Nor­man is ready for top com­pe­ti­tion

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - ERIC SOND­HEIMER ON HIGH SCHOOLS eric.sond­heimer@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATSond­heimer

Michael Nor­man of Vista Mur­ri­eta High is pre­pared to show the best com­pe­ti­tion in the United States what he can do at the Ar­ca­dia In­vi­ta­tional on Satur­day.

As a sopho­more last year, he fin­ished sec­ond at the CIF state cham­pi­onships in the 400 me­ters with a time of 46.94 sec­onds and sec­ond in the 200 in 20.92.

“It’s a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing with some­one so pas­sion­ate about prac­tic­ing ev­ery day,” Coach Co­ley Can­daele says of Nor­man. “He’s amaz­ing.”

Nor­man has been qui­etly gear­ing up for the big races ahead. He has the state’s fastest 200 time of 20.71, but he’s in no hurry to reach peak form in April.

“He doesn’t re­ally want me to go out early in the sea­son,” Nor­man said of his coaches’ strat­egy. “Save it for May and June when it mat­ters most.”

The wraps will be fi­nally taken off Nor­man on Satur­day when he com­petes at Ar­ca­dia High. The in­vi­ta­tional por­tion be­gins at 5:30 p.m. Nor­man will fo­cus on the 400, where he’ll re­ceive stiff com­pe­ti­tion from UCLA-bound Rai Benjamin of Mount Ver­non, N.Y. Benjamin has run the 400 in 46.19 sec­onds this year.

The Ar­ca­dia In­vi­ta­tional, with its large, vo­cal fan base and su­perb com­pe­ti­tion, al­ways seems to bring out the best in the par­tic­i­pants who sud­denly want to run their fastest times.

There will be more than 540 schools, 28 states and four na­tions rep­re­sented in the two-day meet.

“It’s the com­pe­ti­tion and the at­mos­phere,” Nor­man said. “Every­body runs faster and posts good times.”

It’s the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment to see where an in­di­vid­ual stands with a month to go be­fore league fi­nals begin. And Nor­man is the best in Cal­i­for­nia at what he does.

At 6 feet and 160 pounds, he has such schools as UCLA, USC and Florida pur­su­ing him. His ded­i­ca­tion to work hard at prac­tice serves as an ex­am­ple for oth­ers.

“At ev­ery prac­tice, I try to work out to the best of my abil­ity,” he said. “It’s a bet­ter feel­ing when you win and worked for it than if you know you were slack­ing off. You can tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween ath­letes who worked hard in prac­tice.”

It re­mains to be seen whether he’s bet­ter in the 200 or 400. He’s ca­pa­ble of un­leash­ing a dev­as­tat­ing burst of speed at ei­ther dis­tance.

“I en­joy the 200,” he said. “It’s not too short and not too long like the 400.”

The 400 can be gru­el­ing and painful. It tests the men­tal tough­ness of its com­peti­tors.

“At the 100 mark is where you have to tell your­self not to slow down,” he said. “The last 150 is when it starts to hurt. I try not to let it get to my head and stay fo­cused.”

For Ar­ca­dia, he’s look­ing for­ward to see­ing how fast he can run. “I’m shoot­ing for 46 be­cause there’s great com­pe­ti­tion,” he said.

In many ways, it’s a pre­view for the June state cham­pi­onships.

For track and field fans, it’s a chance to ad­mire top high school ath­letes go­ing against the best. And Nor­man has plenty of ad­mir­ers.

“He’s some­thing else,” Sher­man Oaks Notre Dame Coach Joe McNab said. “He’s an amaz­ing tal­ent. He’s fun to watch. He’s so smooth. He look like he’s run­ning ef­fort­lessly.”

Glenn Koenig Los An­ge­les Times

MICHAEL NOR­MAN of Vista Mur­ri­eta High has the fastest time in Cal­i­for­nia in the 200 me­ters this sea­son at 20.71 sec­onds. He will fo­cus on the 400 at Ar­ca­dia.

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