As any serious runner knows, distance running is a physically grueling sport. But Sandy Chapman and Jeanette Kelly, both All-Met runners make it look easy.
Competing against some of the top distance runners on the East Coast, Chapman, an 18-year-old Spingarn High School junior, has won 10 meters during his two years of high-school competition. He has won the Interhigh cross-country championship both years, and runs the 800 and 1,000 meters, in addition to anchoring the mile and two-mile relays.
He chose to attend Spingarn because other members of his family (he is the son of Joes and Sandy Chapman of far Northeast Washington) had run track there, and his mother wanted him to continue the tradition.
As evidence of his determination, Chapman once ran the anchor leg of the two-mile relay and won, despite having lost a shoe during the last two laps.
He came a long way to get where he is, though. When Hubert Gates, the former hurdler who has been Spingarn's track coach for 13 years first saw Chapman perform in junior high school, he wasn't impressed: "When I made up my list of people for track, I didn't even have his name on it."
He prescribed cross-country to Chapman to get him in shape. Chapman was off and running from there.
Jeanette Kelly, a 16-year-old Dunbar High School junior, comes from a rich track background, too. The daughter of Jeannette and Ernest Kelly of Upper Northwest, Jeanette's sister Lalani was the premier female highschool distance runner in the area. Lalani set several track records at Coolidge High and the University of the District of Columbia. Kelly's sister Jackie followed Lalani and had an outstanding career of her own at Coolidge. Many observers say the Kellys revolutionized distance running for females locally.
Jeanette, or Kimmy, as she is nicknamed, started running at Paul Junior High 4 1/2 years ago. During those years, she broke all D.C. public school records for distance, including her sisters', and has dominated her specialty since.
Among her numerous records are a 2:08.3 for the half mile in 1979, a national high-school record. At 14, she was running against college students and older women -- always holding her own, and usually finishing among the top five overall and top in her age group. Running has taken her to meets in Atlanta, New York, Washington, Indiana and Nebraska. She has run nearly every distance from the 440-yard race to the 10-mile marathon. Last year, she was selected All-Met as a sophomore.
As with Chapman, a great deal of Kelly's success can be attributed to coaching. Her coach, James O'Neal, instructed Kelly at Paul Junior High, where he built one of the top junior high track programs on the East Coast. When Dunbar decided to put more emphasis on developing a quality track program, the school sought O'Neal. Kelly followed her coach to the Northwest school.
"He has given me the confidence that I needed to be successful," she said. "We work together well as a team."
Kelly said that she has worked hard to win. "But I also know that I have to continue to work harder if I am to improve even more," she said in a voice as soft as her smooth, easy running style.
Like most young people, Kelly and Chapman have role models.
Chapman says the person with whom he most identifies is Don Paige, an Olympic hopeful from Villanova. "He has a great finish," he said, "and that's what I'm trying to improve on."
Villanova, the University of Arizona and Brown University have already shown interest in Chapman.
The lean, 6-foot-2 Chapman says his goal is to break the national record for the 880-yard run this year, perhaps at the Penn Relays.
Kelly said the athlete she most admires is Frances Larrieu, the top female distance runner in America: "I enjoy watching her run because she's so scientific. I study her techniques and analyze them to see how I can benefit from them."
O'Neal said Kelly has done well because "she enjoys it so much. She is very deep for her age. She's always concentrating and she works in practice like she's in competition."
While both Kelly and Chapman say they would rather not think about the 1984 Olympic just yet, Gates says they have as good a chance as anyone.
"If they continue to stay with it and are willing to pay the price, they have a strong chance of being medalists in 1984," said Gates.
O'Neal agreed, saying, "Both are young and getting stronger all the time. By the time the trials roll around in 1984, they could be the individuals to beat."