Middle distance runner Jeff Sperry will head to the state meet at Jefferson County Stadium this weekend looking for a top finish in the 800-meter run.

Photo by John F. Russell

Middle distance runner Jeff Sperry will head to the state meet at Jefferson County Stadium this weekend looking for a top finish in the 800-meter run.

Steamboat 800 runner Sperry eyes school record

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2011 Sailors track and field schedule

— To understand Steamboat Springs High School senior Jeff Sperry’s quest for a medal at the Class 4A State Track and Field Championships, it’s important to understand his mettle.

For the better part of two years, there may not have been another athlete in the area to perfect his discipline like Sperry.

It started two years ago when he went from running the 400-meter dash to the 800. He gave up soccer to focus and build a better base by running cross-country.

He spent the past winter running through the snow and devoting morning workouts to plyometrics.

Now, Sperry finds himself in what appears to be one of the more interesting races of the state championships.

Sperry’s time of 1:58.27 on Friday in Grand Junction qualified him in 10th place. Outside of the top two qualifiers — Boris Berian of Widefield ran a 1:52.77, and Nolan Mayhew of Cheyenne Mountain ran a 1:52.98 — the rest of the field is tightly packed together.

Just more than two seconds separate the fourth qualifier from the 17th.

“The rest of the field is wide open,” Steamboat distance coach Greg Long said. “There is going to be a big pack in there.”

That will work to Sperry’s advantage.

Sperry said he started to gain more confidence this year at the Broomfield Shootout in April. There, Sperry raced in a deep field and registered a 2:00.36, his personal best at the time.

But looking at his splits, it became apparent that Sperry could run faster. He logged a pair of 60-second laps, which is unusual for an 800 runner.

“It definitely was a huge confidence booster hitting two-flat,” Sperry said. “But it was funny looking at my splits.”

Sperry has been an unusual 800 runner, right in the mold of Long. Conventional thought is to go out hard and fast in the first 400 and then use whatever is left to finish.

Sperry bucks that.

He usually sticks behind the leaders and saves everything he has for the last 300, a strategy that has worked well for him this season.

The regional meet in Grand Junction was evidence of that. Sperry was the class of the meet, but two other runners went out strong, and Sperry sat back. With 300 meters left, he had caught up. With 150 to go, he was way ahead.

“You can lose the race in the first 200, but you can’t win it,” Long said. “We want him to stay in contact with the leaders but hang back a little bit.”

Come Friday, Sperry thinks he can run faster.

His goal is to hit the 1:56.00 mark. The school record in Steamboat is 1:57. He’d also like to finish in the top nine and earn a medal.

Although he has been battling blisters on his feet, he said he won’t be worried about anything but that magical 1:56.

“It’s state,” he said. “You have to go for it.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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