WILLIAMSBURG — Lafayette assistant track and field coach Drew Mearns recently put Derek Holdsworth through what he calls the "Sebastian Coe Series," named for the two-time gold-medal-winning Englishman whose combination of speed and endurance revolutionized middle-distance running.
Coe would've been impressed by Holdsworth, a Lafayette High senior. He began the series by running a sub-64-second 500 meters, better than the top high school time in the state for any classification.
Holdsworth followed with a sub-38-second 300, which would rank him in the top six or seven in state Group 3A at the moment. He can't remember the 150-meter time he had to finish the series, but said, "That was too fast, too."
What's noteworthy here is the versatility of a guy with sprinter's speed and the ability to compete statewide at long distances, as well as the potential to dominate 800 meters. He recently posted a 1:53.15 in the 800 — second nationally at the time — without being pushed.
"I've coached a lot of kids and a lot of state champions," Mearns said. "I've never seen any (high school middle-distance runner) with that kind of blazing short speed."
Holdsworth is one of those state champions, having won the 500 meters at the Group AA indoor track and field championships the past two years. He also has a gold as part of the Lafayette 4x800 relay in the 2012 indoor state meet.
He hopes to add to his gold medal count Friday and Saturday at the Group 3A state indoor championships at Liberty University's Tolsma Track Center in Lynchburg. He enters the meet ranked first in the 500, third in the 300 (36.40) and will contribute his nationally ranked 800 speed to the 4x800 relay.
What he really wants to do is raise the team championship trophy. Holdsworth, long-distance star Jason Menzies and hurdler Micah Canady make the Rams one of the title contenders in what is expected to be a tight three-team race involving Christiansburg and Blacksburg.
"When you win an individual state title it's like, 'Yeah, I won the race,' and you feel good for a couple of weeks," Holdsworth said. "Then you start to forget the details.
"When we beat Blacksburg for the (3A) state cross country championship this fall, after finishing second and third to them before, it meant a lot more than the individual titles. I'll always remember that I had the best friends and best teammates in the state to win that championship with me."
It's that kind of attitude that Lafayette's indoor track and field head coach Mel Jones likes most about Holdsworth.
"The kids picked him as a co-captain because he's a leader," Jones said. "That impressed me."
Oh yeah, and you read it right: Holdsworth was a key player in Lafayette's state cross country championship. Really, how many runners started their track careers at the 55, are considered 300 and 500 state-title contenders, and spent most of a season as the No. 2 runner on the state's best cross country team?
"The first day I ever ran a cross country practice, I thought I was going to die," said Holdsworth, a fixture in the Rams' top seven the past three seasons. "But I became serious about it, because I wanted to show everybody I could be good at 5 kilometers as well as the shorter races.
"I really didn't fit into any other sports, so I wanted to be the best at something in running. Now I want to be the best at everything."
His combination of speed and endurance makes it possible. When he ran the early-season 1,000 meter time of 2:29.62 — ranking him first nationally at the time — he clocked a 28-second final 200.
It's the kind of thing Seneca Lassiter did when he was running sub-1:50 800s and winning national scholastic titles in the mid-1990s for Lafayette. Holdsworth is chasing Lassiter now as much as his high school competition.
He wants to break Lassiter's 19-year-old school mark in the 800 of 1:49.40 in the spring. Then he'd like to mirror Lassiter's post-high school accomplishments, which included NCAA and U.S. national titles at 1,500 meters.
Holdsworth said he met Lassiter not long ago and is inspired that a Lafayette runner made it so big. If his terrific performance at practice in the Coe Series is an indication, Holdsworth has the work ethic to follow in Lassiter's footsteps.
"I treat practices and races the same," Holdsworth said. "If you want to get great results in a race, you've got to work hard in practice."
Lafayette's girls enter the 3A state meet with a good shot at a top-two finish. Their best hopes for individual titles come from VMI-bound hurdler Deborah Allison and 12-foot pole vaulter Kathryn Tomczak.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.Copyright © 2015, CT Now