Metric milers a strength of Flint-area track and field in 2011 season

Grand Blanc's Omar Kaddurah (1) leads the 1,600-meter run in the 2010 state track and field meet. Swartz Creek's Jeremy Dickie (2) finished third. - (Bill Khan | The Flint Journal)

The mile is one of the glamour events in track and field, romanticized by Roger Bannister’s successful quest to break the four-minute barrier in 1954.

Jim Ryun became the most famous high school track athlete in American history by running a 3:59 mile in 1964.

Distance runners often talk about their performances in terms of pace per mile. It’s a distance to which those with even a casual understanding of running can relate.

The mile — or its metric near-equivalent, the 1,600 meters — happens to be a strength in Flint-area track and field this season.

It all begins with a runner for whom the four-minute barrier may become a realistic goal someday, Grand Blanc senior Omar Kaddurah. Kaddurah won the 1,600 in the state Division 1 meet in 4:07.67. It was a record for any state meet in any class or division.

Finishing third in that race was Swartz Creek’s Jeremy Dickie, who set a school record with a time of 4:11.53. Taking 10th was Fenton’s Matt Gilbert in 4:22.44.

Missing a state berth by a fraction of a second were Grand Blanc’s Zach Kughn and Drake Carr.

The girls’ side isn’t as deep, but features the greatest female distance runner ever to come out of the Flint area in Grand Blanc senior Gabrielle Anzalone. She owns Flint-area records for five kilometers (17:01.7) in cross country and 3,200 meters (10:29.07) in track. She admits the 1,600 isn’t her strength, but her personal best of 4:57.5 still makes her one of only a handful of Flint-area girls to break the five-minute barrier.

“I like the long distance,” Anzalone said. “I got into (the 1,600) with a different mentality. For me, the 1,600 and 800 you go out hard and stay hard the whole time. You can’t really relax that much. It’s really difficult, but it’s fun.”

For the boys, the presence of so much talent in one county serves as a motivation.

“It’s good to have guys to race against, because it helps push you along,” said Dickie, who won the state indoor mile in 4:17.63 on Feb. 26. “When a guy sets a good time, that’s when it gets competitive and keeps you on the right track. There’s the camaraderie of having competition and working hard to beat each other.”

Every track race requires unique abilities. Pure speed is needed to be successful in the shorter distances. Leg speed is still a primary factor in the 400 and the 800, but endurance begins to creep more and more into the equation.

By the 1,600, races become a combination of speed, endurance and tactics. It’s that balance that appeals to the top milers in the area.

“One thing that Omar told me a couple years ago is that the 800 is too short,” Kughn said. “If you make a mistake, you can’t make up for it. In the two-mile, there’s always a few laps you just have to sit there in the pack and wait for the time to pass. The mile ends up being just right. It has the perfect mix of speed and endurance, and you still have to have good strategy and mental ability.”

Dickie said his favorite race is the 4x400 relay (”it’s a really competitive, all-out adrenaline race”), but that the 1,600 is his favorite individual event.

“It’s not quite as all-out as the 800, but not as slow as the two mile,” Dickie said. “It’s like that perfect combination between the two. It’s just a fun race to watch and to race, because it’s smack dab in the middle between those two races. It makes things interesting. I like the tactics and going into it mentally. The mile is a really hard race to run.”

The 1,600 is a distance event at the high school level, but success or failure can come down to fractions of a second, just like the sprints.

Just ask Kughn and Carr. Kughn missed last year’s Division 1 state cut of 4:27.0 by one-tenth of a second, while Carr missed by three-tenths of a second.

“You’ve got to be at the state meet for it to matter,” Kughn said. “Otherwise, your whole season doesn’t matter. You can’t say you placed at the state meet. In track, I have to get there in every event, definitely the mile.”