"There was a time in the U.S. when kids said, 'Why bother going to [international] meets? I'm just going to get my butt kicked,' " says Vin Lananna, Stanford's track and cross-country coach. "I think that's passed. I see some very bright lights out there, and they aren't afraid to run against anybody."
A year ago Jennings and Riley promised that one of them would become the first schoolboy in 31 years to run a sub-four-minute mile. Neither made it, but both have persevered and had terrific freshman seasons. Riley was 23rd (and the top American-born freshman) in the NCAA crosscountry meet, helping Stanford win the team title. He has run 13:56 for 5,000 meters and 9:03 for the steeplechase. Jennings has run 13:57 for 5,000 and 1:47.98 for 800, and in April got his sub-four, finishing third in 3:59.32.
Jennings has the blind passion of a top distance runner. Last summer, while attending a running camp and cranking out heavy mileage every morning, he entered the mile in an evening all-comers' meet and nearly broke four minutes. He then entered the triple jump—for fun. He begged Lananna to let him run in the Prefontaine, despite knowing that he needed to rest for this weekend's NCAA meet. "I didn't even ask what he wanted to do at Pre," says Lananna. "Probably pole-vault." ( Jennings took his coach's advice and rested instead.)
This spirit is perhaps to be expected from a kid raised in a house without indoor plumbing or electricity in the northern California village of Forks of Salmon. Jennings's folks taught in a one-room schoolhouse, and, yes, he ran to school. If that's not qualification enough, his birthday is Jan. 25, same as Steve Prefontaine's.