If all goes as planned, the vet and the rookie will face off at the PIAA State T&F Championships at the end of the month in an 800 meter war that could present one of the deepest fields ever in Pennsylvania. It could also end in a 23-year-old state record going by the wayside.
That is, if the record isn't history before Memorial Day weekend.
The vet is Central Bucks South senior Tom Mallon (left after his 1:49.1 anchor) - the anchor of the state record-setting 4x800 squad from last year, and currently the number one ranked two-lapper in the country with his 1:49.61 run under the lights on May 7th at West Chester Henderson.
The rookie is Upper Dublin senior Sam Ellison - the #2 ranked 800 meter runner in PA, and the 12th best in the U.S. His 1:52.38 was run May 1st at Plymouth Whitemarsh in a surprisingly deep 800. In only the 10th 800 of his two-lap career, the mark broke 2009 Upper Dublin grad Michael Palmisano's school record of 1:52.45.
But these two guys are far from alone in PA. In fact, US#19 is also a PA athlete - junior Luke Lefebure of West Chester Henderson who went 1:52.60 in finishing second to Mallon on May 7th. (He's also the guy who ripped the PTFCA Indoor State 800 meter title from the next-to-hot heat with a 1:53.94.)
Most impressively, not one of the top ten in PA is over 1:54.5. (click here for the top ten in PA in the 800 as of May 14th) 2010). There have been recent years where the top ten have been this deep, but not until the end-of-season District and State Championships races had been run.
So it's a special year for the boys' 800.
The rookie came to the 800 via the 400,
and to the 400, via the high jump...
You get the idea. The 800 was not on Sam Ellison's radar as a young athlete. Or even until last year.
Sam played soccer and basketball from the time he was in elementary school. Always on the slim side, he says he avoided football "because I'd snap like a twig."
His father, Roy, had been a pretty good athlete in high school. A two sport man in the fall, Sam says his dad would go from cross country practice to football. And in the winter, he would wrestle - even becoming a state champion in the sport. In the spring, he'd run track, where he was a pretty decent 800 runner, going 1:55-1:56, which until a few weeks ago - stood as the family PR. "He ran it on cinders," Sam concedes. But then quickly adds that the family PR is now solidly his.
Sam says he was given the opportunity to find his sport on his own. In fact, co-coaches Floyd Dinkins and Rich Ames have a philosophy of taking their time with athletes - never pushing them. They try to target the long sprinters to see if they can move up to the 800, but Ellison never saw himself as a runner.
When he started high school, he did not make the soccer team. And he didn't play basketball that year, either. In 10th grade, he did, and he sat on the bench all year.
So in the spring, he tried track for the first time, and even earned a varsity letter in the high jump, clearing 6'0". He was a natural athlete.
So his coaches ran him in a 400 meter time trial, and he posted a 60.6 the first time he tried the one lap.
"I had no intention of running."
In his junior year, he wanted to give basketball a shot. And his parents supported the idea.
But Ellison didn't want to ride the bench again, so he decided to give indoor track a try. By the indoor state meet, he was splitting 53 seconds on the 4x400. By outdoor, he was splitting 48.3 in the 4x400.
The Dinkins-Ames plan was coming together: As Dinkins often says, "we joke with the long sprinters that just like fine wine, you don't run an 800 before your time."
The 48.3 split kind of said it was time.
With the return of indoor in his final season, is was time for the 800.
Ellison went 2:00.73 in early January. By the Meet of Champs, he had dropped to 1:57.02.
And at the indoor championships, he thought he was ready for something good. He knew he had a fast heat, complete with the defending state champion in Tom Mallon.
The plan was to go off of Mallon, who was the meet record holder after his 1:51.79 as a junior. Mallon's plan was to go off of Abington's Kyle Moran... "who always goes out fast," as Mallon says.
Well, Moran was saving something for a later race. And before they knew it, they had been left behind by the previous heat's winner, junior Luke Lefebure, who 'stole' the indoor state title in 1:53.96. In fact, two others snuck in from the 'slow heat' and Mallon would finish 4th. Ellison would finish 17th in 1:58.37.
So the rookie is learning fast. "I have learned to run my own race."
His first breakthrough after the indoor states 'disappointment' came in the opening invitational of the outdoor season when he split 1:54.9 at the Pennsylvania Track Classic. That was a big drop.
But the stunning breakthrough came in the trials of the 4x800 at the Penn Relays Carnival in late April. In dead last place when he got the baton, he went out in 52-high to 53, and then held on by chasing for a 60-point final 400 - giving him a 1:52.9 split.
But a 1:52.9 split and a 1:52-anything-FAT are two entirely different things.
The weather was warm for the May 1st meet at Plymouth-Whitemarsh. And the field had some good runners. Ellison says he expected Plymouth-Whitemarsh senior Sam Negley to be on his shoulder to push him along... but he admits he didn't see Upper Moreland sophomore Drew Magaha in the same category. Both would PR behind Ellison that day, with Magaha in 2nd at 1:53.27, and Negley at 1:53.39.
Ellison had gone out a little more conservatively than at Penn, but his opening 54.2 was not exactly laid back. His closing
58 was a sign that in only his 10th open 800, he was learning the race very quickly. "It shocked me," Dinkins shared the Monday after the race. "But he never backs off. He has a sprinter's mentality, so he likes to go out hard."
As for Ellison, he said he was surprised that the pain was not unbearable.
Just five days later he hit the open 400 in at Wisshahickon in the Trojan Classic, and PRed in 48.95. This spring at the April 10th Upper Darby meet, Ellison went 48.97 on a cold day. The latest time puts him at PA#9.
