No athlete has been more affected by Solomon Haile's transfer to the United States than Andrew Palmer. The Whitman junior would have been the cream of the crop this year. He would have won all the titles, and he would have set a few records if it wasn't for Haile always running a step ahead.
Some athletes may have approached the situation with resentment and bitterness, but Palmer has always had an optimistic approach.
"He definitely makes me a lot better," Palmer explains any time he is asked about having to race Solomon so frequently.
Palmer and Haile have raced against one another approximately fifteen times over the last school year, but after the outdoor track state championship, where Haile and Palmer took the top two spots in the 3200 and 1600 yet again, the two were still not finished with each other. The two Montgomery County athletes along with Atholton's Graham Bazell had all entered the highly selective two mile race at the Midwest Distance Gala slated for this weekend in Lisle, Illinois.
Nearly every day over the last two weeks, the three athletes have met at either Sherwood or Whitman High School to practice together. Coach Dan Reeks of Sherwood always joins them.
Reeks describes their workouts as fast-paced and speed-oriented. They are designed to get their legs moving after months of base-building. They are often on the track doing intervals of 400 meters or less, sometimes at a pace faster than 60 seconds per lap.
Last Saturday, for the first time ever, Palmer and Haile had the opportunity to work together in competition for a common goal. They joined Antonio Palmer and Wayne Bartholomew on an all-star distance medley relay to take on the all-stars of Virginia. As a group of four, the relay team won the race and broke the meet record by two seconds.
During the race, Palmer's higher level of fitness and foot speed was apparent. He finished off his 1200-meter leg with a 62 second lap for an impressive overall split of 3:08.
When Haile got the baton on the anchor leg, he may not have realized just how much speed he had developed. He opened up the 1600 meter leg with a blistering 59 second first lap. He slowed the pace in subsequent laps, but still finished with a personal record of about 4:14, a time he was happy with, although, he added that he is not really a miler.
Before and after the race, Haile and Palmer hung out like old pals. They talked and cracked jokes. There was not a hint of resentment between the two. Palmer noted that he especially enjoys observing the interaction between Solomon and Coach Reeks. Reeks is well known for his dry since of humor and his subtle zingers that leave athletes feeling silly.
This weekend's race is being touted as the showdown between the Footlocker National Champion Solomon Haile and the freshman phenomenon Lucas Verzbicas who captured the national high school indoor 5k record just hours after Solomon claimed it this winter.
Verzbicas, who is from Illinois, will no doubt be the crowd favorite, but the three boys from Maryland will be in it together.