San Pasqual’s Robert Walker never ran on Saturday afternoons before.
“Religious convictions,” he explained.
But at Saturday’s Sundevil/Coca-Cola Invitational, Walker changed all that.
He competed and he also made it known that his presence would have to be reckoned with in upcoming invitationals as well as at the state track and field meet.
In the invitational 1,600 meters, Walker did an impression of former teammate Francis O’Neill, who two years ago as a senior won the 1,600 meters at the state finals.
Like O’Neill, Walker paced himself early, hanging behind the leaders, only to come through with a devastating kick to catapult to the victory in 4:19.70.
Nothing spectacular unless one considers the mark was turned in on a dirt track softened by recent rains, the lingering effect of which was to dampen Saturday’s times.
Walker said it was no coincidence that his strategy mirrored that of O’Neill.
“Occasionally,” Walker said, “I like to watch films of him because he’s so smooth.”
Early in the race, Walker didn’t even appear to be a factor. He allowed La Jolla’s Bryan Leek, Helix’s Daniel Das Neves and Mar Vista’s Hector Hernandez to battle for the lead.
And the trio of runners did just that. Leek took the early lead, then gave way to Das Neves at the beginning of the third lap, who let Hernandez overtake him on the final turn.
When the leaders reached the final turn, it appeared as though Walker, still running in fourth, was fading.
Not really, though--it was all in Walker’s grand design.
“I didn’t want to catch them around the turn,” he said. “I knew I would lose too much energy.”
So he waited. Then as all four came out of the turn, Walker made like a sling shot and suddenly bursted into first. He beat second-place Hernandez by more than two seconds as Hernandez came in at 4:22.0.
The fact that he beat Hernandez was not lost on Walker.
“I finished two seconds behind him at the state meet last year,” Walker said.
Actually, Walker’s seventh-place time of 4:18.78 was more than four seconds slower than Hernandez’s fifth-place time of 4:14.47.
But Hernandez isn’t really the guy Walker is shooting for this time around.
“I want to go after Louie Quintana,” Walker said.
For good reason. Quintana of Arroyo Grande finished second in the state meet last year (4:08.29) and is considered the fastest returning distance runner. However, he is said to be considering dropping the 1,600 in favor of the 3,200 meters.
After winning the 110-meter high hurdles, Eric Bell of Castle Park was led to believe his time was extraordinary.
One of the meet’s hand-timers told Bell he clocked him in 13.97. Another said he had Bell at 14.05.
So when the official electronic reading came, Bell was disappointed with his 14.53, despite it being his quickest mark of the spring.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” Bell said.
Bell has a goal of running the event under 14.0--he’s just having trouble in the early part of the season, what with all the rain playing havoc with his training schedule.
“This was only my third race for the season,” Bell said. “So I think I’m doing pretty well. If I can keep winning, the time (sub-14.0) will come.”
Bell is expected to duel with Escondido’s Keith Williams in both the 110 highs and the 300 intermediates, but Saturday, Williams was unable to go in the highs because of a bruised hip.
Williams, however, made up for it in the invitational 300 intermediates. He won handily in 38.30. Bell, who said he was going for a sub-40.0 time, just missed that goal and crossed at 40.17 for second place.
Then there was Scott Hammond in the invitational 100. He too had his best showing of the season.
It was also his first race of the season.
Hammond edged a crowd at the tape in 10.79. One-tenth of a second later, three others crossed: Southwest’s Riley Washington (10.84), Pius’ Gentry Bradley (10.85) and Kearny’s Darnay Scott (10.89).
Preseason prognosticators had given the edge in the 100 to Washington, who last year as a sophomore recorded the fastest time in the state (10.52). Hammond, a junior, isn’t so sure Washington, or any of several other highly touted sprinters in the county, have an edge.
“I just put something in their minds,” Hammond said. “I’m going to be here all year long.”
Kristina Mataafa of Escondido was the only multi-victor from a San Diego school and one of only three girls from a county school to get a victory.
She won both the shot put (39-feet-11 3/4) and the discus throw (131-9). Mount Carmel’s Allison Dring won the 400 (57.60) and teammate Melanie Williams won the high jump (5-4).