Chad Zallow, the Hollywood kid, had to share the marquee this time.
Fresh off a record-setting performance in the land of movie stars, the Warren John F. Kennedy senior and No. 1-ranked high hurdler in the country lived up to the hype in his specialty at Saturday’s 83rd Mehock Relays.
That just made the hometown kid more determined to make sure Zallow didn’t run off with all the accolades.
After finishing third to Zallow in the 110-meter high hurdles, Madison senior Frank Douglas ran stride-for-stride with his decorated opponent in the 300 intermediates. When Zallow stumbled after going over the final hurdle, that clinched the title for Douglas.
His winning time was 38.22. Zallow, who owns three Division III state titles in the hurdles — two in the 110s and one in the 300s — was clocked in 38.46.
“He’s very powerful in the homestretch (of the 300s), but I know about managing my body better now,” Douglas said. “I liked being in lane 5, with him in lane 4, because I always kept him in my sights. He’s a great athlete, with great focus. He reminds me of myself.”
Zallow rode a huge wave of momentum into the Mehock. Last week in southern California, he won the highs at the Arcadia Invitational in a meet record 13.5 seconds, smoking the field by turning the fastest time in the nation. He also won the 300s in 37.06.
Anybody except Douglas might have been intimidated. They share too much of a history for Douglas to be blinded by Zallow’s brilliance.
Competitors going back to middle school, Douglas was a high hurdles state champ back then. He and Zallow both broke the state record in the 200 intermediates in the same race, but Douglas finished first.
“We met all the time in middle school, and I’ve beaten him, and now he’s the leader in the nation,” Douglas said. “I told him I’ll root him on. We don’t get to train as much as they do in California, but we’ve got some hurdlers here in Ohio.”
Douglas competes in Division I, so Saturday was the only time he and Zallow will meet this spring. Douglas finished eighth and fifth, respectively, in the 110s and 300s at last year’s state meet. This might be his year since most of his competitors in both races have graduated.
“We’re not there yet,” he said when asked if beating Zallow for Mehock gold was the biggest win of his career. “The biggest win was my freshman year, winning districts at 39.32. This is up there, for this early in the season, and from the made improvement from last year (38.81, good for second at Mehock). This is up there … top three.”
Zallow’s life changed last week when he vaulted to the top of the national rankings.
“There’s a lot of extra pressure; everyone wants to see you run top times,” he said. “I have a target on my back now.”
He didn’t use that as an excuse for losing to his old rival.
“I stumbled a little bit over that last hurdle; it wasn’t the cleanest race,” Zallow said. “I expected (the challenge). It’s still early in the season; I have to work on my steps.”
Zallow’s 13.68 in the 110 highs was just .8 off the Mehock mark set by Detroit Central’s Tom Wilcher in 1981. It remains the fourth oldest record on the books.
“It seemed like the record was do-able,” Zallow said, “but I’m still satisfied with running 13.68 this early in the season.”
Maybe the biggest winner was Mansfield native Jeff Jenkins. He is Zallow’s hurdles coach at Warren JFK and also an advisor to Douglas, who plans to make trips to Jenkins’ Hurdlers Haven club in Bedford for more hands-on instruction.
“It’s win-win for me,” said Jenkins, whose club has boasted 12 state champions in the last five years. “(The 300s) was a great race, man. Chad needed that; he doesn’t like the 300s. Now he’ll go back and work on it. They’re two great kids and hopefully they’ll continue to grow.”
Jenkins won the 120-yard high hurdles and 180-yard low hurdles for Madison in the 1975 state meet. He believes that Douglas, being courted by Akron and Eastern Michigan, can pull off a similar sweep in Division I this spring. But he doesn’t really have a hurdles coach at Madison to take him under his wing.
“We’ve got to do some drills to win the shorter (race), but he’s got the leg speed to win that, too,” Jenkins said. “His trail leg hits the hurdles, but technique work can help with that. Repeating the same drill over and over will help with muscle memory.”
When a second gun went off at the start of the 300s race, a hush fell over the crowd. Immediately there were flashbacks to 1990 when Dayton Dunbar’s Chris Nelloms was disqualified for a false start in the 200 dash, ruining his bid to become the only four-time winner of a Mehock event.
This time no one was disqualified. A starting block had slipped, so the gun went off for a re-start. Still, it’s easy to see how the second “bang” could jangle nerves, especially for runners like Zallow and Douglas with high aspirations.
“Me and Chad looked at each other like ‘What’s going on?'” Douglas said. “It gets you a little jumpy, but to me it wasn’t that bad. I just had to go back to doing what I do.”