PHILADELPHIA – A rare matchup of reigning champions resulted in an extraordinary accomplishment Friday at the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States.
Andrew Hunter, a junior from Loudoun Valley High (Purcellville, Va.), became just the second male high school athlete in the history of the Penn Relays to win both the 3,000-meter and mile titles at Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania. Two-time IAAF World medalist and U.S. champion Matthew Centrowitz first accomplished the feat in 2006 and ’07.
“It was an incredible experience,” Hunter said, “and the crowd was awesome. I could hear them. And so it’s definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
His mile time of 4:07:15 was more than three seconds faster than his previous personal best and nearly 2½ seconds better than second-place Mike Brannigan of Northport (N.Y.) High in New York, who finished in 4:09.61. Diego Zarate of Northwest High (Germantown, Md.) placed third in 4:09.69.
Hunter’s mile is the second-fastest in the country this season, trailing only Austin Tamagno of Brea Olinda (Calif.), who ran a 4:06.26 last month. Hunter won the 3K race here last year in 8:16.31, setting a national sophomore class record.
Luke Gavigan of Tappan Zee High (Orangeburg, N.Y.), who won the mile here a year ago but has struggled this season, finished Friday’s race in 4:23.35, ranking 14th out of 16 competitors. His best time this season had been 4:17.25.
After a quick initial lap, Hunter grew nervous when the pace slowed.
“We slammed on the brakes, so that kind of scared me a little bit and gave an advantage to the kickers of the field,” he said. “But then the third lap was really hard, and because of the slow pace early on I knew I was going to kick from 300 (meters) out, because I felt really good, so with 300 to go I just took off and I just kept surging until the end, pumping my arms really fast.
Gavigan approached Hunter after the race.
“I just went over and congratulated him and told him to enjoy the moment,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Hunter has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success between Penn Relays victories. He won the New Balance Indoor Nationals and the Foot Locker South Regional titles. He placed fourth at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. And he also won a second consecutive Virginia Group AAA state cross country crown, joining both of his parents as multi-time state champs.
Marc and Joan Hunter ran in Ohio and Virginia, respectively, in high school before continuing their careers in college. He competed for Cleveland State, placing fourth at the 1977 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, and qualified for the 1980 Olympic Trials in the 5K and 10K. She ran for the University of Virginia. His parents are now both track coaches.
Now they get to see their son excel in the sport they both love.
“I really still wake up some days just kind of pinching myself,” Joan said, “because we never really thought he would take to running. He didn’t like it when he was younger. He was always surrounded by it, and he always chose to do other sports. We were surprised in ninth grade when he decided he really wanted to try cross country, and then he just fell in love with it. And we were like, ‘Can we believe this? We can’t.’ It’s kind of strange, really.”
Andrew has yet to choose a college, but does have a short list of schools he’s considering, which he keeps to himself.
But with another year of high school, where does he go from here?
What’s the next goal?
“Keep running fast, keep improving,” he said. “That’s what my whole running career has been about is just every year getting a little bit better, and I just want to keep that going. Keep dropping time, keep placing higher at big races. The sky is the limit. I just want to keep firing away.”