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TRACK AND FIELD

Rabbit Hopes to Go the Distance

April 17, 2001|DAN ARRITT

As the introductions were read before the featured boys' mile at the Arcadia Invitational, Mission Viejo junior Jacob Gustafsson stepped forward to acknowledge the applause.

It was generous, considering most in the overflow crowd at Arcadia High had never heard of him.

Gustafsson wasn't listed in the program and his name certainly didn't come with the same credentials as the other 12 runners in the elite field, which was billed as the Dream Mile, featuring the top high school distance runners on the same track.

Headlining the Saturday night race was Alan Webb of South Lakes High in Reston, Va., the first high school runner to break four minutes in the mile since 1967, and Big Bear High's Ryan Hall, the event's reigning National Scholastic outdoor champion.

But Gustafsson's role became clear after the gun fired to start the four-lap race.

He sped out to the lead in a near dead sprint, taking the field down the backstretch and through the first lap in 58.5 seconds. As the designated rabbit, it was Gustafsson's job to set a fast early pace for the remaining runners, then step aside and let them by.

When that began happening near the end of the second lap--and a 2:01 pace--Gustafsson could have dropped out of the race, as many rabbits do. But he stayed until the end, finishing last in a respectable 4:31.36, about 30 seconds behind Webb, who won in 4:01.81, and 12 seconds behind the next-to-last runner.

"My coach thought it would be a good experience for me," said Gustafsson, who is the son of an Olympic medalist and the youngest runner to qualify for the Southern Section Division I finals in the 800 meters last spring.

Setting the pace was the easy part, he said.

"I was happy with the first two laps, but it kind of bothered me when everyone started passing me by," Gustafsson said.

Rich Gonzalez, who handled entries for the meet, said that camps for both Webb and Hall requested a rabbit who could run between 2:30 and 2:45 for 1,000 to 1,100 meters. Mission Viejo Coach Gene Gurule offered Gustafsson's services and he was entered in the race Friday.

"I'm not sure who [Gustafsson] was," Webb said. "but he did a good job." Gustafsson, whose father Bo Gustafsson was a silver medalist for Sweden in the 50-kilometer racewalk at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and is a national record-holder in the event, could find himself battling for a victory in the event next season.

He has already run faster times in the 1,600 as a freshman and sophomore than former Mission Viejo standout Mark Gleason, the Times' 1998 Orange County runner of the year.

"I was on pace [for a four-minute mile] for the first two laps," Gustafsson said. "Now I know what it's like to come through [800 meters] at that pace."

FAN FAVORITE

Bill Pendleton, who coaches the powerful Esperanza throwing corps, enjoyed watching Nick Arrhenius of Orem (Utah) Mountain View High smash the national high school record in the discus at the Arcadia Invitational.

Arrhenius lofted the disc 234 feet 3 inches on his sixth and final attempt, breaking the previous record by nearly 10 feet.

"That's the flight," Pendleton yelled as the disc lifted toward the sky. "That took off like a 747!"

On the previous attempt, Arrhenius sent the disc on a similar trajectory, but it turned over and fell sharply to the ground. It was measured at 217-8, which would have bettered his next closest pursuer by more than 15 feet.

"That just shows you how good he is," Pendleton said.

Pendleton's son, Travis, won a state title in the event last spring, surpassing 200 feet for the first time on the last throw of his high school career. Travis Pendleton now competes for Army.

THE NEXT WAVE

Lost in the shuffle of the open competition at the Arcadia Invitational were several noteworthy performances by county athletes.

Fountain Valley sophomore Bethany Nickless appears ready to join the county's elite premier four-lap runners after winning the open 1,600 in 4:59.92, the third-best time in the county this season behind Newport Harbor's Amber Steen and Corona del Mar's Julie Allen, who was Nickless' teammate at Fountain Valley before transferring in January.

Another sophomore, Edison's Maryann Pynchon, finished 14th in the invitational 3,200. Her time of 10:56.18 is also third-fastest in the county behind Steen and Allen.

RELAY BAD

Edison and Santa Margarita had misadventures during their Arcadia Invitational relay events.

The Chargers' 400 relay team was disqualified when Chucky Linman left too soon for the final leg and took the handoff out of bounds.

Santa Margarita, which finished a respectable fifth in the 400 relay in 42.33, didn't do so well in the four-lap relay, which is considered its specialty.

The Eagles were in third, just ahead of L.A Taft and Long Beach Poly, with about 50 meters remaining in the second leg, when a runner from L.A. Cleveland came up behind Santa Margarita's Bobby Braun and bumped him, Santa Margarita Coach Dave Zeitler said. The contact caused Braun to drop the baton and cost several seconds.

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