The 400 meters has been one of the most challenging sprints for Lorain County athletes.
Individually, only four county athletes have ever won gold at the state tournament in the 400, none since 1989. And just twice has a local team won either the mile or 1,600-meter relay.
That’s OK. Cory Lamar knows something about challenges.
The 2009 Firelands graduate’s high school career was hampered by injury, a right hamstring pull three years in a row keeping him from performing at his best.
Not that there weren’t bright spots. Lamar made the podium with a sixth-place finish in 49.82 as a junior, and he made state again his senior year thanks to a regional disqualification, only to finish 14th in 52.09.
Still, few would have suspected Lamar would find glory and get revenge on the 400 once he got to Ashland University.
But that’s exactly what he’s done.
A four-time All-American from Wakeman, Lamar is also a national champion after running the lead leg of the Eagles’ first-place 1,600-meter relay at the Division II indoor nationals March 9 in Birmingham, Ala.
“My college career has gone a lot better than I thought it would,” Lamar said. “I approached my college coaches from the beginning about what I needed to do in order to stay healthy.
“The injury in high school was always triggered running the 100 meters, not the 400. That’s the only time it ever happened.”
Lamar ran the lead leg in 48.0 as the Eagles went on to post a time of 3:09.38. It was not only a school record, it was also the fourth fastest time ever run at the Division II meet. Ashland defeated perennial favorite St. Augustine’s (3:10.63), winner of 11 of the last 15 1,600-meter indoor and outdoor relays combined.
Sophomore Drew Windle (47.38 split) and juniors Jacob Cook (47.10) of Lima and Keith Cleveland (46.91) of Shaker Heights, teamed with Lamar for the wire-to-wire win. A graduate of New Albany, Windle also won the 800 (1:48.75).
The performance of the Ashland men’s 1,600 relay was critical. It gave the Eagles 10 points in the meet’s final event as they passed Adams State to finish second to St. Augustine’s (72-59½).
Lamar has run fast 400s before. He had a career-best 46.94 at the 2010 Ashland University Alumni Open, an outdoor meet, for a dramatic improvement over the school-record 49.16 he ran at Firelands at the 2008 Ravenna regional. And he had a career-record 47.83 for indoor track at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) meet this winter at Grand Valley State.
The Eagles senior split 45.9 at the 2010 Division II outdoor nationals in Charlotte, N.C., for the school-record 1,600-meter relay (3:07.13), which finished third.
Not that it’s all smooth sailing for Lamar, who admits to moments of anxiety when he gets thrown into the 400-meter relay or open 60 meters indoors.
“The way you approach things in track for college is completely different from high school,” said the 6-foot, 167-pound Lamar. “It was a big culture shock. The emphasis in high school was stretching before workouts. For college, stretching after workouts is emphasized more. I’ve never been injured in college, but the threat of injury is always in the back of my mind when I race the 100.”
Still, training and better mechanics have made all the difference.
“I’m stronger and more prepared in order to race every weekend,” Lamar said. “We’ve changed my form a lot. My coaches determined I was overstriding, which was putting a lot of stress on my hamstrings. I was especially overstriding out of my blocks. I never really did a lot of block work in high school. Once I got to college we were practicing block starts two to three times a week.
“Ideally, when you come out of the blocks you only want to be stepping about two to three inches over the starting line. My first step was about four inches too far. (The change) was awkward at first, but once I got used to it then it was second nature. I don’t worry about it anymore and don’t have to think about it.”
Each of his All-American awards (top eight) have come in the 1,600 relay — three indoors and one outdoors. Lamar is also a five-time national qualifier in the open 400, three indoors and two outdoors.
Former Firelands teammate Zac Ball was also a key contributor to Ashland’s success at nationals. Despite being seeded 13th, the 2010 Firelands graduate threw a career-record 63-0 for the weight throw to finish fifth and earn All-American honors. Ashland senior Richard Quick won the event with a throw of 68-3¼.
Lamar credits Ashland assistant Dave Smalley for his rejuvenated career.
“Coach Smalley has enabled me to do things that I never thought I would be able to do,” Lamar said. “Back when I was searching for colleges, no one put their faith in me due to my injuries and offered me little to no scholarship money to attend their school. However, coach Smalley offered me a good chunk of money that actually surprised me. Late in my sophomore year in college when I had a chance to sit down and talk to coach Smalley, I asked why he offered me that much money. He told me that he knew I had what it took.
“He always told other runners that he knew under the right workouts with teammates around me to push me, I would be able to drop my time and run what I’ve run. And as cliché as it sounds, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my teammates. I’m fortunate to get to work out with two others (Cook and Cleveland) who work just as hard, and we’ve pushed each other to be where we are.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or email@example.com.