Most interested parties, especially those living on the West Coast, are still shaking their stopwatches in disbelief. Track coaches and athletes from distance-running meccas such as Eugene, Ore. and Southern California cannot fathom how three high school two-milers from the state of Indiana—Hoosiers, for Pete's sake, who slosh through ice and snow half the year—could all have broken nine minutes in the same year. But such is the case. As of May 29, anyway, when Indiana had the No. I, the No. 2 and the No. 4 high school two-milers in the nation.
A closer look, and the real shock sets in: Rudy Chapa (1), Tim Keough (2) and Carey Pinkowski (4) are not merely from the same state—they attend the same school. They wear the purple and white of Hammond High, a school in the northwestern corner of the state that has no track of its own to serve perhaps the finest set of distance runners in prep history. Previously, no high school in the country had produced even a pair of sub-nine-minute two-mile teammates in one season. For three to turn up a few lockers apart, and in Indiana, is the stuff of which dreams are made.
Or nightmares, as Hammond High opponents might say. "Do I know who they are?" cried Tom Mather of West Lafayette, Ind. before a regional meet late last month. "Everybody here knows Pinkowski, Chapa and Keough. It can't be an accident that there are three of them in one place—they must have a good coach—but we're tired of losing to them. I'm not a bad two-miler myself; I won our sectional at home. Yet I'm 50 seconds slower than these guys."
Record keepers are similarly impressed. "More than 668,000 boys competed in high school track this year," says Jack Shepard of Track & Field News, "and nearly a million times were recorded for the two-mile alone. The fact that three runners from the same high school were in the top four in May is hard to accept."
Running more than 100 miles in training each week goes a long way toward explaining how Keough, Pinkowski and Chapa can produce times as good as or better than those of the best runners from more suitable climates. Surprisingly, the thousands of hours they have spent running together have not made them close friends. They are far too competitive and too divergent in personality and background.
Pinkowski, the rich-kid star of the trio (even though he was behind the others on that two-mile list), is a senior with such regard for his own ability as a storyteller that he records zingers on tape to delight Hammond High partygoers. With his new Buick Skyhawk ready for takeoff in the school parking lot and his shoulder-length hair and scruffy beard lookin' so right under a Dave Wottletype visor ("I wore this hat before Wottle made his famous"), Pinkowski is no shrinking violet.
He is no less impressive on the track, with an 8:56.2 clocking in the two-mile and a 4:12.4 mile. On May 1, when he ran the 8:56.2, it was the second-fastest time in the nation. However, Pinkowski was used more in the mile through much of the spring, and both Chapa and Keough, pushing each other hard, bettered his two-mile time.
Chapa, a junior "from Tacoville—way, way across the tracks," has to put up with being called "the nicest boy in school" by his teachers every time he turns around. When Chapa crossed the finish line early in May with Keough at his heels, he was timed in 8:52.6. Two weeks later, in the sectionals, he did 8:51 flat—then the fastest high school time this year. (On June 7 Eric Hulst ran 8:45 and Ralph Serna 8:46 in the California State Meet at San Diego. The high school record of 8:41 was set in 1973 by Craig Virgin of Lebanon, Ill.) Chapa also has run 4:11 in the mile, 12th nationally at the time.
Keough is a late-blooming senior who gave up football because he contracted an inflammatory condition involving his knees called Osgood-Schlatter disease. He moved along solidly but unspectacularly in the two-mile for a couple of years before suddenly exploding this spring. Between April 9 and May 3 he lowered his personal best from 9:25 to 8:52.8. No one seemed more surprised than Keough.
The city of Hammond is located 25 miles southeast of Chicago in "The Region," as the area is known by its down-state detractors. Surrounded by the steel mills of Gary and East Chicago and the oil refineries of Whiting, it is the kind of place that makes it difficult for a young runner to fantasize that he is really Jim Ryun making his way across a scenic Kansas plain. In winter, when Maywood Park, their most-favored running area, is covered with snow, Pinkowski, Chapa and Keough take to city streets that overflow with automobiles. During the "spring"—a fleeting phenomenon that lasts about three days in northern Indiana—the mercury may climb to 90� or stay down around 40�.