Riverbank standout Fernandez is Gatorade national track athlete of the year

06/27/2008 2:17 AM

06/27/2008 2:21 AM

RIVERBANK -- Riverbank's German Fernandez has been named the Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

Fernandez received the trophy in a ceremony at Antigua Event Center in Riverbank, kissed it and held it aloft as the crowd that filled the room gave him a standing ovation.

Fernandez, a recent Riverbank High graduate, broke three national records -- the 3,000 meters, 3,200 meters and two-mile -- this season. He'll run for Oklahoma State University next year.

"It's an honor to receive this award," Fernandez said. "This is amazing."

Bruce Weber, the publisher of Scholastic magazine and the historian of the Gatorade awards, said Fernandez was "an easy choice."

"Unlike other sports, there's a definable number in track and field," he said. "8:32 and 8:34 blow away the field."

Weber was talking about Fernandez's final two meets.

In last month's CIF State Track and Field Championships at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Fernandez won the 1,600, then set the national record in the 3,200 in 8:34.23.

He followed that up at last week's Nike Outdoor Nationals with a victory in the two-mile run in a national record 8:34.40. He also set the national record in the 3,000 meters when he crossed that line in 7:59.8 en route.

Fernandez is the second Stanislaus District athlete to win a Gatorade national player of the year award. Downey's Suzy Powell was the national girls track and field athlete of the year in 1994. She set the national record in the discus that year; it's a record that has yet to be topped.

Several Riverbank residents spoke, including Fernandez's coach, Bruce Edwards, school board member Jeep Oliveira and the town's mayor, Chris Crifasi.

"German's just an outstanding individual who had an outstanding year," Edwards said.

Oliveira told the Gatorade representatives "You've got some lifelong fans here in Riverbank."

Then he got the biggest laugh when he told them, "So you should put your next plant here."

Crifasi gave Fernandez an honorary plaque from the city.

With the award, Fernandez is one of six athletes from across the country who are eligible to win the Gatorade National High School athlete of the year. He will be flown to Los Angeles in mid-July for the ESPYs, where the winner will be announced.

Gatorade representative Liz Prassas said Fernandez, who also won the Gatorade California Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year award, is a favorite.

"Our national cross country runner of the year, Chris Derrick, said German's going to be the next big thing," Prassas said. "I think he's got a really good shot. He's got the strongest résumé."

Fernandez is focused on enjoying what's left of his summer vacation. He starts training for the Oklahoma State cross country team very shortly.

"All this has been pretty incredible," Fernandez said. "I feel like a celebrity."

But soon, he'll be back pounding the pavement.

"I hope it doesn't stop here," he said. "I want to keep it going."

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