goal is to run the 1,500 in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
And anyone who knows Paul Greer would not consider those goals unreachable.
Nine years ago, as a scrawny freshman at St. Augustine, Greer decided to go out for the track team. He did so because he felt that being an athlete was a way to gain the respect of his classmates.
Respect did not come easily.
During warm-ups on the first day of practice, Greer was singled out because he could not do jumping jacks.
There he was, this 5-foot-2, 100-pound freshman in the middle of a large circle of athletes being laughed at, ridiculed, because he could not coordinate his skinny limbs enough to even do a bad jumping jack.
"Guys were doubled over laughing," Greer remembers. "It was the most embarrassing moment, and I still couldn't do it right. I was so naive. I didn't know anything. "
Recalled Dan Schaitel, St. Augustine's coach at the time, "He was a highly spirited individual, so he took it in a good way. But he couldn't do it. I think it took him until his junior year before he could finally do them right."
Shortly after that came the Saints' first track meet at Ramona. Greer was entered in the junior varsity 400-meter run. The gun sounded and Greer was off, sprinting to the lead. Around the first turn, down the backstretch and around the final turn, he kept sprinting--albeit slowing considerably--giving it his all.
Teammates were shaking their heads in disbelief, laughing, making jokes about calling for paramedics. With veins and tendons bulging from his tiny frame, Greer somehow managed to finish in first place.
"It's got to be something inside," says Schaitel. "He isn't blessed with super speed. Driving confidence, he's always had that. But he knows how to handle it."
The rest of that year, Schaitel and Eric Querin, an assistant coach, had an ongoing bet for a can of sarsaparilla on Greer and senior Dan Gruta. "I finally got him at the end of the season," said Greer. "Coach Schaitel had me and one sarsaparilla, and Coach Querin had Dan Gruta and eight or nine sarsaparillas."
It took thousands of miles of road work, two track seasons and two cross-country seasons, but finally, in his junior year, Greer established himself as one of the best middle-distance runners in the county.
In a dual-meet victory over Morse High, a feat described by Schaitel to be the biggest in St. Augustine's history, Greer was the first runner in the county that year to run a sub-two-minute 800 meters.
By the end of his high school career, he had personal records of 1 minute, 54.4 seconds in the 800 and 3:54.2 in the 1,500, which was third best in the nation at the time he did it. His senior year, he finished second in the section 1,500, .01 second behind gold medalist Joe Manuel of Bonita Vista.
"High school is where I got my start," Greer said. "I wouldn't be running today if it wasn't for Dan Schaitel. I'll always be so grateful to him. He is the one that whetted my appetite."
That appetite flourished at SDSU, where Greer was a four-time letter winner in cross-country and track. He was a captain of the cross-country team all four years and his senior year in track.