Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Remembering Burnsville's 1978 Sprint Medley

When we heard the news that Buffalo High School had broken Burnsville's venerable state-best sprint medley relay mark at Nike Outdoor Nationals over the weekend, we knew we wanted to track down Dave Griffith.

We figured the long-time Burnsville coach could help us remember his 1978 squad's accomplishment. The affable Griffith (pictured) was happy to oblige us: "I cannot remember what happened yesterday, but 1978 is a bit clearer," he quipped.

Griffith's team had run 3:28.5 for a mile sprint medley, which converts to 3:27.2 for the 1600m version of the race run nowadays. Buffalo, powered by Zach Mellon's 1:49.49 anchor leg, ran 3;25.60 at NON.

Indeed, "Griff"s" memory of the 1978 State Meet in St. Cloud, where his team ran a time that would not be bettered by another Minnesota squad for more than 30 years, was quite detailed.

"The medley was run in two sections against time," Griffith remembered. "Standards were hard to achieve back then, but there were more than eight teams that qualified. We must have been in the first section. As I remember the event, we were in lane four and lane one was open."

The race went anything but smoothly.

"The race started and an inspector at the first exchange quickly moved the second 220 runners in one lane each," Griffith said. "That meant, of course, that the entire group of incoming runners was facing an exchange with outgoing runners in the 'wrong' lane. That exchange was a debacle."

"The outgoing runners remained in this 'wrong' lane," Griffith continued, "until they reached the second exchange where, you guessed it, their exchange was made with runners who were in the appropriate lane--one lane 'out' from where they were running. That exchange was even worse than the first because stagger distances had been 'made up,' and the runners were closer together."

Somehow, though, the Burnsville team of Dave Dyson, Jim Rassmussen, Eric Kristensen, and Rob Carney got the baton twice around the track in record fashion. Kristensen split 49.7 for his 440y leg; Carney, the State mile champ in '77 and '78, split 1:51.1 for 880y.

But was the mark a record, what with official's mistake?

"I heard the dreaded: 'Would the coach from Burnsville please report to the finish line,' but we were not disqualified," Griffith said. "We were told that we would not be credited with the record. We broke the all-time state record, but it wasn't allowed because we ran shorter than one mile. We lost in the botched exchanges more time than we gained by running short, but the ruling was, in my mind, the correct one."

Independent statisticians, however, considered the mark legitimate ... and Minnesota's best until last weekend when Buffalo clocked its 3:25.60.

Griffith, who now serves as an assistant coach at St. Olaf College, says he's lost track of the whereabouts of Jim Rasmussen and Eric Kristensen over the years. Dave Dyson, who won the long jump at the '78 State Meet and placed in the 100y, graduated from St. Olaf and now lives in Eden Prairie. Carney, who graduated from North Dakota State University, now lives in Lakeville.

Photo courtesy of St. Olaf College.


Jim from MN said...

Good stuff. I was on that Burnsville track team and saw that race in St. Cloud. Griff's recollection is spot-on (as usual). Except Rasmussen (a sophomore) all others on that relay were seniors.

Charlie said...

Thanks Jim,

Feel free to share any other stories from Burnsville's "Golden Era."

Remember anything about Carney's State titles, for example? Or about the team's run of State XC titles?

-- Charlie