Muir Sprinter Inger Miller Was Born to Run

Times Staff Writer

Mike Knowles, assistant girls track coach at Muir High in Pasadena, remembers his reaction when he first saw sprinter Inger Miller run in a youth track meet last year.

"I went to an (age group) meet in Long Beach and she ran in the youth division with a lot of the Hawthorne girls, and she just blew everybody away," Knowles said.

The coach's expression turned to glee when he learned that the young sprinter was living in the Muir district.

"He told me and I said to him, 'Here you go with one of your Texas stories again,' " Muir Coach Jim Brownfield recalled. "I heard that and the first thing I said was, 'Wow!' I was just so happy to know she was living in our district. It was like a match made in heaven."

Brownfield, who has coached outstanding sprinters at Muir in recent years, wasn't convinced about Miller's skills until he saw her run the anchor leg of the 400-meter relay at an invitational meet this season.

"I wasn't as much of a believer until I saw her in the Northridge Relays," he said. "We were light years behind and the Dorsey people thought they had it won and she (Miller) just blew past them. We came from fifth to first and it was all on her leg."

Miller has consistently produced impressive times since then. She has turned in best times of 11.71 seconds in the 100 meters and 23.9 in the 200 to rank second in the nation behind Angela Burnham of Oxnard Rio Mesa in both events.

Those are impressive times for anyone but even more so when you consider that Miller is just a 15-year-old sophomore.

Perhaps the success should have been anticipated, though. After all, she also happens to be the daughter of former Olympic sprinter Lennox Miller. A two-time medalist in the 1968 Summer Olympics, Miller is now a dentist in Pasadena.

A tough act to follow, but the younger Miller says she would prefer to gain recognition for her own accomplishments.

"I don't even feel like I'm in his shadow because I'm my own person," she said. "Whatever he did is his and I don't even think about it."

She said her father hadn't worked with her on sprinting until recently.

"It wasn't until this year because he didn't know if I was serious or not," she said. "I ran in junior high but not until now did he really help me."

Even now, Miller says her father doesn't push her as much as some people might think.

"It's not as much as people would expect," she said. "It's not like I'm out there running with him every weekend. He's great support and we're very close, but he doesn't push me."

"He never interferes with our coaching," Brownfield added. "He just lets her run. But he is also very supportive of her."

When he has helped her, she said, it has usually focused on her running technique.

"I already had pretty good leg speed," Miller said. "My dad worked with me on my arms. He said, 'Don't run like a chicken.' If he was helping me at all it was on my form."

Brownfield says Miller has not required much work on technique since arriving at Muir. "She's like her father," he said. "Her father was known as a technique runner."

Knowles said Miller's skills as a sprinter are even more impressive because she had a limited background as a runner before she enrolled at Muir.

Miller said she first became aware that she was a good runner in the fifth grade.

"That's when I really knew I could run," she said. "But this is the most experience at running I've had. This is also my first year of running the quarter. It's always been the 100 and 200 and relays."

She didn't have formal training until she competed with the Pasadena Running Roses youth team for about three months last year. "But I hurt my leg and stopped running," Miller said.

Miller said she only started running for the Roses because she attended the all-girl Westridge School in Pasadena as a freshman and it did not field a track team.

"That's the only reason why I came to Muir," she said. "I wanted to pursue track."

Because she had never competed in high school track, Miller said she was expecting the worst before coming out for the team.

"Everybody was always telling me, 'You're never going to beat the people here. They're too good for you.' So I kept thinking it was going to be a difficult season."

Miller said she has not been surprised by her success, although her coaches and friends probably were at first.

"It's just because no one knew who I was," she said. "When I started doing well it was like, 'Who is she?' No one had ever seen me run, so I guess they were a little surprised."

The success has not come as a surprise to Brownfield, who said Miller had more confidence and maturity than most high school athletes when she arrived this year.

"Her parents have done a great job of raising her," he said. "It's nothing we could have done. She's just a pleasure to work with. She's never been a problem like some athletes."

Brownfield said it's her maturity that has made it so easy for him as a coach.

"That's why she's so enjoyable to coach," he said. "You don't get many athletes who have that maturity. It's like talking to a candidate for the Olympic team. She's got a 3.8 grade-point average and she's also got common sense."

He said there are a lot of intelligent students who are difficult to work with, but not Miller.

"She trains exactly like we tell her and yet she's not a robot," he said. "She asks why she's doing something, and when we tell her it makes her even more motivated.

"She does a great job of warming up and stretching. She does a great job of preparement. You ask her if she's ready and she'll tell you. Some kids don't do that. They just say what you want to hear. But she understands what it takes to warm up and get prepared for a race. She's not a girl, she's a young lady."

Not that Miller concentrates on the business of running all the time. But Brownfield said she has an all-business approach when she is practicing and competing.

"I've seen her around campus with her buddies, laughing and having fun," he said. "But when we say to her it's time to do this or that, she's always there. Some kids get almost foggy-eyed when they're getting ready to compete, but she's very alert. She always knows what's going on around her."

The coach said there is little question about her dedication to succeeding as a runner.

"She's the kind of girl who if we asked her to walk into the valley of death on a stump she would," he said.

Combined with her natural skills, Brownfield said there is no telling how good she can become.

"It's unlimited," he said. "She has the one thing that you can't coach and that's tremendous leg speed. You can teach other things, but you can't teach that."

Clyde Turner, boys track co-coach at Muir, said it is her great leg speed and non-stop knee action that enables her to burst away from most of her opponents.

"That's what I first noticed about her," he said. "When I first watched her leg speed and knee action, I was just speechless."

If Miller lacks anything, Brownfield said, it may be strength. At 5-5 1/2 and 108 pounds, Miller is not the most imposing sprinter in high school track.

Additional strength will help her in the 200 meters. "All she needs is a little more strength and I think that will come," Brownfield said.

He said he has seen steady progress in her first two meetings against Rio Mesa's Burnham, at the Northridge Relays in March and the Arcadia Invitational in April.

"When she went out to face her (at Northridge) she was just blown out but she wasn't intimidated," he said. "She just came out stronger the next time."

Miller gave Burnham considerably more competition at the Arcadia meet, finishing .14 of a second behind in the 100 meters and .24 of a second in the 200.

"The first time I ran against her she had a pretty good lead, and at Arcadia I closed the gap," she said. "By the time the state rolls around, maybe we'll be at the tape together. We'll see."

The two are expected to meet again at the CIF 4-A finals May 21 at Cerritos College.

If it does not happen then, Miller is not worried. She knows she has time on her side.

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