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Former Dixie star Schmidt has good Holiday

By DAVE THEALL
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

A former Dixie Hollins High School track standout returned to the area and won a recent road race. Chris Schmidt, 26, earned Times Cross Country Runner of the Year after leading the Rebels to a runner-up state finish in the early 1990s.

He won the Holiday 5K Classic at Tampa's Al Lopez Park a week ago.

Schmidt was visiting family, including twin sister Majorie Wilcox, from his home in Daphne, Ala. After high school, they went to the University of South Alabama. Schmidt stayed in the Mobile area where he teaches science at an elementary. Schmidt said he didn't know what to expect in the race but recognized a couple of ex-area rivals, including Dror Vaknin, a two-time Turkey Trot winner who is an assistant coach at the University of Tampa.

Schmidt's brother-in-law, Steve Wilcox, also was on the starting line. He is a former Boca Ceiga runner who went on to compete for Florida State in cross country and track.

A lead pack of six covered the first mile in 5 minutes, 8 seconds. At that point, Kurt Able, an All-Sunshine Conference first-team member from Wesley Chapel High, threw in a bold surge to grab the front position.

"I went with him for a half mile and still felt comfortable," Schmidt said. "He dropped off, and I took control of the race but only had a 4- or 5-second lead on the pack at 2 miles."

Schmidt said he was relaxed as he headed for the finish line and hoped, as he had predicted the night before, he'd break 16 minutes."

"I was looking for the finish-line clock, prepared to sprint in if I had to," he said, "but the clock wasn't facing the runners coming in so I never knew where I stood."

As fate would have it, Schmidt crossed in 15:59, barely making his goal but winning the race. "I was very happy to get the time I wanted without having to sprint in," he said. Able held on for third with a performance of 16:12, just behind Mark Zamek (16:09). Vaknin finished fourth (16:17) and Wilcox fifth (16:21).

Erin Kletter of Pittsburgh took the women's title in 18:59, well up on Clearwater's Kim Miles, who posted a 19:56. Following them were Mary Fisher (21:46) of Bartow, Kat Able (22:09) of Wesley Chapel and Kim Moran (22:23) of Kennesaw, Ga.

RACE NOTES: Schmidt was a national pre-teen phenom growing up in St. Petersburg and training with the Forerunners. In the Gasparilla 15K at 12, he set a single-age record, which no longer stands. Schmidt went on to run 14:40 for 3 miles in a high school cross-country meet at Chesnut Park and posted a 15:03 5K in the Saturday Night Live event in Largo. He said he performed well in college cross country but was frequently injured during track season. "Now I'm coaching a high school team and running with the boys, so that helps my running," Schmidt said. "But I'm still only doing 20-30 miles a week. My running is a low priority now after my interest in my family, my teaching position and my coaching."

HOLIDAY CLASSIC 5K: The original area Holiday 5K, the 14th annual edition of which was on Dec. 21 at Clearwater's Coachman Park, had a contestant with bigger goals. That is, nothing less than a place on next year's U.S. Olympic team that will compete in Athens. Amy Yoder Begley, the women's winner of the Say No To Drugs Holiday Classic, finished eighth (15:55) in her 5K heat in the 2000 Olympic Trials in Sacramento. She was an NCAA champion in that event and the 10K as a University of Arkansas runner. "I've considered trying for both, but my coach (and husband, Andrew) said it would be better for me to focus on just one event," said Begley, 24, a resident of Kendallville, Ind. "I lowered my PR to 32:30 on the road in Pittsburgh this fall." In the 2000 Trials, Deena Drossin won in 31:51 -- followed by Jen Rhines (31:58.34) and Libbie Hickman (31:58.68) -- to qualify for the Sydney Games.

Clearwater's Vicki Stum proved that her victory in November's Times Turkey Trot wasn't a fluke. She was the first Pinellas female finisher in the Holiday event, taking fifth in 36:50 -- a major improvement over her Thanksgiving-day performance of 37:53.

Judy Maguire, 44, of the sponsoring Dianetics Running Team was impressive in her 5K victory.

Men's winner James Carney of State College, Pa., was an NCAA Division II All-American cross-country runner at Millersville University (Pa.)

RECORDS: Drossin broke the American women's 10K road record in Stanford, Calif., in May with a 30:50. She set a world mark for the 5K with a 14:54 in the Carlsbad 5000 in California in April. Drossin heads the American qualifiers for next year's Olympic Trials marathon with a time of 2:26:53, which she compiled in Chicago in October. The women's trials are scheduled for April 4, 2004, in St. Louis. A performance of 2:48 or better is necessary to qualify. Maguire participated in the 1996 trials. Lisa Valentine and Christy Phillips of St. Petersburg qualified in 2000.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: The Blizzard Blast 5K in Tampa has moved from Saturday to Feb. 9. For information, call (813) 874-7223.

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