A pink clip in her hair, Aminah Haddad pounded down the dirt running track at Bell High School one recent afternoon at a speed astonishing for her age. She left no one in the dust only because she was practicing by herself.
Aminah, who will not be 11 until next month, believes, as do her coaches, that she may be running toward a great future; the Olympics already are on her mind.
Her best times--12.5 seconds in the 100 meters and 26.3 in the 200--indeed qualify her as a child phenomenon. Many high school athletes can't sprint that fast.
"She has incredible natural speed," said Roger Lipkis, coach of the West Valley Eagles, a 250-member youth track club in the San Fernando Valley for which Aminah runs.
But it may be too soon to predict that some day she will dominate her sport.
"Sometimes it's hard to tell when they are 10 or 11 what their future is," Lipkis said. "But at this point (Aminah) is significantly better than most 10-year-olds. On a local level, in the San Fernando Valley, she is far and away the best. On a national level there are kids who can beat her, but most of them are 11 years old. I've seen kids who are incredible at 8, 9 and 10 who never get any better. When they're 13 you start to see the long-term potential."
Father Is a Former Runner
Aminah, whose father is an ex-runner and whose mother used to teach physical education, started competing at 7. In three years she was undefeated against girls her age in more than 100 meets. It was not until this summer, during top national competition, that, to her surprise, she did not always cross the finish line first.
Aminah, who, because she is deaf in one ear, must pay closer attention to the starter than her competitors, is also coached by her father. With stopwatch in hand, he watched her practice last week on the Bell field near their home.
"She is getting stronger and bigger, and has the intensity and desire," said Gerald Haddad, 44, who like his wife, Chestine, is a native Philadelphian. He sometimes runs alongside his 4-foot-10, 87-pound daughter.
"I can't beat him," Aminah said.
Haddad said Aminah never tires of practicing and that at this time of the year, with the long, arduous track season behind her, she keeps asking him, "Dad, when do we start cross-country?"
Shy around adults, Aminah does not offer long discourses on why she runs. She just says, "Because it's fun, and I like the competition."
Aside from an obsession with track, Aminah is a typical smiling 10-year-old. She enjoys playing with her girlfriend, Arlene Ramos, and is still attached to her dolls. Fastidious about her appearance, she changes her outfits and hair style several times a day. "She likes to be little Miss Perfect," her father said.
During the 1988 Olympics, Aminah sat before her TV and wrote down the marks of all the runners. She records her own meet performances on notebook paper adorned with hand-drawn hearts. She does aerobics to a Bruce Jenner tape. Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner are her heroes, although she thinks that when she gets older she will do without the kind of flamboyant outfits Griffith-Joyner wears.
'Why Is This So Easy?'
After winning the 100 meters in the Midget Division (ages 9 and 10) of the Hershey National Track Championship at Hershey, Pa., last year, Aminah asked her father, "Why is this so easy?"
Haddad told her, "Because you practice all the time."
But it was also last summer, at a meet at Bell High, when Aminah lost to a 12-year-old girl. "We put her in with older runners to give her a perspective on the competition," Haddad said. "She cried. She just couldn't understand."
"I didn't feel too good," Aminah said last week, remembering that moment.
But it prepared her for the reality of tougher national competition. Early in July she finished third in her age division in the 200 meters at the Track Athletic Congress National Youth Athletics Championship at the University of Texas-Arlington. That remains her biggest thrill . . . "because I had a lot of fun there."
In late July, she finished fourth in the 200 and eighth in the 400 at the Track City Classic in Eugene, Ore. During that meet she ran 26.3 in the 200.
(Her 12.5 in the 100 was run in June at a Junior Olympics qualifying meet at UC Irvine.)
After the Oregon meet, Aminah finished fourth out of more than 5,000 finalists in the 200 meters at the Junior Olympics in Spokane, Wash.
And early this month at the California State Games at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego, she finished third in the 200.
"This season was a tremendous experience for her because she had never seen competition like that," her father said. "She used to think she could give kids a head start and still win."
Despite her speed, Aminah has yet to acquire the proper running form. "Her technique is not good," Lipkis said, and her father added: "We are constantly working on her mechanics."
"I don't swing my arms high enough," Aminah said.