Saturday, July 23, 2011

Juan Blanco- El Paso's best miler in 31 years.

As the 2011 High School Track Season got underway in El Paso, TX this year, I thought many times that is was now or never for Eastwood SR Juan Blanco. I had paid very close attention to Juan's progress since Coach Mike McLain pointed him out to me in one of his classes during Juan's Freshman year. He ran a pretty good 800 that year but it was his 4:30.0 as a Sophomore that made people start to notice.
Juan pushed that down to 4:26.5 his Junior year to set a school record.  As he started his SR Track Season I felt he could really push the EW Record under 4:20, a mark that is not met often in El Paso. He did that early on running 4:19.6 in AZ right behind Austin's Isaac Spencer. He also started running some great marks in the 3200 and established himself as the favorite in District 1-5a for both events.
After capturing both events at the District meet, it was an epic battle with Austin's Spencer that really thrust him into the State's elite. Spencer and Blanco battled it out with Spencer edging him by the smallest of margins, 4:16.04 to 4:16.07. To have 2 runners go that fast in a local meet was almost unheard of. The time edged Juan up the State rankings and it made a dent in the early National Rankings. But, Region 1-5a is typically a very strong distance region and there was sure to be a lot of competition from the usual Dallas area schools. 
Juan started the Regional meet with a gutty performance in the 3200 finishing third in 9:29.65 behind Craig Lutz (Marcus) and Kevyn Hoyos (Hebron). His time was good for the second best performance ever by an EW runner and made people around the Region finally notice. It was dissapointing to finish one spot out of a State berth, but served notice he would be one to deal with the next day in the 1600.
The next day could not have been scripted any better as Juan led, fell back, battled back and then gutted it out to win the Region 1 Championship and earn his ticket to Austin. Juan became the first El Paso Regional Champ in 5-A in close to a decade. He turned back Trevor Gilley of Southlake Carroll, a school who is not used to losing 1600 titles in Lubbock. (pic of Juan below, winning Region 1, courtesy of Mike McLain and Maria Barros)

This alone could have been considered one of the most succesful 1600 careers in about a decade in El Paso. It was what came next that cemented Juan as one of El Paso's all-time greats. At the State Meet in Austin, lining up against the State's (and in many cases, the Nation's ) elite, Juan raced to a 5th place finish. While that alone may seem to be a bit dissapointing it is the time that needs to be noticed. Juan blasted the second fastest 1600 in El Paso history, 4:11.48. Only Bel Air's great Sergio Oaxaca had run faster at 4:08.9 in 1980. In the 31 years that followed the closest anyone came to Oaxaca's mark were Gilbert Contreras (EPHS) at 4:11.5 and Alan Culpepper (Coronado) at 4:12.3. There were others over the years such as:
Martin Saenz (EPHS)-4:13.1 in 1981
Frank Lozano (Austin)-4:13.3 in 2001
Javier Muniz (Bel Air)-4:14.9 in 1987
Prior to 1980 the full mile was run in Texas, El Paso had State Champs several times over. The best El Paso prep performances were from:
Tony Zuniga (EPHS)-4:15.2 (worth 4:13.9 for 1600)
Ruben Dominguez (Austin)-4:17.4 (converts to 4:16.0)
In the matter of a year Juan took himself from a level of a good local runner to one of the all time greats. Many people mentioned prior here were either Olympians (Culpepper) or in the very least, NCAA All-Americans (Zuniga, Contreras). One of the all-time greats, Bowie's Javier Montes never ran sub 4:20 before representing the United States in the 1952 Olympics. Yes, in his case we must consider the era. Alan Culpepper became a 2 time Olympian, NCAA Champion and many times over a National Champion. He is one of the very few runners ever to run both a sub 4 mile as well as a sub 2:10 marathon. Oaxaca and Contreras both ran sub 4 equivalents (converted from 1500 meters) while at Auburn and Arkansas. 
Why am I getting off on this slight history kick? To establish exactly what type of company Mr. Blanco has put himself in. As an EW alumni, I watched his race live online, and couldn't have been prouder of the effort he put forth. I immediately spoke to Coach McLain after the race, letting him know where Juan now stood. I knew that as a competitor he might be a bit down after finishing 5th but his time, his time!! Since the switch to 1600 in 1980, a 4:11 would have won 17 of the 31 years. Just saying. Best of luck to you in your career at UTEP Juan.

No comments: