If Oakton High School senior Jim Hill continues running the way he has recently, he may have to reconsider his opinion of himself as a plodder.
"I never thought of myself having that much speed," Hill maintained. "So I usually ran the longest events offered. Now it turns out I have a little more speed than I first anticipated."
Hill considers his speciality the two-mile, which is the longest a high-schooler can run, except for cross country. So all he has done this season is clock the nation's fifth-best high school mile (4:11.4).
In addition, Hill competed in his second 1,500-meter event over the weekend and registered the second-best high-school time (3:49.7) of the year in the Potomac Valley AAU meet at the University of Maryland.
"I didn't have to worry about the pace in the 1,500," said Hill, who admits he runs faster playing catchup than in front of the pack. "(John) Gregorek (of Georgetown University) was entered (and eventually won). The race was a senior event and I placed fourth."
Hill's time was 1-10th of a second off the year's best, although far above Jim Ryun's high school mark of 3:39.
The 5-foot-11, 130-pound Hill has twice been clocked in a national third-best time of 8:56 for the two-mile.
Other trophies, in what has become a formidable collection since Hill took up distance running as a freshman, include five Virginia AAA state titles: three outdoor two-miles, an indoor two-mile and a cross country first. He actually prefers cross country to running on an oval track.
"Track is more elitist, more of an individual thing," said Hill, a relaxed sort who answers questions quickly and easily. "In cross country, there is the sense of a group effort - you're running with the team concept in mind."
Hill will run both cross country and track next year for the University of Oregon, which won out over 100 other colleges in the quest for his talents. Hill, who carries a 3.2 average, will major in business.
Hill has narrowed his choices to track powers Auburn and Oregon and chose the latter because he considered it the top distance-running college in the country.
Martin Smith, Oakton track coach, said that Hill's time in the 1,500 was equivalent to a 4:06 mile. The senior's mile times have dropped from a freshman-year 4:40, and he should eventually challenge the four-minute mark since a distane runner normally peaks in his early 20s.
But Smith, who said of Hill, "You cannot ask for a finer person to coach," prefers to limit his star to one race per meet in his final high-school year - the two-mile. Hill's next goal in the event is 8:50. He may eventually move up to the 10,000 meters.
Although a brother, sister and uncle all ran track, Hill had some difficulty persuading his father that running should share time with working during the summer and hitting the books during the school year.
"For awhile, it was a iffy," Hill said. "That lasted until last year. Over the summer, I said I wasn't working, just training for the cross country season.
"After the year I had, I think he began to see it my way. CAPTION: Picture, Oakton's Jim Hill is on the run toward college-power Oregon. By Tom Allen - The Washington Post