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Gold Medal Spectator: Kids Race Under Gaze of 1984 Olympic Champion

Joaquim Cruz, 800-meter titlist at Los Angeles, cheers first meet in winter all-comers series.

Amaree Berry, 8, won his 1600-meter run in 6 minutes, 21.5 seconds.  Andy Thacher, 49, finished his mile—about 10 yards longer—in 6:20. In between, San Dieguito Academy senior Ryan Carroll won the mile in 4:34 after missing all but eight weeks of cross country season with a broken ankle.

All ages were represented at the Cathedral Catholic High School Distance Festival under a full moon Thursday night—the first in a series of winter all-comers track meets.

But few knew the handsome man watching from the infield in a striped gray sweater with hoodie and blue jeans was the 1984 Olympic champion in the 800-meter run.

Joaquim Cruz, who won gold for Brazil in the Los Angeles Games,  is now a 49-year-old coach of paralympians at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

How did the Cathedral Catholic meet—with $3 and $5 entry fees and two dozen parents in the stands— compare with L.A. 1984?

“This is more competitive,” he said with a smile. “Did you see the last race?”

At least 70 runners from kindergarten on up had entered by the time the open mile was done and a series of 3,200-meter races were to begin in mild conditions: no wind and mid-60s temps. The last race was a culminating 5-kilometer run.

Dan Geiger, Cathedral Catholic track and cross country coach, staged and started the races, using a clap of his hands to launch the runners on the Carmel Valley campus.

Geiger said he had at least seven helpers—operating computers, posting hand-written results and timing the races—with an electric signboard showing results. Several gave out high-fives to finishers before draping medals around necks.

A quartet of seventh- and eighth-grade girls from Sante Fe Christian Middle School in Solana Beach swept the top spots in that age group’s 1,600-meters. One said she liked track because “it’s shorter, and you know how much more you have left.”

Said Paige Carter, the eighth-grade winner in 5:50.8: “We just love to get out there and run.”

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