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Montgomery's Milers In Class of Their Own
By JOHN PARKER
For Montgomery County track the seventies are fast becoming the decade of the distance runner. In the past six years county teams have produced more state champion in distance events than any county in Maryland. This year should be no exception.
The county's recent dominance in the distance events begain in 1972, when Gordon Oliver of B-CC, whom coaches feel is the best from Montgomery County to date, went undefeated in his senior year and captured the state title in the mile.
His best time that year was 4:08, a phenomenal run which ranked him in the top five milers in the country. (Oliver also picked up the state cross country championship that year, and won the Penn Mile, a race which features the best runners on the East Coast.
AFTER HIGH SCHOOL Oliver went to the University of Texas at El Paso, and then transferred back to the Washington area, where he still holds the metropolitan mile record, to go to Georgetown University.
Although injuries have plagued his college track career, Oliver hasn't given up track and should begin running competitively later this year.
Only one other miler from Montgomery County is spoken of with the same reverence shown Oliver, and that's Jim Peterson of Wheaton, who is now one of Oliver's teammates at Georgetown.
Peterson still holds the state record for the mile although he never beat Oliver's 4:08 in high school. (To set a state record the time has to be clocked at a state meet, and Oliver's time was run in a county meet.)
IN 1974, PETERSON also went undefeated and went to the state meet as the top seed in the mile. To prove he wasn't over rated Peterson set the state record at 4:10, a time which has never been in jeopardy of falling.
During his senior year, Peterson was also state cross country champion, winner of the Magruder Invitational Mile, and fifth-place finisher in the Golden West Invitational track meet, a race which featured the best high school milers in the country.
After graduating Peterson went to Georgetown, where he made All-American for distance runners as a freshman. Right now in his sophomore year Peterson is the fifth-ranked American miler, and third-ranked collegian.
"At this point Jim is within the range for making qualifying for the Olympics," Georgetown track coach Joe Lang said. "He's running well enough to try for the team."
In high school Peterson is remembered by the coaches who saw him run as a competitor, and not the picture perfect runner Oliver was. "If the competition was fast, then Peterson was faster," one coach put it.
"WHEN YOU COMPARE Peterson and Oliver you have got to say both of them were great runners, but Peterson accomplished a lot of what he did by just having a great attitude and desire to run," Churchill coach Andy White remembers. "Oliver was more of a skilled runner."
Although it's hard to pick who was the best, most coaches agree that Oliver and Peterson are the two best milers to come out of Montgomery County. But who's next?
This spring will tell, according to many coaches.
The legacy of the "even year" state champions has been passed on to what many call the "free spirt" distance runner Richard Brody of Whitman.
Brody has been tuning-up for the spring season, which traditionally yields faster times, with an indoor state title in the mile and 1000-yard run, and a cross country state title. Brody's best time to date is a 4:16 mile that he ran indoors, which many think he can beat during the outdoor season. But how much time can he shave-off by the end of the spring?
ACCORDING TO MOST coaches Brody has the ability to bring his time down below Peterson's, but he will have to be pushed to do that.
Brody's strength is apparent to anyone who has ever seen him run. During the state meet this year he won the mile and 1000 with a badly sprained ankle, which his coach said was bad enough to keep him out of the race.
But physical strength alone does not make a great distance runner. Race strategy and a good attitude are also important and according to most coaches in the county, if Brody has a weakness, that's it.
According to Brody, that's wrong. "I love to run," Brody said in defense of his attitude; which many feel is lackadaisical on the track, "but running comes easy to me and people think I'm not trying as hard as I can."
BRODY DOES MAKE HIS wins look easy, and is rarely pushed hard to lower his times. "Brody hasn't even scratched the surface on what he can do," Churchill coach White said, "If Brody learns more about the strategies on how to run in different races, he could be awesome in college."
Brody's coach Sam DeBone feels Richard has learned more about the mental part of the sport.
"Whether Richard gets under 4:10 is up to him, because he has the physical ability to do it," DeBone said. "We hope he will use his experience as a runner to bring his time down. If he can put those two things together, he's going to be great."
Although Montgomery County has excelled in the "glamourous race" (the mile), other distances have produced county stars. As one coach put it, "you pick any distance you want, and put the state championship as the mark of excellence, and this county has more of them than any other county."
ONE GOOD EXAMPLE of an all-around distance runner was last year's class A distance champ, Ed Boggess of Kennedy.
Boggess, who was two years ahead in school, was the first runner in the county to "pull the triple" as coaches call it.
In his senior year (though he was only 16) Boggess won the county half mile, one mile and two mile races.
After qualifying in the three events, he went to the state meet and won the mile and two mile titles. He also won the state cross-country title for the second time in a row, and was named an All-American distance runner.
In all, Boggess set eight county records in his last year.
The list of great runners goes on and on, and the excitement they have generated and will generate in the future is hard to measure, but suffice to say that the armies of distance runners unleashes on the state have made Montgomery County a dominant figure in high school distance track.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THIS spring season, it should be exciting.
In class AA, teams will be struggling to knock off the Churchill Goliath, and the A class could be won by four or five different teams. But what could make this season an especially exciting one, which in the seventies have fallen on the even years, is Richard Brody's race against two athletes who won't even be on the track.
It could be a race between Brody and the times recorded by Peterson and Oliver.
The more distant future also promises excitement, as more athletes seem willing to dedicate themselves to the tough training necessary to make a great distance runner. Churchill, according to coach White, has 117 students sign up for his track team this year.
It makes you wonder just how many great milers and long distance runners this county will produce in the next few years. "Pick a distance, any distance."