Born to Run
If you were to retrace Elliott Jantzer's steps to find out what makes him tick, what makes him a dominant, indefatigable warrior in running circles, you'd realize quickly the time line is much like the runner.
It doesn't stop.
Go back to early last spring, the Phoenix Phlash's junior year, when jaws hit the track as the distance sensation turned sprinter and sped to a 50-second time in the 400 meters.
Or, to his sophomore year, when, after completing a sweep of the 3,000 and 1,500 at the Class 4A state meet, he felt for the first time like there wasn't a drop of fuel left in his tank.
Or, to the fourth and fifth grade, when he was inserted into the junior high class to gain valuable points in the Stage Coach Run.
Or, further back, when his parents, Jason and Ellen Jantzer, stopped on family trips to get gas and had their kids run around the station several times to burn energy.
Jason Jantzer laughs and says his wife thinks he's crazy, but he could see a runner evolving when Elliott was no more than 3 or 4.
"As long as he was able to walk, he ran," says the dad, himself a longtime runner, if not particularly gifted. "When we went to the mall, he was always three stores down. We'd say, 'Elliott, come back.' Other parents probably would have put a leash on him."
At home, the youngster would wake up and run to the bathroom, then run back to his room. His dad told him to "slow down. You can walk. It won't hurt anything."
As we now know, Elliott didn't listen.
"For him, a lot of it was the way he was born," says Jason. "God made him that way."
There's far more to the makeup of Elliott Jantzer than his ability to dismantle and demoralize opposing runners with an uncommon blend of fitness and fortitude.
His faith is strong, to the point he goes on church service missions and teaches Sunday School. He maintains nearly a 3.7 grade-point average despite taking advanced placement and honors classes that have already earned him about 50 college credits. And if Phoenix coach Hans Voskes is ever running late to practice, he calls Jantzer and asks him to take charge.
"This," says Voskes, a dean at Talent Middle School who has known Jantzer since the sixth grade, "is a kid who is a huge value to Phoenix, and not only in track. He represents Phoenix High School in the best way. You can't find them any better."
Yet, it is his ability to run fast and run far for which so much story and headline ink has been devoted. And that isn't likely to change as he closes out his prep career Friday and Saturday at the Class 4A state championships at Hayward Field in Eugene.
On the track where he'll compete in college as a recruit of the storied University of Oregon program, he will attempt to continue the trend he began that sophomore spring of winning all distance races of consequence.
He has six individual state championships and 10 Skyline Conference titles in his Phoenix cross country and track career. He also anchored the Pirates' winning 4x400 relay at the district meet last week.
Those numbers might be even greater if Oregon wasn't one of the few states that doesn't allow distance runners to compete in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000 in the same meet. He has the best 800 mark in Class 4A for the second straight year.
In his typically unassuming manner, Jantzer cautions that it's premature to fit him for more crowns even though he'll have four chances: the 3,000 finals are Friday, and the 400, 1,500 and 4x400 relay finals are Saturday.
"Anything can happen in track," he says. "I'm fully prepared to lose. I don't want to. I'm expecting the best, and I'm prepared for the worst."
He emphasizes it's four races in which he'll compete. A pulled hamstring or the like, he says — knock on wood — would change the course of things.
"I don't want to get too prideful," says Jantzer. "Nothing is set in stone until I finish the race."
He has the top 4A times in the 1,500 (3:59.21) and the 3,000 (8:33.45) and is No. 2 in the 400 (50.47).
His nearest challenger in the distances is conference rival Connor Kasler of Hidden Valley, who is 11/2 seconds back in the 1,500 and almost 10 seconds behind in the 3,000.
True, it isn't a given Jantzer will win all, or even any, of his races this week.
What is certain is that he won't lack determination. It's his trademark.
There have been races where he's gone out and stomped the field without so much as blinking. Other times he's sat menacingly on the leader's shoulder, a hawk measuring its prey. Rarely has the outcome been good for the prey.
That's what Voskes means when he says, "I want my distance runners to be athletic."
Not "look" athletic. "Be" athletic.
As much as anything, being an athlete means having a rise-to-the-challenge mentality.
"That trumps anything," says Voskes, who has coached at Phoenix and Southern Oregon University for 31 years. "If there's anything our kids work on most, it's that mind-set. We stick our nose in it. We talk about that a lot, the ability to focus and the ability not to back down."
And Jantzer is the poster child.
"We don't know where it comes from," Jantzer says of his grit.
There are theories, however, and both he and his dad believe whatever aggression he has comes from mother Ellen.
She graduated from Eagle Point High in 1982 with a 4.0 GPA, then tackled nursing school as if it were a dummy on the ball field. By age 21, she was in the work force.
"If you talk to anyone about the nursing program," says Jason Jantzer, "they'll tell you it's pretty tough."
Mom was a swimmer, not a runner. No matter, she passed along an important piece of the puzzle.
"We're all competitive," says Elliott. "It runs in the family."
Indeed, his older brother Kevin ran for Phoenix, as does his freshman brother Travis. Sister Danielle, a fourth-grader who recently ran an 8:09 mile, figures to be next.
If his upbringing defines who Elliott is, there was that moment last season, says Voskes, that defines why he's such an intimidating distance runner.
The Pirates have a 50-second drill. The object is to see how far one can run in the allotted time.
Most distance kids are through when they make the turn to the homestretch, nearly 100 meters from the finish. Jantzer was a stride short of finishing a 400.
"He made it all the way around, and he made it look, in his customary way, rather easy," says Voskes. "His versatility there became very apparent. You don't see an athlete very often with that incredible range from 400 meters to cross country. We decided last year to exploit that a little bit."
Imagine, you're a distance runner approaching the last lap with Jantzer. Earlier, you saw him blow away a field of fresh sprinters in the 400. How do you like your chances?
"They have to make huge adjustments to their race plans," says Voskes, "and Elliott is very unique along those lines."
His ability to impose his will on others is one of the things the Oregon coaches are excited about, says Voskes. They also like that he isn't overworked. Jantzer does about 45 miles a week, which is low by distance standards.
"He's still under warranty," laughs Voskes. "I've got the pink slip to show it."
Jantzer is thinking of a different color this weekend. Can anybody really have too much gold?
Three-peats in the 3,000 and 1,500 are important to him. He'd like to prove to any doubters that he's for real.
"I'm sure there are some," he says. "And I want to prove to myself."
And to the people of Eugene, where he'll soon be moving.
"I just want to make a statement in my last meet," says Jantzer, "that says I am legit and I will push myself to whatever standard they want me to meet."
They can leave their leashes at home.
CLASS 4A STATE
3,000 meters 8:45.18
1,500 meters 4:00.10
Cross country (5,000 meters) 15:35
3,000 meters 8:40.47
1,500 meters 3:58.53
Cross country 15:42.8
1,500 meters 4:15.56
3,000 meters 9:15.94
1,500 meters 4:10.70
Cross country 15:39
3,000 meters 9:21.82
1,500 meters 4:01:84
Cross country 16:16
400 meters 50.47
1,500 meters 4:04
3,000 meters 8:54.07
4x400 Relay 3:27.78
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org