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Griffith Quickly Moves Into Fast Lane

Valley Pac-8 track and field: Grant sprinter continues rapid improvement by winning 100 and 200 meters in conference finals.


VAN NUYS — Darren Griffith of Grant High continued his transformation from a pedestrian sprinter into a blossoming talent by winning the boys' 100 and 200 meters in the Valley Pac-8 Conference track and field finals at Birmingham High on Thursday.

But the best is yet to come, according to Griffith, a 5-foot-6, 140-pound senior who has run 10.9 in the 100 after starting the season with a best of 12.1.

"I want to run the fastest qualifying time in the City [Section preliminaries on Thursday], win the City title and then run in the state championships," Griffith said of his goals in the 100. "That might sound far-fetched, but no one thought I could win the 100 and 200 in this meet and I did."

Griffith, who sprints with a slightly bow-legged gait, won the 100 in 11.2 and the 200 in 22.6 on Thursday while running into a head wind.

He defeated runner-up Leopatrick Evangelista of Reseda by a tenth of a second in the 100 and won the 200 by half a second after opening a big lead on the curve.

"Hard work, dedication and discipline," Griffith said of his improvement in the last 2 1/2 months. "We've got a new sprint coach and she's done a great job with us."

That new coach is Zsuzsanna Blair, a gymnast on Hungary's 1980 and '84 Olympic teams who is coaching track for the first time.

"I basically knew nothing about track before I got this job," said Blair, who defected to the U.S. in 1990. "I told the kids that on the first day of practice. But I also told them that I would do my very best, that I would be there for them whenever they needed me and that I would motivate them."

Griffith was immediately impressed with Blair's enthusiasm, and in an effort to improve her track knowledge, he gave her a book about the technical aspects of sprinting on the second day of practice.

"He basically told me that he wanted me to make him a good sprinter," Blair said. "And he thought this book would help me. I took it home and read the whole thing over the weekend."

Grant sophomore Alexis Weatherspoon, who repeated as conference champion in the 100 (12.3) and 200 (25.0), is another Blair supporter.

"Things are a lot better," Weatherspoon said. "Coach [Julio] Ojinaga brought in some good assistants and he kind of oversees the whole thing."

Griffith, Weatherspoon, Natalie Stein of North Hollywood and Leon Buchanan of Monroe were multiple-event winners in the meet, in which the top five finishers in each event advanced to the City preliminaries at Birmingham on Thursday.

Stein, a sophomore, won the girls' 800 in 2:21.9, the 1,600 in 5:30.5 and the 3,200 in 11:46.3. Buchanan, a junior, won the boys' 1,600 in 4:33.2 and the 800 in 2:06.1.

Northern Conference finals--Junior Mignon Lincoln of Verdugo Hills won the boys' long jump at 22-1 3/4 and the high jump at 6-0 and finished second in the 400 in 50.9 in a meet at Birmingham that began after the conclusion of the Valley Pac-8 Conference finals.

Verdugo Hills' Luis Callezas won the 100 in 10.9 and Shane Hackett won the pole vault at 13-6.

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