In short run, Christian may have niche

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

May 22, 2007

Kellie Christian seems to be on the way to becoming someone to be reckoned with on the local and perhaps national track scene in the 400 meters, posting times this outdoor season that mark her for something special.

This would all be great, if Christian, a Catonsville sophomore, actually thought running the 400 were cool.

"The 400? What do I like about it?" Christian said with a laugh last week. "I guess all I can say is that I'm good at it. I don't really like it that much."

Christian is apparently good enough to be among the favorites at the Class 3A state championships Friday and Saturday at Morgan State. Her 55.91, at the Pikesville Invitational in late March, is the best time in the area this year.

That time is even more impressive when you consider that she has really only begun to seriously run at that distance this year and that she posted the time after about 20 days of practice, after basketball season ended.

"Usually, kids don't run that fast in March," said Charles Pridden, who coaches the Comets sprinters. "And this was a new event for her. It is a new event to her."

For now, Pridden and head coach Sarah Sheetz are letting Christian dabble in the 100 and 200, distances that she likes running, to build up her speed for the 400, which is usually one lap around a track.

Not surprisingly, Christian is good at the shorter distances. She won the 100, 200 and 400 in the recent Baltimore County championships, and she finished third in the 200 at the 3A North regionals last weekend, with a 24.92, .15 of a second behind Western's Letecia Wright.

"The 100 I like because it's short and you can run one and you won't be dead for another event," said Christian, who has run for the Catonsville Cougars AAU team coached by her father, Tony, a former 110-meter hurdles All-American at Frostburg State.

"The 200 I just like because there's enough time where you can catch up and make up something. And it's not so much that you're dead."

However, in the 400 last weekend, Christian cruised to a 1.1-second win in 57.28, ahead of Mervo's Kitria Stewart.

"The talent [to run the 400] was always there," Pridden said. "She has the build and the foot speed. So we're trying to use the foot speed and endurance together, and she'll do some awesome things in the 400."

Despite her love for the shorter sprints, Pridden and Sheetz say they can tell that Christian is better suited for the 400, a race requiring a blend of the power and speed of the 100 and 200 and the endurance and stamina of the 800 and 1,600.

For one thing, Pridden said, Christian has a tendency to "come on," or pick up speed as the race goes on. That's a much better trait for a 400 runner than a 100 sprinter, who needs power and speed right out of the block.

Also, her coaches say Christian still needs to work on relaxing during races, even down to keeping her facial muscles as mellow as possible, as a tense face can affect the shoulders and arms and throw off a solid running rhythm.

"You can tell somebody who's stressing out, because immediately, they'll start doing this [clenching her face]," Sheetz said. "You don't see the cheetah doing this. You've got to be smooth."

Pridden believes big things are coming for Christian at the 400. He'd like to see her bring her time down to something on either side of the 54-second mark by year's end, with an assault on the state record of 53.22, set by Tiandra Ponteen of Eleanor Roosevelt in 2003, a possibility.

After the state meet, Christian will head for a Nike meet in North Carolina next month, followed by the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis the week after. If Christian can place in the top six in Indianapolis, she'll qualify for the junior Pan American Games in Brazil in July.

That is, assuming she can be convinced that one lap around the track isn't that long a trip.

"It's hard to tell someone that they're a 400-meter runner when they're used to running sprints," Pridden said. "It's something that they have to believe in. The field is open in terms of where she can possibly go. Maybe one day, she'll wake up and discover, `I am a 400 runner and maybe I do like the 400.' "

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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