Doug Speck, director of the prestigious Arcadia Invitational, is regarded as one of the nation’s foremost high school track and field authorities.
But even Speck considered Todd Lewis of Burbank High no more than a dark-horse in the 800 meters at the Pasadena Games at Occidental College on Saturday night.
With Eric Smith of Redlands, Morgan Bateman of Crescenta Valley and Troy Collins of Hemet--all highly regarded 800 runners--entered in the race, Lewis--a 1,600 specialist--was supposed to be part of the supporting cast.
Nevertheless, it was Lewis who swooped past Bateman, eighth in last year’s state championships, Smith (fifth in the state final) and Jason Jenkins of Eisenhower in the last 150 meters to win in 1 minute, 55.37 seconds.
Lewis’ time was short of his personal best of 1:55.2, but it was particularly impressive because he ran negative splits. That is, his second 400 (56.3) was faster than his first (59.0).
“He beat a very good field and he was very impressive doing it,” Speck said. “When he made his move with 200 meters to go, he did it with authority.”
Despite the win, Lewis will not concentrate on the 800 this season. He said he is running it now to improve his speed for the 1,600 later in the season.
“That’s my event,” Lewis said of the 1,600. “That’s what I’m best suited for.”
Lewis ran 4:14.5 in the 1,600 and placed second in the Southern Section 3-A Division championships last May. In November, he won the 3-A cross-country title at Mt. San Antonio College and placed sixth in the state Division I championships in Fresno.
Those performances bolstered Lewis’ confidence.
“Cross-country really helped,” Lewis said. “It showed me that I was capable of racing with the best runners in the state. It gave me a lot of confidence heading into track.”
Dave Kemp, Burbank’s distance-running coach, said Lewis’ lack of confidence was his only shortcoming in the past.
“He’s a great competitor who has a lot of talent and works very hard,” said Kemp, 50. “But I’ve always had to convince Todd that he’s really something special. Until recently, I don’t think he really believed me. Whenever I would tell him what I thought he was capable of running, he always said, ‘You really think so?’ ”
Lewis maintains that his only goals are to run as fast and finish as high as possible in the state championships this season. Kemp, however, is very specific about his protege’s capabilities.
“I think he can run under 4:10 in the mile,” Kemp said. “He ran 4:14 in the 1,600 last season and he’s head and shoulders above that this year. I think he’ll make some big gains this season.”
Kemp added that John Musich’s school record of 4:08.9 in the mile--set at the 1974 Arcadia Invitational--could fall.
Lewis’ first big test in the 1,600 will come at the Arcadia Invitational on April 8, when he is scheduled to meet Coley Candaele of Carpinteria (third in last year’s state meet, best of 4:11.04) and Francis O’Neill of Escondido San Pasqual (fourth in the state meet, 4:13.83).
“That race will show me what kind of shape I’m really in,” Lewis said. “These 800s have been fine, but I’m still not sure what kind of mile shape I’m in.”
After his 800 victory at Occidental, a 1,600 win at Arcadia won’t surprise many people, especially Speck.