John Gregorek began running as a high school sophomore when he realized he was too small to compete in football or basketball. "I started mainly to stay in shape for baseball, but I loved it," he said. "And I became more serious about running."
So serious, he developed enough versatility to successfully compete in every event from 800 to 10,000 meters. Now a senior at Georgetown, he has set almost all of the Hoyas' middle-distance indoor records, and Coach Joe Lang calls him the most versatile runner he's ever seen.
"With John on your team, no matter what the event, you're not just filling a lane on the track. You've got a potential winner," he said.
At the NCAA championships starting today in Pontiac, Mich., the 1980 Olympian will finish the indoor portion of his collegiate career by anchoring the distance-medley relay team. His goal is a performance that will put the relay team into the top five in the country.
"All year, I've put the pressure on by telling myself each race is my last time in that event. I expect a lot," he said. "This is my last chance to make my mark."
He's done a bit of that lately. Gregorek, whose favorite event is the outdoor 3,000-meter steeplechase, ran the anchor leg of the two-mile relay in the Millrose Games and broke a 19-year-old school record with a time of 7:26.40. A day later, at the Boston University Invitational, he broke his own Georgetown mile record with a 3:57.36 that qualified him for the NCAAs. He will not run the mile in Pontiac because he and Lang want him to be fresh for the relay.
At the Big East indoor meet Feb. 27-28, Gregorek's distance-medley team set a meet record, and he had a personal best of 2:22.7 in the 1,000 meters. In seven events this season, Gregorek has run well enough to be among the IC4A's top 10 performers in each race.
"In the beginning of each season, I look at what I'll be running, and work backwards to be able to peak at the right point," he said. "This year, because it was my senior season, I thought it would be my best one."
Despite his indoor accomplishments, Gregorek says he had hoped to do better. He blames a foot injury at the end of the cross-country season for slowing him down.
After the Big East cross-country championships in Boston, where Gregorek beat Providence's Brendan Quinn, he injured a metatarsal bone in his right foot when he worked out hard on a wet track. "The season went downhill from there on," said Gregorek, slightly overstating his case. "I've tried to make up for it by running doubles (3,000 meters and distance-medley relays) throughout the indoor season."
But Gregorek missed no meets in spite of the injury, "thanks to the nonrunning part of training. When you're hurt, you can swim, and get back much quicker."
Lang says Gregorek's attention to such off-track work has contributed to his all-around success as a runner. "The biggest change in John is in his maturity as a competitor. As a youngster fresh out of high school, he was only concerned about how fast he ran. Now it's how well he's doing, which is why he's gotten so good so fast," he said.
Gregorek agrees. "This (training) is much more disciplined than high school, where you just went out to run, with no order behind the whole thing," he said. "The hardest thing for me to learn is that there's a time to rest, as well as a time to work hard. Even now, it's tough for me to relax before a big meet."
An economics major who may attend graduate school, Gregorek, who is 21, ran the mile and 3,000-meter steeplechase--his favorite event--at St. Anthony's high school in Smithtown, N.Y. Although he was the first runner in what he calls a "basically football-basketball-baseball family," his younger brother Jim, a Georgetown freshman, is now a budding cross-country rival.
Gregorek makes no secret of his next goal: the Olympics, both 1984 and '88. "The last time, I wasn't supposed to make it, at least on paper, because of my times," he said. However, he recorded a personal best in every race in the trials.
Even so, Gregorek was not bitterly disappointed when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics. "I felt sorry for the older guys. For a few of them, it was their only chance. I was lucky just to make the team, and I'll have another opportunity," he said.
"I've worked with John in setting long-term goals," Lang said. "We've spent hours on proper attitude and perspective, which can only be maintained if you keep sight of what you want to accomplish. And John knows, too, that no one can be 100 percent super-prepared every time you compete. Each day cannot be perfect."
If perfect is out, then Gregorek, who consults physicians and chiropractors regularly "because that's what it comes down to for runners, knowing what their bodies are all about," may have to settle for something else. "I'm probably running better than ever now," he said. "If anything, with luck I'll become even better than that."