Zellner making run for Olympics Woodlawn grad among top hurdlers

August 18, 1993|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

Nice guys don't always finish last. Just ask Dick Estes about his former pupil Torrance Zellner, considered one of the best hurdlers in the nation.

Zellner, whose fastest time ranks 12th in the world this year, was the champion in the 400-meter hurdles of the Olympic Festival on Aug. 1, but Estes says Zellner won't develop an inflated ego.

That's because Estes will always remember the 23-year-old Woodlawn graduate for an act of altruism in a 1988 4A state meet that is rare among high school athletes.

Zellner was helping the Warriors to their second straight indoor title, when he was awarded third place in the 55 hurdles behind teammates Jerry Roney and Gerald Taylor.

Meet officials ruled Zellner had edged Glen Burnie's Jerry Robinson for third, but Zellner -- dubious about their photo finish -- gave his medal to Robinson even though officials refused to reverse their decision.

"In my mind, he'll always be a winner," said Estes, who has since retired and coaches on the club level. "He didn't have to say anything, but he showed a lot of class by doing that."

Zellner -- who never won a state title -- is considered world class now, with an outside shot at reaching the 1996 Olympics.

"That's one of my goals," said Zellner, who leaves on Sunday for a two-week tour of Europe with several highly ranked hurdlers.

He trains at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"Right now, being ranked fourth in the nation, I have no doubt that I can bring that up over the next three years," Zellner said. "They'll take three guys to the Olympics, and I know I can be one of them."

His 49.49-second time in the Olympic Festival avenged an earlier

loss to NCAA champ Bryan Brunson, a Jasper, Texas, native.

"That was nothing but a payback," said Zellner, who was sixth in the NCAAs after being heavily favored over Brunson of Rice University.

"What's so amazing about that race is that he won it from lane No. 1 -- that's the hardest lane to run from," said Estes. "I thought he ran his best race of the year."

But that wasn't the best effort of the year for Zellner, a former two-year runner at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore who recently completed his eligibility at the University of Florida.

Zellner finished fourth -- in a personal best 48.97 -- at the June 18 United States Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., behind Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder Kevin Young, No. 8 Derrick Adkins and No. 11 Dave Patrick. Zellner was out-leaned by Patrick at the tape, missing a berth in this week's World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

"I just went into that race relaxed, just wanting to have a good run," said Zellner, adding that Young holds the world record (46.78) and this year's fastest time (47.37).

Later, in an early July meet in Stockholm, Sweden, Young (49.61) earned his 24th straight victory over runner-up Zellner (49.66), with Adkins taking third place.

"They broke out in front, but I just stayed calm and got Adkins down the last 100. I've watched the race on tape, and I might have won if I'd have run through the finish line," said Zellner, who was coming off a Southeastern Conference title, won in a then-personal best 49.77 despite a hamstring injury.

"I've always felt that I could run with the best," said Zellner. "Last year, I came into the season saying the only person who can beat me is myself. I'm just trying to keep the injuries minimal and keep my head up."

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