Michael Norman of Vista Murrieta High is prepared to show the best competition in America what he can do at the Arcadia Invitational on Saturday.
As a sophomore last year, he finished second at the CIF state championships in the 400 with a time of 46.94 seconds and second in the 200 in 20.92.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience being with someone so passionate about practicing every day," Coach Coley Candaele says of Norman. "He's amazing."
Norman has been quietly gearing up for the big races ahead. He has the state's fastest 200 time of 20.71, but he's in no hurry to reach peak form in April.
"He doesn't really want me to go out early in the season," Norman said of his coaches' strategy. "Save it for May and June when it matters most."
The wraps will be finally taken off Norman on Saturday when he competes at Arcadia High. Norman will focus on the 400, where he'll receive stiff competition from UCLA-bound Rai Benjamin of Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Benjamin has run the 400 in 46.19 seconds this year.
The Arcadia Invitational, with its large, vocal fan base and superb competition, always seems to bring out the best in the participants who suddenly want to run their fastest times.
There will be more than 540 schools, 28 states and four nations represented in the two-day meet.
"It's the competition and the atmosphere," Norman said. "Everybody runs faster and posts good times."
It's the perfect environment to see where an individual stands with a month to go before league finals begin. And Norman is the best in California at what he does.
At 6 feet and 160 pounds, he has such schools as UCLA, USC and Florida pursuing him. His dedication to work hard at practice serves as an example for others.
"At every practice, I try to work out to the best of my ability," he said. "It's a better feeling when you win and worked for it than if you know you were slacking off. You can tell the difference between athletes who worked hard in practice."
It remains to be seen whether he's better in the 200 or 400. He's capable of unleashing a devastating burst of speed at either distance.
"I enjoy the 200," he said. "It's not too short and not too long like the 400."
The 400 can be grueling and painful. It tests the mental toughness of its competitors.
"At the 100 mark is where you have to tell yourself not to slow down," he said. "The last 150 is when it starts to hurt. I try not to let it get to my head and stay focused."
For Arcadia, he's looking forward to seeing how fast he can run.
"I'm shooting for 46 because there's great competition," he said.
In many ways, it's a preview for the June state championships.
For track and field fans, it's a chance to admire top high school athletes going against the best. And Norman has plenty of admirers.
"He's something else," Sherman Oaks Notre Dame Coach Joe McNab said. "He's an amazing talent. He's fun to watch. He's so smooth. He look like he's running effortlessly."
What: Top prep track and field athletes
When: Friday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday Open competition 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Invitational competition: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Cost: Friday, $9 for adults and students; Saturday, $18 for adults; $12 for seniors and high school students. Two-day pass: $25. Parking is free.