In the world of track and field, nothing excites a crowd more than a sprint to the finish line. The instant gratification and peer acclaim that follow the athlete tagged the Fastest Human in the Neighborhood is more than enough incentive for even the slowest of runners to give the 100- and 200-meter dashes a go.
Lushia Taliaferro was no different from other aspiring tracksters in his high school. He, too, gave the blur races his best, but because of one major drawback decided his future was not in short races.
"I wasn't winning so I decided to move up and try the longer races," said Taliaferro, a 5-foot-8, 125-pound junior at H.D. Woodson. "I did much better at the distance races. I'm not where I want to be right now in terms of times, but distance races are my preference now."
Taliaferro, a semiperfectionist, may not be very pleased with his rapid development as one of the metropolitan area's top achievers at 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters, but his coach, Lionel Russell, couldn't be happier.
"Our team is made up of mostly sophomores and juniors and each of them has the talent to be a top performer in some phase of track and field. But right now, Lushia is our standout," said Russell, whose boys teams have won or been runner-up in the Interhigh League outdoor championships each of his five years as head coach at the Northeast Washington school.
"He has sensational speed for a distance runner and once he learns to be more aggressive and take charge of his races, he'll be very tough."
Taliaferro is tough now. As a sophomore, he won the league cross country title. That spring, he won the mile and placed second in the 800 at the outdoor championships.
This year, Taliaferro skipped the cross country season, citing fatigue from a heavy summer schedule. But he looked very sharp in winning both the 800 and the 1,000 meters at the Interhigh indoor championships.
Going into the outdoor season, Taliaferro hoped to better his previous best times in the 400 (49.05), 800 (1:55.7), 1,600 (4:04.0) and the mile (4:20.0).
Motivated by a big crowd at the recent Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Taliaferro ran a career-best split of 1:53.7 (sixth-fastest time of the meet) on his anchor leg of Woodson's heat-winning 4x800 relay. The Warriors' 7:51.6 was the fourth-fastest qualifying time and landed them in the 10-team Championship of America final.
"The competition was there and you know you have to run well to win," Taliaferro said. "I looked up at the clock and couldn't believe we had run that fast. Before that day, our best was 8:06 and our only competition had been Spingarn [ran 8:02.0 and didn't qualify].
"I sure didn't feel like I had run a 1:53.7. I felt I could have gone faster. At Penn, we ran for the gold. Next year, we plan to get it."
The talented 4x800 final field was a bit too quick and experienced for the Warriors, who have three juniors. Woodson ended third in 7:57.63, a good distance behind winner Clarendon of Jamaica, West Indies, (7:49.06) and Washingtonville, N.Y., (7:52.14). Taliaferro's split in the final was 1:54.0.
He and Russell agreed the Penn Relays experience can only benefit the Woodson runners and give them a goal for next year.
Until then, Taliaferro, senior Reginald Allen, junior sprinters Martin Walker, Kevin Wiley and Eric Folson, sophomore Anthony Mims and mates will concern themselves with repeating as outdoor league champions.
Taliaferro won the 800 (1:56.2), 1,600 (4:27.8) and 3,200-meter (10:10.1) races and five of his teammates either won or placed in individual events last week to give the Warriors the East Division title. Woodson's overwhelming point total of 193 makes it the team to beat in this week's championships. Russell is confident his youngsters can handle the challenge.
"These kids are versatile and good in more than one event," Russell said. "I'm hoping we have enough overall depth to carry us to another title. Right now, Lushia is down to try for the triple in addition to running on the mile relay. Hopefully, we won't need him for that relay leg."
Should the Warriors need him, Taliaferro would not hesitate to run.
"I look at myself sort of like Said Aouita of Morocco [1984 Olympic 5,000-meter champion]: he can run everything and doesn't like to lose," Taliaferro said. "He has a lot of fight in him. I'm still trying to establish my running style, but I know I will give it everything I have."