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Perkins Looks to the Past

Prep track: Sprinter gets chance to repeat victory in 400 at Arcadia Invitational.

April 14, 2001|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the split-second she left the starting blocks in last year's Arcadia Invitational track and field meet, Angel Perkins of Cerritos Gahr High knew she was in sync.

Exactly 52.62 seconds later, she was in a new realm.

Perkins, a sophomore at the time, won the girls' 400-meter race by defeating then two-time defending state champion Monique Henderson of San Diego Morse. It was the first--and remains the only--defeat in the 400 suffered by Henderson in her high school career.

"That race helped me prove to other people that I didn't come out of nowhere," Perkins said. "I think people had doubts because I had some injuries in youth track. By winning, it was like saying, 'I'm still here.' "

Perkins and Henderson will renew their friendly rivalry tonight in the 34th Arcadia Invitational at Arcadia High. The meet, regarded as the premier regular-season competition in the nation, has attracted athletes from 21 states.

Field events for the invitational portion of the meet begin at 4 p.m., running events at 6:10.

The girls' 400, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., features one of several marquee matchups. The boys' mile, scheduled to begin at 6:40, has Alan Webb of South Lakes High in Reston, Va.--the first U.S. high school athlete to break four minutes in the mile since 1967--and Ryan Hall of Big Bear.

"That's a race I definitely want to watch myself," Perkins said.

Perkins, 16, has been the focus of attention since her breakthrough victory over Henderson last year.

Perkins said it was one of the first times that she put the first and second parts of a race together exactly as planned.

"At that point, it was one of the best races of my life," said Perkins, who has been running competitively since age 6. "When we came in for the last 100, we were neck and neck, and I just concentrated on keeping my form."

Perkins built on the victory at Arcadia and won Southern Section Division I titles in the 200 and 400. Her 52.28 clocking in the 400 was the fastest in the nation at the time and qualified Perkins for the U.S. Olympic trials.

A week later, however, Henderson eclipsed the mark in San Diego Section qualifying for the state finals. The next week, Henderson won her third consecutive state title in the 400 with a blistering 50.74. The time broke the national high school and U.S. junior record set by Denean Howard of Granada Hills Kennedy in 1982. Perkins finished second at the state meet in 53.01.

In July, Perkins, then 15, was the youngest competitor at the U.S. Olympic trials at Sacramento. Running against women who were in some cases 10 to 15 years older, she clocked 54.23 and finished second to last in her heat.

Henderson advanced to the final and finished eighth in 51.79.

"It's healthy to get nervous, but I think I got scared a little bit," Perkins said. "It was a great learning experience for me. I'll know what to expect next time I'm in that situation."

Gahr Coach Dan Fitzpatrick said Perkins' trials experience already is paying dividends.

"She's going to be on the top step in Greece [at the Athens Games]," Fitzpatrick said. "That's the type of talent and work ethic this young lady has."

Perkins tuned up for this year's outdoor season by winning the 500 at the indoor Los Angeles Invitational in January.

In March, she broke two national indoor records at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in New York. Her time of 53.25 in the 400 broke the record of 53.38 set in February by Long Beach Wilson's Lashinda Demus at the Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho. Perkins' 23.59 clocking in the 200 broke the record of 23.64 set by Sanya Richards of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in 2000.

"My goal this year is to stay healthy and win the state championship in the 200 and the 400," Perkins said. "The race at Arcadia will be a good test to see where I'm at."

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