Photo and Story by Phil Grove
The 800 meters. Oliver Philogene hates the 800. He does, however, love what it does for him.
It brings a frown – or at least a pained expression – to many runners’ faces, but it’s what gets the motor runnin’ for Seneca Valley’s Oliver Philogene.
Throughout 2012, the standout long sprinter has used a tiring, taxing 800 to get him prepared for his feature event – the 400 dash.
“I love the 400,” said Philogene, who currently is No. 3 in Pennsylvania at 48.30 seconds. “I don’t like the 800 at all. For me I don’t know what it is, but I have to do something before I actually run (the 400) so (anchoring the 4x800) is sort of like a warm-up for me. “
At the Baldwin Invitational, Philogene put together a 1:56 anchor leg to lift the Raiders onto the medal stand in the 4x800 and get him ready for a dominating performance in the one-lap race later in the day. The 400 gold was a certainty in the homestretch as Philogene powered toward the line and the rest of the field struggled to hold their form.
“It’s a testament to him,” coach Gar Bercury said of Philogene using the long relay to prepare for better things later in a meet. “Being a former 400-800 guy, I can’t fathom that but he seems to feel pretty good about (working off an 800).”
Having emigrated from Haiti when he was 2, Philogene got started in track in seventh grade as a middle distance runner. Several years later, his races were shorter and faster.
“I always liked to run, and in middle school, I did the mile,” the senior said. “When I came (to high school), my coach thought I would be a great 400 runner, so ever since then we’ve just been working, working together.”
Despite Philogene’s move down in distance, Bercury still believes Philogene has a wide range not seen in many high school athletes.
“He’s one of those guys you could put him in anything from the 200 all the way up to the mile and he’d been pretty competitive,” Bercury said. “He’s a special kid. I’m really blessed to be able to work with him.”
Thus far in 2012, Philogene has put together an impressive record. He crossed the line first in the 400 at the Butler, Mars and Baldwin invites by a combined 3-plus seconds, including a meet record and MVP performance at Mars.
“My coach always said use it or lose it,” he said of his philosophy toward the 400. “Once I hit the 100-110 mark, I just use all the rest that I’ve got.”
A year ago, Philogene just missed qualifying for the Class AAA 400 final in Shippensburg, turning in the 10th-fastest time in prelims. Later, Philogene and his Raider teammates set a school record for third in the 4x400 relay.
“He’s been detail oriented, and it’s all about details particularly this time of year,” Bercury said. “The competition when you get to the WPIAL championships and obviously the state meet is on a whole different level. He knows what he’s doing.
“He’s been a national qualifier in the 4x2 and 4x4. He’s seen the best kids. He wants to be one of those kids. He wants to be one.”
Although Philogene has his eye on the prize, it has not taken away from his role as a team leader for Seneca Valley.
“He’s a great teammate,” Bercury said of Philogene, who is still considering his college options. “He (ran the 4x8) so the other kids could have some success. I think we may try to focus more on the 400 and the 4x4. We’ll see. He’s a strong kid.”
Bercury believes his standout is right on target for post-season success.
“He’s starting to peak at the right time,” he said of Philogene. “He’s done with the dual meet season. Now we can concentrate on having a special finish, which I think he can have. I really feel if he can have a good start, he’s going to be tough to beat.”