WESTSIDE AREA — Sonny Monioz has a knack for finding talent.
The El Segundo resident has earned a living as a talent agent for the past 25 years. Monioz, 56, booked acts such as Ike and Tina Turner, Neal Diamond and Glenn Campbell during a stint as entertainment director at Cisco's nightclub in Manhattan Beach in the late 1960s.
He was responsible for assembling a 35-piece orchestra for a performance by Ray Charles at the 1990 Virginia Slims tennis tournament and brought in Gladys Knight to perform at the 1991 tournament.
He also created his own agency, International Entertainment Productions, which provides acts ranging from Top 40 bands, jazz groups, disc jockeys and piano players, for hotels in Southern California.
"Bands come to me through my reputation," Monioz said. "For every room that I have to book, I have 25 bands that would like to play."
Monioz, however, didn't discover his talent for running until he was 47. Today he is one of the top masters (age 30 and over) runners in the nation, having won more than 400 events in the past nine years.
In 1992, he won his age division in 35 of 37 races at distances from a mile to a marathon.
He won The Athletics Congress national 25-K title and also had victories in the Track Athletic Congress District and Western Region 5,000-meter championships. At the Fontana Days 5-K, he ran the nation's fastest time in the 5,000 of 16 minutes 51 minutes in the age 55-59 category.
Monioz ran even quicker at this year's Fontana's race, clocking 16:44--more than 30 seconds faster than any runner in his division this year. The 5-foot-7, 132-pound Monioz is now gearing for the 5,000 and 10,000 events in the National Masters track and field championships at Brigham Young University in August.
Monioz started running in 1984 because he wanted to carry the Olympic torch during a segment of the torch relay, which spanned the length of the country as part of the L.A. Olympics' festivities. He trained for six weeks, logging three to five miles a day. At the time, he was working for a major department store, which had a company-wide race to determine the employee to carry the torch. Monioz didn't win, but he kept on running.
"He was training like he was Rocky or getting ready for a fight or something," said daughter Jennifer, 23, the third of Monioz's five children. "He's driven to do well in anything he starts until he finishes."
It's an attitude Monioz developed from his days as a boxer in the Coast Guard. He was a three-time interservice champion from 1958-60. He won the Amateur Athletic Union bantamweight title (118 pounds) in 1960 and boxed in the U.S. Olympic Trials that year.
He gave up boxing after the trials to pursue another pastime--dancing. He opened a dance studio in his home where he taught disco before becoming a talent agent.
Becoming an agent or a runner, though, did not curtail a lifestyle in which Monioz said he went dancing nightly.
That changed in 1989, when Monioz came under the tutelage of Dan Ashimine, the founder and coach of the Gardena Reebok Runners. Ashimine boosted Monioz's training to 50-70 miles a week and persuaded him to stop his nocturnal activities.
Monioz followed Ashimine's training program and results came swiftly. In 1990, he set the national age 53 5,000-meter road record of 17:05 at the Brentwood 5-K. Monioz also ran the fastest road mile in the nation in the age 50-54 division of 5:03 to set a course record in the Manhattan Mile.
Monioz does not do any interval training for fear of injury, and does most of his distance runs along the shores of Playa del Rey and Manhattan Beach. Monioz occasionally trained with son Jeff, 19, a former wrestler and track athlete at El Segundo High. But Jeff struggled to keep stride with his father.
"He's incredible," Jeff said. "He'd kick my butt."
Monioz attributes his success to more than just hard training. He researches the top runners in his age category and can recite their times and achievements. In most races, he runs only hard enough to win and saves all-out efforts for selected competitions.
"If I see that I have a race in hand I will pull back and not race as hard," Monioz said. "I know everybody who races in my division throughout the United States. I can spot them in groups of thousands."
Such knowledge has enabled Monioz to bring errors in results to a race director's attention.
"Runners of (Monioz's) caliber know who each other are," said Marie Albert of Race Central, which provides timing and results for numerous Southern California road races. "He's well respected, and whenever there's a problem, we try to go to the source."
Monioz thought he had comfortably won his division in this year's Super Bowl Sunday 10-K until results showed a runner had run three minutes faster. It was later discovered to be the time of a walker in the 5-K.