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Loyola sophomore was born to run

Some believe Elias Gedyon, who came to Los Angeles from Ethiopia when he was 6, has the ability to break the four-minute mark in the mile.


At just past 9:30 a.m. on the last day of February, the starter's pistol went off at Los Angeles Loyola High, and 15-year-old Elias Gedyon burst forward in his first attempt running a competitive high school 1,600-meter race.

The History Channel should have been there to capture the moment, along with ESPN and maybe documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, for Gedyon one day could become only the fifth high school athlete in U.S. history to break the four-minute barrier in the mile.

"He has unbelievable potential," distance coach Lalo Diaz said. "To see him at this stage, you can't help but be excited."

The 1,600 has replaced the mile in most high school meets, but Diaz plans to have Gedyon run a mile at an invitational by the time he's a senior.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, March 28, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Four-minute milers: In Friday's Sports section, a chart of American runners who have run sub-four-minute miles while in high school said Jim Ryun was from East High in Topeka, Kan. East High is in Wichita.

Gedyon was born in Ethiopia and came to Los Angeles when he was 6. He's 5 feet 10, 140 pounds and can run the final lap of a mile as if he were sprinting the 100-meter dash.

Watching him run the fourth lap on that clear, pleasant morning was memorable because of the way he finished. He was running against fellow Loyola runners in an intrasquad 1,600, and his kick left him ahead by some 100 yards, crossing the finish line in four minutes 23 seconds.

The winning time in the 1,600 -- which is about nine meters short of a mile -- at last year's state track finals was 4:00.29 by senior Germain Fernandez of Riverbank. Imagine what Gedyon might run with additional training, experience and maturity.

Except Diaz isn't going to let Gedyon run the 1,600 very often this year. His focus will be on the 800, which he ran in 1:54.08 to finish sixth as a freshman at the state finals last year.

Diaz is being "extremely cautious" and doesn't want Gedyon to burn out running longer distances even though he predicts the 1,500 will be his best event come college and beyond.

"His range is probably his greatest asset and what separates him from the pack," Diaz said.

Last fall, Gedyon had the fastest time at the state cross-country championships in Fresno, finishing in 15:01. A sophomore outrunning every senior? Yes, it was another example of Gedyon's extraordinary range, whether running three miles or 400 meters.

People came up to him asking for autographs, and why not? It's clear he has a special talent that others admire, and he knows that with commitment and focus, anything is possible.

"This is a gift I've been given from God," he said.

Last week at the California Relays, he ran a 1,600 relay leg in 4:09.2. The next day, he won the 800 in a state-leading 1:55.16. On Saturday, he'll run the 400 at the Pasadena Games. On April 11 at the Arcadia Invitational, he's scheduled to run in the open 1,600, his first big-time 1,600-meter race.

Perhaps the toughest part of running for Gedyon is dealing with the growing attention he has been receiving, whether it's from media, fans or other runners.

He can be shy, awkward and timid in answering questions, relying on teammates and his coaches as a shield and sounding board. But from afar, you can see he's always having fun, teasing teammates and vice versa. And this month, he found himself in detention when he was caught text-messaging his girlfriend during Mass on Ash Wednesday, a no-no at a Catholic school.

In a matter of weeks, he will become a U.S. citizen, which will allow him to compete at the U.S. Youth Outdoor track and field championships in June.

By Gedyon's junior year, Diaz will start letting him run the 1,600 on a competitive basis, and then the fun will begin as he zeroes in on a four-minute mile.

"I want to see if I'm good at it, but I'm not experienced in the mile, so my coach is working me," he said.

The first American high school athlete to break the four-minute barrier was Jim Ryun in 1964. The others are Tim Danielson in 1966, Marty Liquori in 1967 and Alan Webb in 2001.

"I think when all the dust settles, he's a perfect fit for an assault on the four-minute mile," Diaz said. "I'm going to ease him into the mile and next year, I think he'll step up and be very competitive."

There's much anticipation in what Gedyon is capable of accomplishing. He started turning heads in his first race as a fifth-grader at 24th Street School.

"They picked students from each grade to run the mile," he recalled.

Gedyon won the race by more than 300 yards.

A teacher spotted his talent and got him involved in a club track program, and he has been a wonder ever since.

He lives about two miles from Loyola and must arrive by 6:30 for morning workouts. If his alarm clock doesn't go off on time, he's one of the few who doesn't need to worry about getting a ride. He'll just run, with his backpack and equipment bag, getting a warmup before the real warmup, jogging down Normandie, turning onto Venice and hearing horns honk from those who recognize him.

He knows and admires the tradition of great runners from Ethiopia and remembers his days as a young boy running around his house and playing soccer with friends.

He lives with his parents and has an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles.

"They love running," he said of his mother and father. "They push me. They want me to go further and do well."

Chasing history is what Gedyon will be doing in high school. The pressure will increase as his times decrease, but he seems ready to take a shot.

"It just makes me keep running because I have a future," he said.




The magic number

Only four Americans have broken four minutes in the mile as high school students:

*--* NAME YEAR TIME SCHOOL Jim Ryun 1964 3:59.0 Topeka, Kan., East High Tim Danielson 1966 3:59.4 Chula Vista, Calif., High Marty Liquori 1967 3:59.8 Newark, N.J., Essex Catholic High Alan Webb 2001 3:53.43 Reston, Va., South Lakes High *--*

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