One is the two-time defending City Section champion in the 100 and 200 meters. The other is this year’s national high school leader in the 200.
One was the top-ranked high school sprinter in the nation by Track and Field News in 1987. The other could easily be the most improved high school sprinter in the country.
One has qualified for the Olympic Trials in both the 100 and 200 meters. The other has qualified in the 200.
One is Taft’s 6-foot, 3-inch, 194-pound Quincy Watts, known as “Q” to his teammates. The other is 5-10, 167-pound Bryan Bridgewater of Washington High, also known as “Bridge.”
They will compete today in the 200 meters in the City track championships at Birmingham High in one of the most eagerly anticipated showdowns in meet history. The meet begins at 4:30 p.m. and the varsity 200 is scheduled for 6:50.
The last time the City finals warranted this much attention was in 1976 when Kevin Williams of San Fernando, the 1975 state champion, beat Billy Mullins of Hamilton and Larry Doubley of Manual Arts in the pre-metric days of the 100-yard dash. All three later competed for USC, which is where Watts will attend school in the fall.
Watts is similar to Mullins in that he is huge for a high school sprinter, a man running against boys. Though his running style is more graceful than that of Mullins, Watts displays the same power and scintillating speed at the end of a race.
Bridgewater’s style is similar to Williams’ in that he possesses a quick start. His top speed may not equal his Taft rival, but he should lead Watts coming out of the blocks.
According to Taft sprint coach Hilliard Sumner, who coached Watts and Bridgewater on the West Valley Eagles track club last summer, each sprinter possesses specific advantages over the other.
Bridgewater is healthier. The General senior has trained without interruption all season. Watts, however, missed five weeks of training because of a hamstring injury suffered April 8.
Bridgewater’s training also has been geared for the faster 100 and 200 races; Watts has concentrated on the 400 since returning from the injury.
Sumner, however, does not believe that will affect Watts adversely.
“I’ve always said if you have a 10.4 100 sprinter and work him for the 400, the 200 will take care of itself,” he said.
Watts, who has a personal best of 10.30 in the 100, said he is 98% fit. He ran a personal best of 46.67 in the 400 at the City quarterfinals and 20.67 in the 200 at last Friday’s semifinals.
“I know Bridge has gotten better,” said Watts, who ranks sixth on the all-time high school 200 list with his best of 20.50 in 1987. “But I’ve gotten much better too. I know after last week that I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, that I’m ready to run faster than I ever have in the 200.
“I could have run faster last week. I didn’t run the curve well and I eased up in the last 10 yards.”
Bridgewater ran 20.53 in the semifinals to shatter Watts’ previous City meet record of 20.69. Ironically, that might haunt him this afternoon when Watts runs in lane 4, with Bridgewater to the outside and ahead of him in lane 5 of the staggered start. Thus, Watts will have Bridgewater in his sights on the curve, meaning Bridgewater will not be able to gauge his rival until they hit the final straightaway.
“Very few people can beat Quincy when he can see you,” Sumner warned. “Very few people feel comfortable knowing he is behind you.”
The schedule of events could favor Bridgewater, who will run the anchor leg in the 400 relay and the 100 before the 200. Watts will anchor Taft’s 400 relay and then run the grueling 400 only a half-hour before the 200.
“I don’t think the challenge is to beat Bryan Bridgewater in the 200,” Watts said. “The challenge is to win the 200 after winning the 400. I’m not that concerned with beating Bridgewater or winning my third 200 title. I’m concerned with winning the 200 after the 400.
“The 200 is just going to come down to all heart. I know I’ll be tired, but once I get out there, I won’t think about that. I’ll just concentrate on winning. I don’t plan on losing.”
Watts’ supreme confidence--it borders on cockiness--is his greatest asset.
“He has all the physical tools, but the boy just hates to lose,” Sumner said. “He is not afraid of anybody and he has the unique ability to always produce his best races when it counts.”
Watts has not lost a high school invitational or championship race since his sophomore season when Ronald McCree of Madera near Fresno edged Watts for the state 100 title. Watts came back to beat McCree for the 200 title.
Last year, Watts defended his 200 title and also won the 100.
Watts has never lost to Bridgewater--a streak encompassing 15 races, according to Sumner--and defeated him in the 100 and 200 in the Pasadena Games at Occidental College in March.
Bridgewater has shown marked improvement since then, trimming his time by almost a full second. He has put behind him previous losses at the fleet feet of Watts.
“I’m a better runner now than I was last year,” said Bridgewater, who placed sixth in the state 100 final last year. “I’m a much better runner now than I was early this season. I’m much stronger. I’ve worked a lot harder.”
Bridgewater enters this clash of sprint titans with a better mental outlook than most of Watts’ opponents in that he is not intimidated by his counterpart’s reputation.
“Most sprinters are beat by Quincy before they step into the blocks,” Sumner said. “Bridgewater is not like that. He has developed a nasty mental toughness in the last few months.
“Bryan will not back down. Quincy is going to have to run to beat him.”
Watts predicts a fast time, perhaps a personal best, will be required to defeat Bridgewater.
“I think a time around 20.50 will win it,” he said. “I have to run the turn well and then really start pumping when I hit the straightaway. If I run the turn well, I should be OK.
Sumner, who will coach Watts and Bridgewater on the Win America Track and Athletics Club this summer, refused to predict a winner.
“Bridge is running very well right now,” he said. “But Quincy is still Quincy. It’s going to be a great race.”