And he's looking forward to the challenges ahead at the state meet, saying that in a race with the 800 meter title on the line that he is confident that he can "hold his own." He may also have a face-off with Altoona star Brady Gehret in the open 400.
Either way, he is racing the best PA has to offer, this, and most years.
(click here for some sample training for Sam)
The vet came back to the 800 in style via a side trip in the mile.
Make no mistake about it, Tom Mallon has the 800 speed to be a very good miler. That's exactly why he moved toward the event in ernest this past indoor season. He used a January 4:16.64 at the NY Armory to earn an invitation to the prestigious Millrose Games HS Mile. And he bettered his January PR by winning the mile at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships in March in 4:16.21. Those two marks earned him a berth in the Invitational Mile at the Penn Relays Carnival, where he ran 4:17.38.
Good times, all.
But make no mistake. Mallon's heart is still with the 800, and after a valiant attempt at getting the PA State Record in the event on May 7th at the Henderson Invitational where he went a US#1 1:49.61, he finally felt like he was "going home" to his favorite event.
A somewhat reluctant convert to the mile, Mallon says that by the Penn Relays, the event was starting to "grow on him." But he points out the differences in the strategies of the two distances and what really makes the 800 more his race from a mental aspect.
"The mile hurts more, but it's sit and kick. Now, after races at a competitive level at both the 800 and mile, I now see how to run the 800. It's not sit and kick - it's give it my all the whole race."
And it's that newfound approach and rediscovered love for the event that Mallon used in his record attempt on May 7th.
The record of 1:48.8 has been held for 23 years by current Upper Dublin girls' coach Paul Vandegrift (Archbishop Kennedy, Conshohocken). Vandegrift also holds the PIAA State record in the 1600, having run a 4:03.22 a few days before his record in the 800.
Mallon has been aiming for the record, and was focused on the Henderson meet because of the experience a year earlier when he had run 1:52.02. That had been a follow-up to his indoor state title at 1:51.79, and was a precursor to the defense of his outdoor state title in 1:52.77; along with his 1:49.1 split in anchoring his team to the PA record and US#6 all-time 7:33.48 at the state meet.
So on a cool Friday May evening, everything was in place for a record attempt. Training. Competition. And opportunity.
Mallon did not hesitate off the gun - and with the help of two Henderson athletes to push the pace - he came through the 200 in 25, and the 400 in 54.4. By the time he hit the 600 in 1:20 and the 700 in 1:34, he was close to 1:47-high, 1:48-low pace.
But the last 50 meters proved to be difficult, as lactic acid took away his turnover and cost him the precious single second he needed.
While a bit disappointed, Mallon was pleased with the effort and the time. "I showed I could still do it. I had been losing sight of all I had done in the past (in the 800)."
Mallon, who has committed to Stanford University in the fall, is hoping he can turn his renewed confidence and training into a 1:46-47 as a way to make the Cardinal DMR squad next year.
But first there is the matter of going for the record before his prep career ends.
If the weather and event scheduling cooperate, that may be Saturday, May 15th at the SOL Continental Conference on his home track. "The straight is longer and I am hoping that will help out."
The opportunities get thinner at Districts and States because the pressure is on to compete in more events for team scoring. Plus, there are the added pressure of qualifiers on the first day in all his potential events - the 4x800, 1600, 800 and 4x400. Not an optimal environment for a record.
After states, there is just the Pennsylvania Distance Festival at West Chester Henderson - an open meet with great competition in every distance, 800 and above.
As for the New Balance Nationals in mid-June in North Carolina, Mallon will have to decline this year. "Nationals is graduation day. I'm not missing that."
That means four races, and four opportunities - for the vet, and the rookie - to make some PA 800 history. And with the competition chasing PA#1 and #2, they may well have to do something special to stay at the front for the rest of the year.
(Click here for some sample training for Tom)
Sample Training: Sam Ellison
6-8 200m repeats in 25-26 sec 2 minutes rest
4-5 300m repeats in 39-41 sec 2 minutes rest
55-56 sec 400's walk a lap, 90 second if repeats
Long run is 30-45 minutes
PA Top 10 in the 800 as of May 14, 2010
US#1 1. 1:49.61 Tom Mallon PA Central Bucks South 2010 05/07/2010 5th Puma/Henderson Track & Field Invitational
US#12 2. 1:52.38 Sam Ellison PA Upper Dublin 2010 05/01/2010 16th PTFCA Colonial Classic
US#19 3. 1:52.60 Luke Lefebure PA West Chester Henderson 2011 05/07/2010 5th Puma/Henderson Track & Field Inv.
US#34 4. 1:53.27 Drew Magaha PA Upper Moreland 2012 05/01/2010 16th PTFCA Colonial Classic
US#36 5. 1:53.36 Charles Ross PA Abington 2010 05/07/2010 5th Puma/Henderson Track & Field Invitational
US#37 6. 1:53.39 Sam Negley PA Plymouth Whitemarsh 2010 05/01/2010 16th PTFCA Colonial Classic
US#40 7. 1:53.60 Dan Meuleners PA Souderton Area 2010 04/30/2010 ASD Invitational
US#46 8. 1:53.79 Kyle Moran PA Abington 2011 05/07/2010 5th Puma/Henderson Track & Field Invitational
US#58 9. 1:54.15 Kevin DiFlorio PA Hatboro Horsham 2010 04/03/2010 Council Rock Kiwanis Invitational
US#74 10. 1:54.42 Hong Cho PA Wissahickon 2011 05/06/2010 34th Trojan Track Classic