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Parents of Dana Hills' Babiracki were athletically gifted, but his path to success is his own

April 26, 2003|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

His father was a national-class distance runner in the late 1970s.

His mother ran a then-Canyon Country Canyon High record time of 5 minutes 3.6 seconds in the mile in 1978.

So it would be easy to assume that senior Brandon Babiracki of Dana Point Dana Hills was groomed to be a runner.

That would be wrong.

No doubt good genes have helped Babiracki run the 1,600 meters in 4:11.67, the second-fastest time in the state this year. And they'll no doubt play a part in how he performs today in the 1,600 and 3,200 in the Orange County track and field championships at Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills High.

But his parents, Dave and Tammy, discouraged Brandon from running at an organized competitive level until he was a freshman at Dana Hills.

"I didn't want him to get burned out on running," said Dave, a former member of several U.S. national cross-country and track and field teams. "And I wanted [running] to be Brandon's thing, not mine."

Brandon, the youngest of four children, played soccer and dabbled in surfing after his family moved from Valencia to Laguna Niguel when he was 6. He wasn't a great soccer player, but he was always one of the fastest players on the field.

"He was always a real skinny kid who could go pretty fast," Dave said. "So when he said he'd like to go out for cross-country [at Dana Hills], I figured he'd do well."

Brandon did not have instant success in running, but he has improved steadily.

In track, he ran 4:50 in the 1,600 as a freshman before running 4:33 as a sophomore and 4:22.09 as a junior.

In cross-country, he was a member of Dana Hills' freshman team his first year and split time between the sophomore and varsity teams in his second.

As a junior, he was the No. 3 runner on a varsity team that finished third in the state Division I final and in November, he was the No. 2 runner on a squad that was third again.

"I didn't know much about what was a good time and what wasn't," Brandon said about his freshman year at Dana Hills. "I was just trying to do my best at the time and just concentrate on improving."

He lowered his best in the 1,600 to 4:19.36 in finishing fifth in the Meet of Champions Distance Classic at Azusa Pacific on March 22 before running 800-meter relay legs of 1:55 and 1:57 and a 1,600 leg of 4:22 in the Santa Barbara Easter Relays a week later.

His big breakthrough came in the Arcadia Invitational on April 12 when he won the seeded 1,600 in a school-record 4:11.67 after running the final 400 in 58.4 and the last 800 in 2:02.2.

His time was the fastest in the state until Phillip Reid of Oxnard Rio Mesa ran 4:09.44 in winning the invitational race a few minutes later.

"I knew I'd run well there," Babiracki said of Arcadia. "Because when I ran 4:19, that was at the end of a hard week of training. I ran that race tired. But I didn't expect 4:11."

Tim Butler, who has been coaching the boys' distance runners at Dana Hills since the early 1970s, is leery of saying Babiracki ran a "perfect" race at Arcadia because he's confident he'll run faster this season.

But he said Babiracki's performance was a textbook example of how to run the second half of a 1,600 faster than the first, how to get out of situations in a race when you're boxed in behind your opponents, and how to accelerate smoothly.

"The training he did after the end of cross-country and before the start of track has really benefited him," Butler said. "It's given him the mental confidence to run well this season."

Babiracki's kick has always been his strong suit, but it could be put to a severe test twice today because Mike Chavez of Anaheim Esperanza is trying to win his second consecutive Orange County titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 and defending state 800 champion Michael Haddan of Irvine Woodbridge is expected to run the 1,600 as well as the 800.

"He's definitely going to be a challenge," Chavez said of Babiracki. "The kick is one of my strengths too, but I just need to run my own race and see if I can get away from him before the end."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Track and Field

* What: Orange County Championships.

* Where: Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills High

* When: Today. Running events start at 8:30 a.m., field events at 9.

* Top Competitors: Senior Sharon Day of Costa Mesa, the defending state champion in the girls' high jump, and junior Michael Haddan of Irvine Woodbridge, the defending state champion in the boys' 800 meters, head the list of entries. Day cleared a Southern Section record of 6 feet 2 inches at the Trabuco Hills Invitational three weeks ago. Haddan will run in the 800 and 1,600. The 1,600 field could be the most talented in the meet as it includes defending champion Mike Chavez of Anaheim Esperanza and Brandon Babiracki of Dana Point Dana Hills, the second-fastest performer in the state this year at 4 minutes 11.67 seconds.

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