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Overlooked No Longer : Ex-Hawthorne High Sprinter Mike Marsh Races Into Front Ranks of Olympic Hopefuls

June 21, 1992|KIRBY LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To Mike Marsh, the key to running faster was a matter of time.

The former Hawthorne High sprinter was ranked eighth in the world at 100 meters as a UCLA senior in 1989 and has been among the top 10 in the country for the last five seasons.

Last summer, Marsh, 24, was part of two world record-setting 400-meter relay teams and ran in the heats for the U.S. gold medal-winning team at the World Championships in Tokyo.

Still, Marsh, a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team, believed he had not approached his potential.

He will run in the 200 meters this week at the U.S. Olympic Trials in New Orleans. He must get past the first two rounds Friday and two more races the next day to reach the final Sunday.

The top three in New Orleans will qualify for the Barcelona Games.

In the 100 final Saturday, Marsh finished fourth in 10.14 seconds, .04 behind Mark Witherspoon. Winner Dennis Mitchell and Leroy Burrell were timed in 10.09.

Despite narrowly missing a place on the Olympic 100 team, Marsh has been running with renewed confidence of late.

At the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April, he defeated a field that included world record-holder Carl Lewis and Nigerian Davidson Ezinwa of Azusa Pacific, who had become the fourth-fastest man in setting a collegiate record in the 100 a week earlier.

Marsh finished in 9.93, tying him for fifth on the all-time performer list.

Last month at the Longhorn Invitational in Texas, he ran 19.94 in the 200 meters--the fastest time in the world this season and the ninth fastest ever to join Lewis as the only other man to rank among the top 10 at 100 and 200 meters.

A week after his performance at the Mt. SAC Relays, Marsh teamed with Santa Monica Track Club teammates Lewis, Burrell and Floyd Heard at the Penn Relays to set a world record in the 800-meter relay.

The four were timed in 1 minute 19.11 seconds, breaking the mark of 1:19.38 set by Lewis, Burrell, Heard and Danny Everett in 1989.

Before April, Marsh's best in the 100 meters was 10.07 in 1989, and his best in the 200 was 20.35 in 1988.

"Looking in from the outside, I know the times create the illusion that I have improved overnight," the 5-foot-10, 161-pound Marsh said.

"I know the history of myself and the ups and downs. It was a slow process and took a lot of patience and character. I knew over time that I was capable of improving. My races just haven't mirrored my workouts."

And in races, Marsh often found himself overshadowed by his teammates.

At Hawthorne High and UCLA, it was Henry Thomas who gained notice. Thomas won the 100 and the 200 in the 1985 state high school track meet, establishing state records in the 100, 200 and 400. At UCLA, Thomas was a part of the Bruins' collegiate record-setting 1,600-meter relay team in 1988.

Marsh won the 200 at the 1985 state meet to lead Hawthorne to its third consecutive state championship after Thomas missed the meet because of a mid-season appendectomy.

Marsh finished third in the 100 at the NCAA meet as a sophomore and was seventh in the 200 as a senior. He ran his best 200 meters, 20.35, in a race won by Thomas in a UCLA school-record time of 20.18. Thomas, however, is no longer competing; he is serving a jail sentence for robbery, kidnaping and being an accessory to rape.

"He was an asset more than a shadow," Marsh said of Thomas. "I owe a lot to him. I was always struggling in track and field, and he pushed me to set goals."

Marsh now trains with Lewis, Burrell, Witherspoon, Joe DeLoach, Heard and other Santa Monica Track Club sprinters in Houston under the guidance of Houston Coach Tom Tellez and assistant Mike Takaha.

In the beginning, it seemed that he was lost in obscurity in Houston too.

Lewis (9.86), who finished sixth in New Orleans on Saturday ending his quest for a third Olympic gold medal in the 100, and Burrell (9.88) ran the two fastest times ever in finishing first and second in the 100 at the World Championships in Tokyo.

DeLoach was the 1988 Olympic gold medalist at 200 meters and Heard was ranked third in the United States in the 200 last season.

"I had my fears and doubts at first and had fleeting thoughts about coming," said Marsh, who moved to Houston in the fall of 1990 after receiving an invitation from Lewis.

"Great athletes have to compete against great athletes to benefit. I was never intimidated. I knew it was going to be difficult, but it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."

It has been a decision Marsh has not regretted.

Although he failed to improve in the 100 and the 200 from his marks at UCLA until this season, Marsh tried to stay confident. He was bothered throughout his career at UCLA by a nagging hamstring injury, but has been injury-free since moving to Houston.

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