When William Reed was just a 15-year-old phenom, he often got so dizzy after running the quarter mile that he would nearly collapse at the finish. Nobody could figure out what was happening to him until his father looked closely at a videotape.
"It doesn't look like you're breathing," said William Sr.
"I'm not," said William Jr.
The high school freshman had been running the quarter in an astonishing 47 seconds without taking a breath. If he had been going a little slower he probably would have passed out. Nobody had ever told him to come up for air.
Reed's father and coaches thought he was too tense, concentrating too much. To give him something else to think about during the 47 seconds, they put a Premium saltine between his thumb and forefinger and made him run intervals without breaking the cracker. They worked him through bags of increasingly fragile junk food: from Fritos corn chips to Ruffles ridged potato chips to Herr's flat-backed ones. "The Ruffles gave me the most trouble," Reed says. "Once the grooves got soggy with sweat, the chips just broke."
He's 16 now, a junior at Central High in Philadelphia, and breathes like Pavarotti warming up for La Boh�me. He has taken several breaths on the way to a whole array of schoolboy races from 60 yards to 800 meters. He's a teenage track sensation, and when he makes his big-time debut, in the 600 yards at the Millrose Games this week, onlookers will be holding their breath.
"Reed's so good some kids won't even show up to run against him," says Fred Rosenfeld, coach of Overbrook High, which had its string of 14 Philadelphia Public League outdoor titles snapped last year by Reed-led Central. "He's the best track athlete I've ever seen."
Extravagant praise is being heaped on Reed even by the more chary members of the track establishment. He has been touted by some coaches as the quarter-miler most likely to eclipse the mythic 43.86 run by Lee Evans at the 1968 Olympics, one of the two oldest world records in track and field.
"William is the best short-sprinter in the country," raves Auburn coach Mel Rosen, who will coach the U.S. men's team this summer at the World Track and Field Championships in Rome. "I've never seen anyone so young with such impressive credentials. When he's a senior, he'll be the nation's No. 1 prospect. I would have signed him last year if he wasn't a sophomore."
"I would have signed William out of eighth grade," says John Smith, UCLA's quarter-mile coach. "Even then his accomplishments were fantastic."