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Drossin Runs the Risks, Reaps the Rewards

Track: World-record holder has pushed the limits and now dominates U.S. women's distance running.

April 19, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two weeks after Deena Drossin won an individual silver medal at the world cross-country championships and shared a team silver medal, she romped through the Carlsbad 5,000 in 14 minutes 54 seconds, a world record for a road race.

Afterward, she described herself as "strong but not fit," even though the evidence indicated otherwise.

"I don't feel sharp with my speed," she said after her April 7 victory, in which she was timed in 4:45 for the first mile and 4:47 for the uphill, into-the-breeze second mile. "I just did my first track work in years."

If she can set a world record when she doesn't feel right, imagine what she might do when she peaks this season--or in her career.

Drossin, 29, has been on a roll the last few months. Starting with her marathon debut last November in New York, where her time of 2 hours 26 minutes 58 seconds was the fastest debut by an American woman and the fourth-fastest time recorded by an American woman, she has dominated the ranks of U.S. women's distance running.

She won her fifth U.S. 8K national cross-country championship in February by 15 seconds over Colleen De Reuck, and followed that by winning her third consecutive U.S. 15K title in Jacksonville, Fla., in March. Her winning time of 48 minutes 12 seconds broke the previous U.S. record by 16 seconds.

At the world cross-country meet in Dublin, Drossin and De Reuck became the first two American women to win individual medals since 1970, when Doris Brown won and Maureen Dickinson finished second. At Carlsbad, she passed early leader Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya to defeat a field that included De Reuck and Sonia O'Sullivan, the Sydney Olympic 5,000 silver medalist.

"I was expecting a fast race out of myself, but not a world record, that's for sure," she said.

Drossin will continue her outdoor schedule today, when she competes in the two-mile at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in Walnut. It's more for exercise than pursuit of a record, and also to support her teammates in the Team USA California distance running program. Elva Dryer and Jen Rhines are also in the two-mile field.

"I don't even know what my best time is," she said, laughing. "I think the last time I ran it, I was in high school. There's no pressure as far as time is concerned."

Not that she dislikes pressure. She seems to thrive on it, pushing herself beyond what she once believed possible.

Her race strategy at Carlsbad, she said, was to take it out hard because "you never get to see your limits if you don't push and take risks like that." That nearly sums up her overall approach to running too.

But it has taken Drossin a while to realize the extent of her talents, and to regain the passion that had propelled her to two state high school titles in track and three in cross-country at Agoura Hills.

Although she won seven Southeastern Conference titles at Arkansas, Drossin was mentally and physically spent by the time her college career ended in 1996. While in school, she had taken a break from running to work in a bakery, and she considered giving up running to operate a cafe.

Before she quit, one of her coaches at Arkansas put her in touch with Joe Vigil (VEE-hill). Coaching at Adams State College in out-of-the-way Alamosa, Colo., Vigil had turned out 425 All-America runners with demanding workouts in the chilly mountain town. Whether it was the crisp air or Vigil's tough but reassuring manner, Drossin's enthusiasm was reborn.

"It took about a year for us to get to know each other," said Vigil, who coaches Drossin and shares the Team USA California coaching duties with former UCLA coach Bob Larsen. "We developed a very strong coach-athlete relationship. I believe in her and she believes in me."

There was no miraculous turnaround, to be sure, and she endured disappointments in 2000.

A freakish accident at the world cross-country championships--she swallowed a bee early in the 8K race and momentarily blacked out--held her to 12th place. She won the 10,000 at the U.S. Olympic trials and finished second in the 5,000, but chose to run only the 10,000--only to be eliminated in a preliminary heat because Achilles' problems in both feet had idled her for three weeks before the Games and hurt her conditioning.

She was also disappointed in her 11th-place finish in the 10,000 at last year's World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, emerging from a doggedly slow race with blood dripping down her shins after being jostled repeatedly. But she managed to rebound, crediting the resources at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and the altitude training she does at Mammoth Lakes, where she recently bought a home.

Drossin plans to run the Bolder Boulder 10K May 27, the New York women's mini-marathon June 8 and the 5K and 10K at the U.S. championships June 21-23 at Palo Alto. She will run the Chicago Marathon in October and is considering trying to qualify for the 2004 Olympic team at that distance.

Vigil said they haven't zeroed in on one event. "She's very good at 5 and very good at 10 and she's going to be better at the marathon," he said. "Who knows?"

Competing at the Olympics, she said, "seems to be the highlight of any athlete's career. But there seems to be so much more between now and then."

So many miles to cover and so many more records to break.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Track and Field

What: Mt. San Antonio College Relays

Where: Mt. San Antonio College

When: Today--junior college competition starts at 8 a.m.; university-open competition begins at 4:15 p.m.; international distance carnival starts at 5:30; high school girls' four-mile relay starts at 6:30 with boys' race at 6:55. Saturday--high school competition starts at 7:45 a.m.; university-open field events start at 3:30 p.m.; university-open middle-distance carnival begins at 6:30. Sunday--university-open competition starts at 9:50 a.m.; invitational field events start at 10 a.m.; invitational track events begin at 1 p.m.

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