April 1, 2010 9:22:00 AM
Danté Oliver didn''t have to be in the "fast" heat Saturday to win two titles.
Typically, athletes enter their best times when they attend a meet and are seeded accordingly to maximize the competition.
But Saturday at the Meridian High School Invitational, the times Columbus High track and field coach Jim Hamilton submitted for Oliver didn''t register. As a result, Oliver was placed in the next-to-last heat of the 200 and the 400 meters, one shy of the "fastest" heat in each event.
Oliver didn''t let that stop him.
The senior won the 200 meters (22.54 seconds) and the 400 (49.51) to earn Most Valuable Male Athlete honors at the meet. He also ran a leg on the 4x100 and the 4x400 relays.
"I thought I would go and do well in the 400," Oliver said. "In the 200, I was hoping I could get in the top four. When they called my name (for first place in he 200), I couldn''t believe it. I was like, ''Me?'' I was shocked."
Oliver was surprised because Saturday was his first time competing in the 200 since his seventh-grade year. He has competed in legs of 4x200 relays, but not as an individual.
Oliver said the 400 is his primary event. He said he has steadily progressed in his high school career, and is now knocking on the door to break the 48-second barrier.
"He is so much stronger," Hamilton said. "A little strength gain goes a long way as fast as speed if you''re doing the right thing with it."
Hamilton said Oliver performed better than he expected because the competition was the Falcons'' first true track and field meet of the season. They had participated in several relay meets earlier in the season.
Last season, Oliver had former Starkville High standout Tavaris Tate, who is a freshman at Mississippi State, to help him set the pace. Tate finished first at the Class 5A North Half State and the Class 5A State meets in the 400.
Oliver took fourth (49.26) at the North Half State meet and fifth (50.52) at the State meet. His times were the best of a non-senior.
This season, Hamilton feels Oliver has the potential to take top honors. He feels the work Oliver has done since January in the weight room has helped him build strength and confidence.
Not only is Oliver a top performer on the track, but Hamilton also said Oliver is a teacher. He said he takes time daily at practice to help his younger teammates in their disciplines, and is like another coach on the field.
"He is my senior leadership," Hamilton said. "Danté has done everything I have wanted him to do and more. He prepares the younger athletes to know what is going on. He is my example."
Hamilton credits Oliver for balancing his schoolwork -- he is an Honor student - and his athletics. He said Oliver''s determination drives him to excel.
"He is one of the best athletes I have ever coached," Hamilton said.
Oliver said his weight training has made him feel "taller" when he is on the track. It also has given him more explosion out of the blocks.
Oliver and the rest of the Falcons will compete Saturday in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Hamilton feels that will be the next step in a progression that will help Oliver earn a chance to compete at the next level. He said the ease with which Oliver runs could find him a spot as an 800 runner in college.
Until then, Oliver will continue to train hard and to work on his starts out of the block. He feels confident he will be able to cut even more time off his finishes to run in the low 22-second range in the 200 and the 47-second range in the 400.
"I do expect a little more after the first meet," Oliver said. "I hope I can do better and get a better time."
Said Hamilton, "We want to make sure he isn''t overtaxed and we don''t want to peak too quick. We want to be close (to our time goals) by district, we want to be a little closer by regionals, and we want to have our best race at the state meet."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.