March 13, 2008

The records keep falling for Riverbank runner German Fernandez

German Fernandez had the most successful cross country season in the history of the Stanislaus District.

German Fernandez had the most successful cross country season in the history of the Stanislaus District.

The senior from Riverbank High won a Division IV state title, setting a course record at Fresno's Woodward Park in the process. Now, it's time for track, and Fernandez is already turning in eye-popping results.

At Saturday's Sierra Invitational at Modesto Junior College, Fernandez showed some impressive middle-distance speed.

He set the meet record in the 800-meter run, completing two laps in 1 minute, 56.46 seconds. And in the distance medley relay, an event that has legs of 400 meters, 800, 1,200 and 1,600, Fernandez ran a 1,600-meter split in an astounding 4:06.1. That's believed to be the fastest 1,600-meter time run on a track — split or regular race — in the nation this season.

In comparison, Hudson Andrews of Royal-Anaheim won the state 1,600-meter title last year with a time of 4:07.59. With nearly three months before this year's state meet, Fernandez ran Saturday's split more than a second faster than the 2007 state winner.

To top it off, Fernandez also announced he's accepted a rare full-ride scholarship to run for Oklahoma State, a Big 12 track and field and cross country power.

"It was a hard decision to make, I liked all three places," said Fernandez, who chose the Cowboys over finalists Arizona State and Iona. "I honestly didn't think I'd be going to Oklahoma, but I still visited. And when I was there, I just loved it. I loved the team, I loved the coach (Dave Smith).

"He's a young coach, but he's good. I think he's a guy who can take me to the Olympics, and that's my ultimate goal."

Smith called Fernandez the highest-rated prospect ever to sign with Oklahoma State.

"He is in everybody's top five, mine included," Smith said on "Many feel that he is the best high school cross country runner in the country."

Fernandez was certainly impressive on Saturday.

"The really impressive race was his 4:06.1 split," said his cross country coach, Bruce Edwards.

"When he got the baton, Riverbank was in fifth place. But they gave him something to chase after."

One of the guys ahead of him was Modesto's Matt Maldonado, who won the 1,600-meter title at last year's Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet. Fernandez took off, passing runner after runner. He was alone by the final lap.

"When I saw the time and I saw the 4:06, I thought the clock must have been off," Fernandez said. "I haven't done much work on my speed yet, so it was a big surprise."

It's quite a beginning to what is going to be a very busy season for Fernandez. He won the United States Cross Country Junior National Championships a month ago, and will represent the nation in the world junior championships — an 8-kilometer race — in Scotland at the end of this month. Beyond visits to Mexico, it's German's first trip out of the country.

"I'm excited," Fernandez said. "I'm training for track right now, but we'll see what happens in Scotland."

He's got big track and field goals, too.

Breaking the 4-minute mile — he would have to improve his time by about seven seconds — may be too much. Instead, he's looking at the national 3,200-meter run record of 8:36.3, set in 1979 by Burbank's Jeff Nelson.

"When you see what German did on Saturday, you think, 'Whoa,' " Edwards said. "It was just a really impressive run. You wonder what he's capable of next."

He battled injuries through most of his junior year, and never really got into shape. But this year, he's at the top of his game.

Before this season is over, he could be capable of a lot more.

FERNANDEZ'S times weren't the only impressive marks from Saturday's Sierra Invitational.

Beyer senior Kendall Morris — she's signed with the University of California track and field team for next year — set a meet record with a discus throw of 136 feet, 10 inches. She broke the previous record set a year ago by Johansen's Kayla Xavier, now at Fresno State University.

Modesto's boys set a 100-meter hurdles shuttle relay record of 35.24 seconds.

Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.

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