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Records Are Not Distant for Hasay

The 14-year-old runner earns comparisons to Mary Decker after breaking three of her age-group marks.

October 19, 2005|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Jordan Hasay is only 14, but she is already being compared to Mary Decker, often considered the best female distance runner in American history.

Her times more than measure up.

Hasay broke Decker's record in the age-group mile last winter, and the summer before that she shattered the former Olympian's age-group marks in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters.

The running, it seems, has always come easy. The difficult part has been living up to the expectations placed on teen phenoms. She has been criticized for her race strategy, and there are plenty of whispers that her parents and coaches are overmatched when it comes to handling an athlete considered the next big thing in track and field.

But Hasay, a freshman at San Luis Obispo Mission Prep, will be back in the spotlight Saturday at the prestigious Mt. San Antonio College Invitational in Walnut. She'll run the same course, although in a different division, as many elite runners, including Annie St. Geme of Corona del Mar and Marie Lawrence, a junior at Reno High who has been runner-up at the Foot Locker national championships the last two years.

"She's really good," said Hasay, who hoped to pace herself alongside a runner of Lawrence's caliber.Pacing, it seems, has been part of her problem.

At the Stanford Invitational on Sept. 24, she blazed through the opening mile in a breathtaking 5 minutes 1 second -- a pace later called "suicidal" by her father -- only to collapse from exhaustion yards from victory.

But after a strong comeback in a lower-division race at the Clovis Invitational on Oct. 8, Hasay appears physically and mentally prepared to challenge the hilly course at Mt. SAC.

"I usually do good on a course with a lot of hills," she said.

Hasay, whose birthday was Sept. 21, is still refining her racing strategy, but many observers say she could be the next great female distance runner.

"She's like a young stallion.... She's a little tough to control right now," said Corona del Mar Coach Bill Sumner, whose runners also competed at the Stanford Invitational. "If they get her under control, you have another Mary Decker."

Decker, who graduated from Orange High and now goes by her married name, Slaney, is perhaps the greatest runner who never won an Olympic medal. She still owns the U.S. women's records in the 1,500 meters (3:57.12), mile (4:16.71) and 3,000 meters (8:25.83).

Last winter, Hasay broke Decker's world record for the fastest mile by a 13-year-old girl. Her time of 4:51.48 was nearly four seconds faster than Decker's from the early 1970s.

In the summer of 2004, she broke Decker's age-group marks in the 1,500 and 3,000, then reset the records last summer at the USATF Junior Olympics in Indianapolis, winning the 3,000 in 9:35.12 -- a 39-second victory -- and the 1,500 in 4:28.61.

Hasay has lost only twice in track and field since she began to run competitively in the fourth grade. That's when physical education teacher Rob Burt noticed her speed and stamina and encouraged her to enter a local junior high meet.

She didn't win her first race, but Hasay didn't lose again until last summer at the Golden West Invitational at Folsom High, where she competed in the mile against some of the nation's best high school runners.

As a seventh-grader, Hasay began training with her current coach, Jim Barodte, who heads the youth program for the San Luis Distance Club.

The valedictorian last spring at St. Patrick's Catholic School in Arroyo Grande, near her family's home in Pismo Beach, Hasay said she ultimately chose to attend tiny Mission Prep, with an enrollment of only 280, because of its college preparatory curriculum.

The Royals also have one of the stronger cross-country programs in the California Interscholastic Federation's Central Section. The girls' team has won the last seven Division V titles, and the boys' team has won four in a row.

At the Morro Bay Invitational on Sept. 10, Hasay won by 2:18. Her time of 18:01 on the three-mile course would have placed her 14th overall in the boys' race. A week later at the Ojai Invitational, she won in 17:04, shattering by 31 seconds the Lake Casitas course record set in 1995 by Kim Mortensen of Thousand Oaks, who that year became the first runner from the West region to win the Foot Locker national championships.

That effort swelled interest in Hasay's appearance at the Stanford Invitational, where she was asked to sign dozens of autographs before the race. Mission Prep Coach Leslie Monaco said she believes the attention led to some pre-race jitters.

"I was pretty surprised," Hasay said of the recognition. "A lot of people were there, and a lot of people knew who I was."

St. Geme, a senior and the defending state champion in the 1,600 meters, was among those left by Hasay's speedy start.

"I had never seen her race before," St. Geme said, "so I didn't know if she could hold it."

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