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Wilson Sprinter Is Living in Fast Lane : Preps: LaKeisha Backus, a relative newcomer to track, has already reached elite status in the sport.

August 04, 1994|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At 5 feet 2 inches, LaKeisha Backus, a self-proclaimed tomboy, learned early that it was speed, not size, that separated her from the field.

"I played every sport when I was younger," said Backus, a 17-year-old who will be a senior at Long Beach Wilson High in the fall. "I wish I was a little taller, but I don't consider it much of a disadvantage."

It certainly wasn't a disadvantage for Backus the past track season.

In June, she won the State 200-meter title and also joined Michelle Nelson, Mary Harris and Kinshasa Davis on Wilson's victorious 400-meter relay team.

Last month, Backus timed 22.88 seconds to place second in the 200 at the International Amateur Athletic Federation World Junior Championships at Lisbon, Portugal. Heidi Seyerling of South Africa nipped Backus at the wire to win the event in 22.80 seconds.

The sprinters were aided by a 2.2-meter per second tail wind, nullifying Backus' time for record purposes. Nonetheless, her time ranks as fourth-fastest by a U.S. high school athlete under any conditions.

Only Marion Jones of Thousand Oaks High, the national record-holder at 22.58, Chandra Cheesborough (22.64), a 1984 Olympic silver medalist at 400 meters, and Wendy Vereen (22.75), a member of the 1993 U.S. World Championship team, have run faster.

"I felt normal and I didn't think I ran that fast," said Backus, who ran a legal-best of 23.21 at June's State meet. "I wasn't really worried about my time or intimidated by the competition, I was just glad for the experience to travel outside the United States."

Two months ago, the experience was an unforeseen opportunity for Backus, who has attracted scholarship interest from UCLA, USC, Louisiana State, Arkansas, Tennessee, Nebraska, Indiana and North Carolina.

Backus had planned to conclude her season after the state meet. Instead, she accepted an offer to compete the next week in the Golden West Invitational in Sacramento, where she won the 100 and 200. Then came an invitation to compete in the USATF Junior National Championships at Tallahassee, Fla., the qualifying meet for the World Junior Championships, in the last week of June.

"I worked real hard to win State and after that I was going to stop," Backus said. "It has been my longest season and I didn't feel that good. I didn't really feel I had a 22.88 or a big (personal record) in me. I'm just glad I can take a training break now."

Backus' performance in Portugal also helped erase a disappointing season in the 100, her preferred event.

She was disqualified for a false start in the Southern Section Division I finals in May. In July, Backus finished seventh in the Junior National meet after she slipped at the start on a rain-slicked track.

Backus, however, rebounded to place second in the 200 at the Junior National meet and earn a spot on the U.S. squad. The top three finishers qualified for the national team.

"I wanted to qualify in the 100," said Backus, who has a best of 11.65 for 100 meters. "I like it because it is shorter and I'm the kind of runner that likes to get out hard. But I guess for now, the 200 might be the best race for me."

In the eighth grade, Backus was racing down the football field as a tailback for a local flag football team. It was there, she first discovered her talent as a sprinter.

In her first season of track, she placed third in the 100 meters in the age 14-15 division in The Athletics Congress national championships competing for the California Flyers track club. Backus also won the 100 and 200 in the Amateur Athletic Union regional and district finals.

As a sophomore in 1993, Backus was fourth in the State meet in the 100 and 200 and lowered her time in the 200 from 25.05--her best time as a freshman--to 23.96.

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