A fun one to watch

A Fan's Notes

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

I was talking with former Clarion sports editor and former Anchorage Daily News prep writer J.R. Rardon at the 2000 state track and field meet in Palmer when East High's Kikkan Randall toed the starting line for the 800-meter dash.

Randall, who would go on to ski in the Olympics, had already won the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs at the meet. Win this 800 and her running reputation was such back then that I assumed she would and she'd pull off an impressive triple play.

J.R. was not having any of it.

"I'm not sure about Kikkan in this one," he said. "It always seems like there's someone fresh waiting to beat the winner of the 3,200 and 1,600 in the 800."

Sure enough, Wasilla's Sarah Dimmick dropped Randall and the rest of the field to win the 800 by a large margin. Randall finished fourth.

Which brings us to the drama of Ari Goldstein at this year's state track and field meet. Goldstein, the Soldotna junior and reigning state cross country champion, is scheduled to go for the endurance triple this year.

It's only been done three times at state since 1990. Homer's Beth Ladd, now the cross country coach at Nikiski, did it in 1990, Dimond's Laird Prosser did it in 1995 and West's Kris Smith did it in 2002.

The trio showed amazing resilience and foot speed in finishing off their triples and not falling to a fresh runner.

Prosser ran 1:57.30 in the 800, a time which has only been beaten once at the state meet since then. Smith ran 2:15.75, one of three times the winning time at state has been under 2:16 since 1990. Ladd's 800 was 2:19.0.

There are a string of failures that make Goldstein's task daunting, however. It's that string of failures that led J.R. to doubt Randall, who again won the 3,200 and 1,600 at state in 2001 but took a pass on entering the 800 that year.

In 1999, Colony's Eric Strabel, who is the only three-time winner of the Alaska boys state skimeister award, blew through the fields in the 3,200 and 1,600 only to place second to Dimond's Josh Young in the 800.

In 2000, Bartlett's Patrick Beattie won the 3,200 and 1,600 only to place fifth in the 800. The next year, Kodiak's Curtis Mortenson won the 3,200 and 1,600 but did not enter the 800 at state. After all, the week before at regions he had placed third in the 800 after winning the 3,200 and 1,600.

So, in light of these failures, can Goldstein do it?

She has several things going for her. Last year, she ran the 800 in 2:16.87 at state only to finish behind West's Smith and Chugiak's Morgan Ekemo. Both of those two have graduated and nobody in the state has been below 2:21 this year, yet. That means if Goldstein gets the 3,200 and 1,600, she could have some wiggle room in the ever-dangerous 800.

Goldstein also is a voracious competitor. On the Monday after the state track meet last year, she was minutes behind Carly Reimer entering the 3-mile run in the Tsalteshi Triathlon. Tossing off the residual fatigue of the state track meet, Goldstein made up those minutes on Reimer and edged her at the finish line.

The Soldotna junior also has a steely work ethic and has bought into the training program of SoHi coach Mark Devenney, the architect of three boys state cross country titles, two girls state track titles and one boys state track title at Soldotna.

I once saw her at the top of the Skyline trail, which features a 2,500-foot climb, and asked her if this was part of her training. She said that it really wasn't her training had come that morning when she lifted weights.

Goldstein also is the frequent answer to the "Who the heck would be running today?" query many in Soldotna ask while driving around in the dead of winter.

These stories are all well and good, but Randall and Strabel were no slouches when it came to training and competitive resolve. They never pulled off the triple crown.

Goldstein gets her shot today in the 3,200 and Saturday in the 1,600 and 800. It should be fun to watch.

This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. Comments and criticisms can be sent to clarion@alaska.net.

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