Reuben Reina is still a little bit mystified that his winning 1985 performance at what was then called the Kinney Cross Country Championship remains the fastest time run at San Diego’s Balboa Park.
More than a quarter-century later, America’s most talented high school distance runners have funneled through the Foot Locker national finals with the intention of winning the season’s premier race. But no one has bettered the 14:36.
It is possible that the record could come into play Saturday when Edward Cheserek and Futsum Zeinasellassie, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in SteveU’s Top 25 rankings, go head to head for the first time. Cheserek has broken seven course records this year, Zeinasellassie has rarely been challenged since running 14:36 on a course in Indiana back in September, and California champion Darren Fahy brings impressive credentials as well.
Reina said it was the quality of the competition that must explain his fast time.
“I think it was a great year, for one, with a lot of great athletes in (the race),” he said. “You had John Trautmann, the Mastalir twins (Mark and Eric), and the Midwest and South had some good guys.”
The 1985 race saw nine athletes break 15 minutes – far more than any boys race in the meet’s history. And Trautmann of New York, who held the U.S. high school record in the 3,000 meters for nearly 20 years, was not one of them.
The following year, San Diego’s Marc Davis blitzed the course in 14:38 for the second-fastest performance in the history of the event. But he began celebrating in the final 200 meters – clearly more focused on the winning moment than the clock.
“It was by far my best high school performance and overall is short only of making the Olympic team (1996 in Atlanta) and makie the Olympic Games final (in the steeplechase),” Davis told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week. “It set me up for the rest of my career.”
Another wave of potential record-breakers – Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb and Ryan Hall – ran their Foot Locker races during a four-year stretch (1997-2000) when they were held in Orlando, Fla.
Chris Solinsky won the 2002 race in 14:40 – third-fastest at Balboa Park. And Adam Goucher ran 14:41 in 1993 – the fourth-fastest winning time.
“All I cared about was winning,” Goucher said. “It was my third time on the course. The year before (I won) I had led for half the race and paid the price for it. So as a senior I did not want to make any mistakes. I was holding back and bit and not willing to do anything stupid.”
Goucher was also pressed by Meb Keflezighi (2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist). The two were still side by side after mounting the hill for the second time. That’s when Goucher let loose and kicked away to the lead, and the win.
Tactical races usually don’t favor fast times. And the course’s famed hill – which runners must go up (and down) twice – sometimes leads to conservative strategies.
“I wouldn’t say that (the pace) was overly pressed,” Reina said. “A lot of guys were concerned with the hill. It was my first time running at Foot Locker so I had no idea what it had to offer. But I heard talk about how tough the hill was and I was expecting to see a mountain.”
At the course preview, Reina recalls thinking that the hill didn’t seem that intimidating after all.
“Even though the pace was pushed in the middle, a half mile before the hill the pace slowed a bit,” Reina said. “I was gun shy to take it from there but I was feeling great. There was definitely some time lost. I didn’t hold back the second time (up).”
Reina believes it could have gone a little faster. Davis and Goucher may have been able to as well.
If the pace is fast in the first mile, if there isn’t too much respect paid to the hill, and if the downhills become dragstrips, the course record is not unassailable.
At least that’s how Reina feels, and he’s had 26 years to think about it.
“I think that time could get down below 14:30 someday,” he said.