In track and field circles, there’s nothing quite as elusive and magical as the 4-minute mile.
Or to be more specific, breaking the 4-minute barrier. The pursuit of the sub-4, as running enthusiasts say, is the proverbial carrot that dangles in front of all distance runners.
Only three runners have accomplished the feat in high school-sanctioned meets. The first was in 1965 when Jim Ryun of Wichita, Kan., blazed through four laps in 3 minutes, 58.3 seconds. The last to do so was Michael Slagowski of Meridian, Idaho, last year in 3:59.53.
The next may happen Saturday night in Sacramento.
Cooper Teare of St. Joseph High in Alameda is the nation’s top prep distance runner, a 6-foot-2 package of long limbs, an effortless, fluid stride and rolling momentum. The Oregon-bound senior is the headliner for the 37th Sacramento Meet of Champions at American River College, and he sets aim at history on a freshly laid new track in a good field. He comes in having produced a 4:00.16 at last week’s 59th Mt. SAC relays in Torrance. It was a personal best by nearly six seconds and the fourth fastest all-time nationally from a prep-only race.
Teare dropped to the track after the finish, sprawled on his back. He raised his arms into the air as if to to suggest, “So close!”
He told PrepCalTrack.com that he was inspired by the cheering crowd: “I gave it all I had coming down that last stretch. It was disappointing. I couldn’t tell if I got (sub-4) or I didn’t, but I am happy with the effort.”
Two weeks earlier Teare shattered the 41-year old meet record in the 3,200 meters at the Arcadia Invitational, clocking a nation-leading 8:41.46. It was the fastest and deepest field in prep history as nine runners broke 8:50 and 25 went under 9 minutes.
Teare was pushed in that race in a way he was not in Torrance. He will be tested on Saturday by Luis Grijalva of Armijo High in Fairfield. Grijalva’s best mile time is 4:07.98.
SMOC coordinator Jerry Colman made sure to insert an actual measured mile for this event as prep runners generally only dabble in the 1,600, which is about 9.3 meters shorter. Colman is a sucker for history and dramatic finishes.
“The four-minute mile, it’s like when the first person climbed Mount Everest – it’s just incredible,” said Bella Vista track coach Dave Unterholzner, whose school is helping coordinate the event. “It’s kind of a big deal. A really big deal.”
Harold Kuphaldt was a distance running star at Bella Vista in the early 1980s, clocking a mile-best at 4:06. He ran a 3:59 while competing at Oregon in 1987. Now the distance coach at Bella Vista, Kuphaldt has urged his runners – and all comers – to take in the SMOC mile.
“I tell people to come watch because you may see something truly special,” Kuphaldt said. “It certainly helps to have someone push you along, and Grijalva will push Cooper. The sub-4 is special for every runner. If you do it at the high school level, it’s even more rare and amazing.
“When people ask me about my running history, I’ll say I ran a sub-4, and everyone gets that: ‘Whoa!’ If I say I ran an 8:24 in the steeple, people say, ‘Is that good?’ Ask any Joe Blow on the street about a sub-4, and they’ll know. That’s what makes it so unique.”
Kuphaldt continued: “Cooper’s 3,200 race was the most amazing 2-mile I’ve ever seen. He’s incredible. What makes him great is he’s running fast without looking fast.”
If Teare goes sub-4, it’ll be the most remarkable prep track feat in Sacramento since 1979. That’s when Texas phenom Michael Carter palmed a 12-pound steel ball, spun in the shot put ring and launched it over the out-of-bound logs at Sacramento State in the Golden West Invitational. It landed at 81 feet 3.5 inches. It is still a national prep record by more than 4 feet, prompting longtime track announcer Bob Jarvis to say once that Carter’s heave was the greatest “performance in the history of athletics in Sacramento, any level.”
Added Golden West president Arnie Krogh a few yers ago: “It’s inhuman what Carter did. It was Carter vs. Isaac Newton. He defied gravity. He put the shot places where people aren’t supposed to.”
Carter won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics and a Super Bowl with the 49ers that same season. Kuphaldt saw Carter’s put at the GWI. He senses similar greatness looming Saturday.
“If Cooper Teare breaks four minutes, and if two guys do it with Grijalva, it’ll put Sacramento right back on the map with track and field,” Kuphaldt said. “I hope it happens.”
Ryun ran in the Golden West in Sacramento in 1965, a week after his sub-4 effort. He clocked a 4:04.3, a Hughes Stadium record that stood for 15 years. And this came an hour after Ryun clocked a 9:04 two mile.
Colman, the meet director, is 81 and spirited. He may do a victory lap with Teare if he goes sub-4.
“It would be the greatest thing since Michael Carter here, and if two kids do it, I might have to call it a day and retire,” Colman said with a laugh. “There’d be no way to ever top that. We’re all hoping for history.”
Sacramento Meet of Champions
Who: More than 1,000 athletes from 100 schools
Where: American River College
When: Open competition 11 a.m., invitational 5 p.m.
Boys mile: 5:45 p.m.
Tickets: $5 (under 12, free)