By Dominic Nicastro Wed Mar 18, 2009, 08:44 PM EDT
CAPE ANN - It’s a small world for Gloucester native Tristan Colangelo.
Small, literally, because the 27-year-old lives in a one-room apartment on Hanover Street in the North End, close enough to smell the aroma from Bricco and Tresca Italian restaurants.
Though it’s not as if he wines and dines on the famous Boston street each night. He’s a full-time law school student at Suffolk University. “My mom takes care of the food,” Colangelo joked.
It’s also a small world because on Saturday, Colangelo watched a team attempt to break the national high school record in the distance medley he and three Gloucester High School teammates set nine years earlier — 9:59.94, March 10, 2000, at the Armory Track and Field Center in upper Manhattan.
The team he watched Saturday at the Reggie Lewis Center across town from his North End apartment?
Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Va., a high school only about 20 miles east of the school at which Colangelo taught special education for two years — Western Albemarle High School in Crozet, Va. Small world indeed.
As for the record, that’s still intact. Albermarle won the national championship Saturday but finished in a time of 10:02.13, a little more than two seconds shy of Gloucester’s mark in 2000.
And today, that Fishermen quartet — Josh Palazola (1,200-meter, 3:04.1), Ngai Otieno (400, 49.5), Shawn Milne (800, 1:59.8) and Colangelo (1,600, 4:09.9) — is still the only high school quartet to run the event in less than 10 minutes indoors.
“Some good teams have come through — and certainly some outdoor teams have broken that record — but for whatever reason, it’s hard to get four guys indoors to break that mark,” Colangelo said. “A lot of guys are just not as sharp indoors.” Gloucester was.
Colangelo said the Fishermen had their sights set on that national mark for a few years.
It was in the midst of Gloucester’s golden era of track and cross country. That previous fall, the Fishermen pulled off their sixth straight cross country All-State championship, an unprecedented feat. They won the indoor All-State title in 2000.
If it were, in fact, a golden era, Colangelo was the Bill Russell. He was a state champion in both track and cross country and would serve as the anchor in the record-setting crew.
But it wasn’t easy. Colangelo said they knew they had a solid threesome in himself, Milne and Palazola, seasoned distance runners, but they missed that fourth 400-meter runner.
Otieno, one of the state’s best sprinters, didn’t fare so well in a few 400s before the national meet. But he was the wildcard come March 10. Otieno, who went onto a fine career at running back at Amherst College, ran a 49-second split.
That followed a 3:04 opening 1,200 meters by Palazola — also a cross country and track state champion — and put Gloucester in great position to shatter the previous national mark — 10:10.30 set by West Springfield High School of Virginia in 1998.
Next was Milne, who is still today fulfilling his dream as a professional cyclist. His 1:56 segued into Colangelo, who closed the deal with a lightning-fast 4:09.
Gloucester’s performance prompted the New York Times to write, “The first running event yesterday of the New Balance National Scholastic Indoor Championships got the three-day program off like a cannon shot.”
Each Gloucester runner set a personal best by two seconds. Cardinal O’Hara of Philadelphia finished second at 10:17.33.
Nine years later, Colangelo had been following Albemarle High School and figured it had a chance to break the record this year. But it didn’t happen.
“We were pretty focused on the record,” Colangelo said. “But to break it by more than 10 seconds was pretty unfathomable at the time. We were well built for the guys we had and the strengths we had.”
Today, Colangelo is focusing on school full-time. His goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the steeplechase fell short in the last couple years. He had moved to Virginia after a few years teaching at Veterans’ Memorial Elementary School on Webster Street in order to help coach the University of Virginia track team and focus on training.
That’s what led him to the gig teaching at West Albemarle High School, the school down the road from the team that nearly broke Gloucester’s national record.
“I went down to Virginia with no place to stay and no job,” Colangelo said. “All I had pretty much were my running shoes.” In Colangelo’s small world, that’s all he’s needed