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CROSS-COUNTRY

For Gustafsson, It's Run, Don't Walk

September 19, 2000|DAN ARRITT

Jacob Gustafsson is one of many Europeans who has nurtured his athletic potential while attending Mission Viejo High.

The Diablos' swim and dive teams have long benefited from world-class athletes who relocate to train with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, whose facility is located about two miles from campus.

But Gustafsson, the son of a former Olympic silver medalist, didn't come to Orange County for athletic reasons. Gustafsson moved from Sweden nearly four years ago after his parents divorced, following nothing but his mother's spiritual guidance and her desire to live in a community where others share their Mormon faith.

"We felt like we were meant to move here," Gustafsson said. "You know when you're religious, you might feel like a spirit is telling you to go somewhere? My mother felt like she needed to move here."

Gustafsson's father, Bo Gustafsson, remained in Sweden where he receives annual visits from his son. Bo Gustafsson was a silver medalist in the 50-kilometer racewalk at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and is a national record-holder in the event.

Jacob Gustafsson competed in racewalking and running events while growing up in Sweden, running his first half marathon at age 10. He turned his focus to running after arriving in Mission Viejo, completing the L.A. Marathon shortly after his 15th birthday. His time of 3 hours 10 minutes was fourth-best in the 17-and-under division.

Gustafsson, 16, enjoyed a successful sophomore track and field season at Mission Viejo. He was the youngest runner to qualify for the Southern Section Division I finals in the 800 meters last spring, finishing sixth in 1:56.45.

Gustafsson has quickly joined the ranks of the top boys' cross-country runners in the county this season, winning the Division II junior race at the Laguna Hills Invitational on Sept 9. He finished fourth in the competitive Division I junior race at Saturday's Woodbridge Invitational. His time of 15:42 on the three-mile layout around the Woodbridge High campus was also fastest among county juniors.

Mission Viejo Coach Gene Gurule had the option of running his team in the less competitive Division III race Saturday, but Gurule wanted Gustafsson and his teammates to race against the best.

"They're going to have to run with these guys sooner or later," Gurule said.

Gurule would like Gustafsson to focus on the 3,200 meters this spring, but isn't ready to compare him to Mark Gleason, the Times' Orange County runner of the year in 1997, who won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the Orange County Championships and Southern Section Division II finals.

"Gleason was nails," Gurule said. "He didn't let too many runners get passed him."

But Gurule's assessment hasn't stopped Gustafsson from making his own comparisons.

"I beat [Gleason's] freshman record in the 1,600 and I beat his sophomore record in the 1,600," Gustafsson said. "So I'm ahead of him right now."

Gustafsson is one of three talented runners for Mission Viejo, giving the Diablos on outside shot at the Orange County Championships next month.

Dan Fogal finished eighth in Saturday's Division I senior race with a time of 15:33, which equaled the fourth-best time among county runners. Brian Collins finished two spots behind Gustafsson in 15:52, helping Mission Viejo win the Division II junior team title.

The Diablos will vie for their fourth consecutive South Coast League title in the coming weeks and expect to face stiff competition from Dana Hills, the top-ranked team in the county, and fourth-ranked El Toro.

"We always come together at league finals," Gustafsson said. "That's why we've won it three years in a row now."

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Mebrahtom Keflezighi and Deena Drossin, winners of the men's and women's 10,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials in July, also spent some time on the Woodbridge Invitational course.

Keflezighi ran 14:30 to win the Division III senior race while at San Diego High in 1993. Drossin set a then-course record of 17:01 in the Division I varsity race while at Agoura High in 1991.

To honor the coincidence with the 2000 Olympic Games and its ties to the runners, meet directors chose an Olympic theme for the T-shirts sold at the invitational.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Dana Hills Invitational on Saturday will be divided into three divisions and separated by class levels.

The four upper-level Division I races begin between 9 and 9:45 a.m. Local teams in Division I include Capistrano Valley, Dana Hills, El Toro, the Esperanza boys, Marina and Santa Ana. Top out-of-county teams include Redlands East Valley, Long Beach Poly, Murrieta Valley, Poway, Paramount, Rancho Buena Vista, Vista and Yucaipa.

The three upper-level Division II races take place between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Local Division II teams include Mission Viejo, Newport Harbor, Santa Ana Valley, Santa Margarita and Woodbridge.

The three upper-level Division III races take place between noon and 12:30 p.m. Local Division III teams include Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Northwood and St. Margaret's.

If you have an item or idea for the cross-country report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at: dan.arritt@latimes.com

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