Palo Alto High senior Philip MacQuitty has made a career out of running well at long distances. He has become so accomplished that he earned a scholarship to UCLA for this coming fall. That's why MacQuitty's latest achievement seems out of character as the national leader in the 800 meters.
On Saturday at the St. Francis Invitational track and field meet, MacQuitty raced off the final turn and sped home to win the 800 in a sizzling 1:52.37. That makes him the fastest in the nation, overtaking Jason Coupe of Galt (1:52.47) as the best in the U.S.
"Yes, it's a bit odd because I've never really focused on the 800," said MacQuitty, who usually runs the 1,600 or 3,200 but rarely races anything shorter except maybe in a dual meet. "I've always had some natural speed and have been known to have a kick at the end of races."
MacQuitty needed that kick on Saturday as he passed Nathan Strum of Pioneer for the victory. Strum was second in 1:53.33, the No. 3 time in the nation this season. Kyle McNulty of Scotts Valley was third in 1:55.32, the No. 8 time in California.
MacQuitty's time broke the school record of 1:54.11 by Jason Rudolph, who ran that while finishing second at the 1997 Central Coast Section finals.
"The plan going into the race was trying to go out hard, hopefully at 55 seconds (which I did) and then see where I was from there. Since it was my first 800 meters, I didn't know if it would be too fast or not.
"Nathan Strum provided me a great race and really made the race fast. I couldn't have run that time if Nathan had not pushed the pace."
After displaying that kind of speed, MacQuitty hopes it will translate into success once he gets back to his specialty distance events later in the season.
"It's going to help me in my confidence and my finish," MacQuitty said. "I know what I can compete with anyone at the end of races."
MacQuitty surprisingly only holds the school record in just the 800, with the 3,200 and 1,600 still out there for breaking. The 1,600 mark is on MacQuitty's list, the record of 4:15.54 (converted) set by Jon Enscoe at the 1966 CIF State Track and Field Championships. MacQuitty's best is the 4:16.93 that he ran last season while taking second at the Golden West Invitational.
While MacQuitty's race was the highlight of the St. Francis Invitational, Gunn and Palo Alto athletes turned in other top performances, as well.
Gunn junior Erin Robinson won the girls' 3,000 in 10:35.12, which ranks her No. 2 in the state this season. Gunn senior Sunny Margerum was second in the girls' 300 hurdles in 45.82, ranking her No. 10 in California. And, sophomore Kieran Gallagher finished third in the girls' 400 in 58.30, ranking her 14th in the state and No. 2 in Gunn history.
Margerum also finished second in the long jump (17-6 1/2) and third in the 100 hurdles (15.19). The latter was just off her school record of 15.03 last season.
Gunn also got a victory in the girls' pole vault from Alison Ang (11-0) and a victory in the girls' mile from Emma Dohner (5:18.38).
For the boys' Palo Alto's Josh Newby was second in the 3,000 in 9:02.88 and teammate Tyler Nigro was second in the high jump at 6-2. Gunn's Alex Johann was fourth in the mile in 4:38.29.
Gunn will visit Los Gatos on Thursday in a SCVAL De Anza Division dual meet while Palo Alto hosts Lynbrook at the same time. The annual Stanford Invitational will be held Friday and Saturday at Cobb Track and Angell Field.