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Without injuries for the first time in three years, Ramirez is free to turn up the speed and the result is a Royal payoff

May 03, 2003|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

If you stay healthy all season, you'll increase your chances of running fast when it counts.

Tony Ramirez of Simi Valley Royal has been keenly aware of that simple track and field truism since his sophomore season.

Yet, this is the first time in three years that Ramirez will begin the final five weeks of the season free of injuries.

Shin and ankle problems cut short Ramirez's sophomore season and an injury in the area of his right hip hampered his training much of last year. But the 5-foot-8, 145-pound quarter-miler is expecting big things in the meets ahead after winning the 400 meters in 49.00 seconds, the 200 in 22.94 and running the anchor leg on the victorious 1,600 relay team in the rain-swept Ventura County championships Friday at Moorpark High.

"My first main goal [this season] was to get farther than [the Southern Section divisional championships] because that's where my season ended last year," Ramirez said. "But now my goal is to [run] in the low 47s and do well at state."

A low 47-second clocking could put Ramirez in contention for the individual title in the state championships June 6-7 at Cerritos College and be a big improvement upon his best of 48.27 that ranks sixth on the yearly state performer list.

Jay Sramek, the Royal boys' coach, says there's no reason Ramirez can't run that fast. "He's so far ahead of where he was at this time last year," Sramek said. "The fact that he's been healthy all season is going to make a huge difference."

Last year, a hip injury severely limited Ramirez's training in the final six weeks of the season, but he still managed to win the Ventura County title in the 400 and place third in the section Division I final before being disqualified for taking too many steps on the inside line of his lane as he rounded the second curve.

"It was pretty bad," Ramirez said about the disappointment of being disqualified. "But I just had to tell myself that I had another year to make up for it."

This season has been about more than individual redemption, however, as the Royal coaching staff urged Ramirez and several other seniors to put team goals ahead of individual ones.

"He's really picked it up on the maturity level," Sramek said about Ramirez. "Last year, it wasn't about the team; it was about him. But this year, his attitude has been, 'I'll do whatever I can to help the team.' "

That was readily apparent in a double-dual meet against visiting Moorpark and Thousand Oaks last month when Royal's top two sprinters had to finish ahead of Moorpark's No. 1 runner in the 200 to have a chance of defeating the Musketeers and winning the Marmonte League title.

Ramirez had won the 100 and 400 earlier and would run a leg on the victorious 1,600 relay in the meet's final race, but that didn't prevent him from shouting words of encouragement to teammate Jelani Adams as they came off the curve with 100 meters left in the 200.

"I was totally concerned about the 1-2 thing," Ramirez said of his actions. "I wasn't trying to show up anyone. I was just trying to cheer on my teammate. It surprised me when I did that, but I knew that we had to go 1-2 to have a chance at winning."

Royal beat defending league champion Moorpark, 70 1/3-65 2/3, after Ramirez and Adams finished 1-2 in the 200, teammates Tim Hearst, Jason Pedersen and Nathan Jarvis went 1-2-3 in the 3,200 and the Highlanders won the 1,600 relay.

Ramirez's big performance came five days after he lowered his best in the 400 from 49.04 to 48.27 to finish second in the seeded race of the prestigious Arcadia Invitational and ran a 47.3-second anchor leg on a team that won the seeded 1,600 relay in 3:21.52.

"That was a big improvement for me," Ramirez said. "But I thought I could run pretty fast because that was the first time I'd had a chance to run against that really good competition."

Ramirez, the youngest of four siblings to grow up in a household where track was "the second-most talked about topic behind religion and church," says an altered training regimen that emphasizes intervals up to 800 meters in length over faster-paced repeats at distances as short as 100 meters has helped him remain physically sound this season and tap into the potential that led to a hand-timed 49.6 clocking in the 400 as sophomore.

Tim Ramirez, a sophomore at Azusa Pacific who won the 800 in the NAIA Indoor championships earlier this year, is thrilled to see his younger brother injury-free at this stage of the season.

"Tony is a very easygoing guy," Tim said. "But there was a lot [of frustration] trapped inside of him after the previous two years. He knew he could be running these types of times. He knew he could be opening people's eyes with these types of performances. But he wasn't able to because of the injuries.

"It was very frustrating for him to see people he had beaten in the first part of the season run very well at the end while he was injured."

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