When Kevin King returned from the NCAA indoor track championships with a national title, students at the Georgetown campus had dispersed for spring break. So he called fiance Martha Elko to tell her of his great victory in the 3,000 meters.
She congratulated him in the manner of a typical basketball fan. "Oh," she said. "Is that good?"
Although Georgetown knows little of King, he's one of the school's most accomplished athletes.
"When the basketball team came back from the NCAAs, there was a big celebration," he said. "That's natural, they're visible and they add so much to the campus. When I came back, it was spring vacation. Other than my friends, very few people said congratulations.
"I don't take anything away from the basketball team, because I get as caught up in it as anybody else. My sport is not as visible. A lot of people know I run. Very few know I'm an NCAA champion."
One of Georgetown's best-kept secrets finally might be out. Behind King's performances in everything from the 1,500 to the steeplechase, the Hoyas finished fifth in the NCAA indoors in March and 17th in cross country last fall.
He will run his final races for Georgetown in the NCAA outdoor championships that start May 29 in Austin, Tex. The Hoyas will be seeking their third top 20 finish this season. They are currently at the IC4A championships at Penn State, where King will run in the steeplechase today.
King is a seven-time all-America -- five times in indoor and outdoor events, twice in cross country. He won his NCAA 3,000-meter title in the meet record time of 7:51.46. It was the first individual title for Georgetown since Ricardo Urbina won the 880 in 1966.
Track aficionados know King, if not for his victories, then for his dramatic running style. He glares, he raises his fists, he leaps up and down, he makes the No. 1 sign. His demeanor on the track contradicts his gaunt, nondescript features and his mild manner off the track.
"He's aggressive and fierce," Georgetown Coach Frank Gagliano said. "He thrives on the competition."
King's best events are the distances; he lacks the kick for the shorter speed races, but his tenacity makes him perfect for the longer races. A testament to his versatility is that he qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials last year in both the 1,500 and the 5,000. He hopes to get farther than the trials for 1988.
"I'm not saying that everything I'm doing is for 1988," he said. "But everything does seem to lead to that. There are a lot of intermediate steps, though. Like making the team."
Georgetown can be excused to some extent for not taking notice. Because of the number of races he has competed in over his career, he has spent much of the time with flu and colds, and was ill and tired most of last season. This is the first season he has been truly healthy since his freshman year, when he helped the Hoyas win a national championship in the distance relay medley.
"He's done so much as a team member," Gagliano said. "He sacrificed a lot of personal performances for the team. There are several individual records he could have rewritten, but he chose to be a team runner."
One thing that might have held him back until now was a lack of commitment to full time track.
"I think you'd get an argument from a lot of people if you called me disciplined," he said.
But Gagliano claims King changed after the Millrose Games last year. King wanted to run against international runners in the 5,000. He finished dead last.
"That turned his season and his career around," Gagliano said. "He wanted to run with some of the best in the world and he found out he wasn't ready. Right after he got back he came into my office. He said, 'Okay, Coach, I was embarrassed. I disgraced myself and my team. I want to train hard and I want to try to be the best.' So he worked harder, and he won a national championship."
King, a finance major, will begin working for a New Jersey bank after graduation and he and Elko plan to be married in September. Gagliano worries that King's preoccupation with work might cut into his training, but he also considers King a bona fide Olympic prospect.
"He's only scratching the surface," Gagliano said. "If he can find the time. His great running is still ahead of him."