Track and Field Meet at Corona del Mar High School
Irvine High School vs. CdM High School
Newport Beach, California
Spring of 1984
Distance running must have been the one sport in which I truly had not much talent. I was simply too large to truly excel; despite the most arduous training I was destined to watch slender life-support-system-for-a-lung types run away from me as I vainly strove to keep up. Although I trained both before and after school and at times ran up to 70 miles a week, I never did break into the ranks of the champion runners in high school. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my share of victories - none being more memorable than that portrayed in the above picture. In track and field, I always sought to make up what I lacked in talent through heart and sheer desire to win. Despite my relative lack of success, I do not regret my years running track and cross-country, as I learned the power of sheer will: athletic skill is as much about sweaty exertion as inborn talent. I never forgot this lesson, and it served me well my whole life.
On the other hand, Jimmy Olson of Irvine High School (in the dark green uniform above) truly was one of those immensely talented elite runners. Coming into the varsity two-mile race that afternoon, Jimmy had already run a 9:50 in winning a local invitational the week before while I had only previously managed to run an unimpressive 10:50. I was a nobody and he was well-known, and this underestimation of my abilities probably contributed to me winning this race on that special day in the spring of 1984.
At the Corona del Mar High School track, a runner need circle the track eight times to complete two miles. As was my custom, I quickly took the lead as the started fired his pistol beginning the race and, after the first lap, I was twenty yards in front of Jimmy. I then settled into a steady pace and concentrated totally on my breathing and the race. Each lap followed the same pattern with the staccato sound of spikes clacking on the ground amidst the labored breathing in the relative quiet around the ends of the track, and then the yelling and cheering of the crowd when passing the middle of the field. Running the two-miles is like a dramatic countdown: one lap, two laps, three - the mile mark, five, six, seven laps, and then the final frantic sprint to the finish line. The race starts off slowly and the excitement builds gradually towards the final 400 yards where the contenders gut it out to see who has more left and desires victory more keenly. It was all about pain tolerance; the mental aspect was as important as the physical.
Everyone else had already dropped way back after the first mile and the race had already narrowed down to Jimmy and myself. I has about a thirty-yard lead over Jimmy, but I could sense he was unconcerned as he narrowed the distance between us a few yards every lap. Like a fisherman, he slowly but surely reeled me in a little by little until by the end of the seventh lap I could hear him breathing close behind me. When they rang the bell signifying the last lap, Jimmy was only some ten yards or so behind me. Full of adrenaline, I ran as fast as I could to stay in front of him and yet coming around the final stretch he was right behind me. It was obvious he was waiting for the final stretch so he could pull out and blow right by me to the finish line. There was nothing I could do except run absolutely as fast as I could towards that finish line. I could see the two girls holding the tape at the finish line, and I focused all my concentration on getting there ahead of Jimmy.
As we pulled into the final stretch, Jimmy moved out from behind me and made his move. However, in doing so he had to run a few yards further than me and perhaps this was the difference. The last twenty yards we ran almost neck and neck, and my father who was standing nervously at the finish line thought to himself, "This is going to be too close for comfort!" I managed somehow to hold the slimmest margin of a lead and finished just ahead of Jimmy. Clearly, if the race had gone on for ten more yards Jimmy would have won and he knew it; he recognized he had been sandbagged by an inferior runner! Madder than hell, Jimmy waved me away after the race when I tried to shake hands with him. I didn't care in the least. I was so thrilled to have somehow won that race that nothing else mattered. I finished two-miles in 10:20 - thirty seconds faster than I had ever run it before!
The above picture was taken by my Uncle Phil who was to five years later unexpectedly die young of a massive heart attack. In retrospect, I am so grateful to have been able to have shared this moment of victory with him. He later enlarged a copy of this picture and gave it to me for my 17th birthday.