Indoor Track

Holston Measures Himself Against the Nation's Best

Lee senior Sean Holston
Lee senior Sean Holston "is unbelievable, with a couple of exclamation marks afterward," one opposing coach said. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Carl Little
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 1, 2007

During football season, senior Sean Holston of Lee High School often would become annoyed when he took the field as a wide receiver: He thought defenses paid him too much attention, always marking his position before the snap.

"Every time I get on the field it's 'Watch Holston, watch Holston,' " he said.

At area indoor track and field meets this winter, plenty of people are again uttering, "Watch Holston."

One recent example: the Montgomery Invitational on Jan. 13. As last season's indoor All-Met athlete of the year took the center lane for the 400-meter dash, anticipation filled the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.

But when Holston rounded the final turn, the crowd's quiet pulse of excitement turned to a full-throated roar as Holston blazed to a win in a meet record 47.9 seconds.

This time, the 5-foot-9 rocket had a different reaction to being the center of attention.

"That was probably the best part of it," said a beaming Holston. "To have people clap for me like that, it made me feel kind of special."

Holston outdid himself at last weekend's Virginia Tech Invitational, where he won the 300 in a personal-best 33.68 seconds. That mark is the fastest in the nation this season, and the ninth-fastest in history among prep athletes. Holston enters the championship portion of the season when the Patriot District meet begins Wednesday.

His performance at the Montgomery meet marked the third straight week that Holston had run the fastest time in the country among prep athletes, and all three marks were set at the Landover complex. His time in the 400 was eclipsed later in the day by two runners at a meet in Arkansas, but his accomplishment in the 500 still stands.

Before Holston became the area's top sprinter last winter, winning the AAA title in the 300 two weeks after breaking meet records in the 55 and 300 at the Northern Region championships, he had limited range and confidence. He flourished in the shorter sprints but on natural ability alone. Holston wanted to remain in his comfort zone. Recognizing his potential, his coaches wanted to challenge him.

"It's been a process," Lee Coach Gary Powell said. "I knew he was talented, but I didn't want to scare him away initially, so I allowed him to do the short events. I told him each year I'm going to take him a little further. We got him to the 500 and that's where we wanted to get him. I think he believes he could do the whole range of the sprints now."

Holston has not been tested in any area meets this season, and to draw a suitable comparison you would have to go back to former Centreville standout Rickey Harris, who recorded the nation's top times in the 400 meters, 400 hurdles and 110 hurdles as a senior in 2000 before going on to star at Florida. Another of the state's greats was Kecoughtan's Anthony Wheeler, who finished his career at Clemson in 1997 as an eight-time all-American.

Holston might even be on the level of Lashawn Merritt of Wilson (Portsmouth, Va.), a 2003 high school state champion in the 100, 200 and 400 who went on to become world ranked at East Carolina before turning pro. Merritt is ranked fifth all-time in the 300 (33.51) and is the only Virginian to clock a faster time in the event than Holston, according to the respected Web site http://.

Holston "is unbelievable, with a couple of exclamation marks afterward," said Lake Braddock Coach Mike Mangan, now in his 21st season coaching in the Northern Region. "We've had some great sprinters in Virginia, and he's proving he might be best among those guys. I'd have to say he's on the short list of all-time greatest, and that's before the championship part of the season" starts.

Despite leaving numerous runners in his wake en route to district, region and state titles, Holston admits to a fear of failure. That fear produces butterflies in his stomach before every race. But from the time the gun fires to when he pushes his chest through the finish line, he said, he almost transports to another world.

"For those 33, 34 seconds, I'm free," said Holston of the 300. "Because, before the race, all you can think about is how nervous you are. You get that little stomach feeling and I just want to hurry and get it over with. But when I hear that gun I just go. I try to clear my mind and just focus on my relaxation."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company