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Blue Jacket isn't a secret anymore

After a slow start, Admiral Farragut sophomore John Biffar has become a star.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


The whispers have started. In Internet chat rooms and discussion zones, the cross country community is wondering the same thing.

Has John Biffar made a connection with the ghost of Steve Prefontaine?

Like the subject of his favorite movie, Prefontaine, about the legendary distance runner from the 1970s who died in a car crash, Biffar has been running like a man possessed.

In the past few weeks, Biffar, a sophomore at Admiral Farragut, has transformed from a good area runner into a star. In a sport where, at high levels, an improvement of a few seconds every few weeks is considered good, Biffar recently has been hacking off huge wads of time.

Let us in, John. What's the secret?

"There is no secret," said Biffar, who just smiles at all of the attention his sudden success has brought -- and at the notion there's a "secret" to it. "I knew I was training good.

"I just had to get relaxed and just say, "I can do it."'

Biffar, whose 15-minute, 20-second performance Oct. 12 at the Largo Invitational easily is the county's best time, has gone from racing well behind local standouts, such as Kevin Lyons of Clearwater Central Catholic and Mike Craig of St. Petersburg Catholic, to leaving them in the dust.

At the Largo meet, Biffar's breathtaking 4:50 second mile busted everyone but Largo senior Dan Bauer, and Biffar's 5:20 final mile left the Packer star 16 seconds behind. How much has he improved? On Sept. 7, Biffar ran the same course in 16:51, finishing well behind Craig and Lyons. He dropped 91 seconds in 35 days and, as a result, has leapt to No. 4 in the www.coachnet.net Class A state rankings.

"I was disappointed in the way I ran early in the season," said Biffar, who was 71st at the Class A state meet as a freshman in 17:57 and ran a 16:50 5K this summer. "It was a matter of gaining confidence."

Confidence, Biffar and AFA coach Phil Barnhill agree, is the primary reason for his rapid ascension.

Biffar has had the talent, and, since he began running in fourth grade in his hometown of Fort Myers, has been logging the miles for several years.

However, it wasn't until a strong showing at Florida International University on Sept. 30, where he finished the 5K open race in 16:39, good for sixth in a field of more than 300, that Biffar suddenly believed in himself.

In two races since, Biffar, who trains 40 to 50 miles a week, saw his time plummet to 15:47 (Oct. 5 at Crescent Lake Park) and then 15:20.

"After the (UF meet), I just got it into my head that I can hang with anybody," Biffar said.

"Confidence is very important in a runner, and he is very confident right now," said Barnhill, a 1983 AFA graduate who has been the Blue Jackets' coach since 1987. "He will be hard to beat."

Biffar has two goals for this season: break the school record of 15:18 set by 1994 state champion Luis Delfin and challenge Berkeley Prep junior Rolf Steier, the defending state champion. Biffar and Steier should race three times, at the district, region and state meets.

A month ago, Biffar's objectives would have seemed laughable. Now, well, Steier better be looking over his shoulder.

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