It wasn’t a starter’s pistol or other athletes lined up next to her that first sparked Victoria Powell to run.

It was the long, wide corridors of the Jersey Gardens mall. And run she did.

“I would take Victoria to the mall when she was younger, and the second I put her down, she was off,” recalls her father, Shaun Powell. “She would take off in the supermarket, too. And it wasn’t always easy to catch her right away. I knew from chasing her then she had some speed.”

Now four years older, Powell has turned in her mall jaunts for medals in track and field as an amateur at the national level. The nine-year-old Montclair resident earned her latest gold in the 200-meter dash, clocking a 28.12 at the AAU Junior Olympic Games, held during late July and early August in Knoxville, Tenn.

Her first in the 200 coupled with a fourth-place finish in the 100 (14.0) in Knoxville capped a stellar first year for Powell. Running for the Maplewood-based Jaguar Track Club, Powell received her first formal training from coaches Maurice and Daneen Cooper this season.

“I coached Victoria a little last year, but having her get the training from the Coopers this year really helped,” Shaun Powell says. “She also made a bunch of friends on the team, and at this age, that’s what it should really be about.”

The daughter agrees with daddy.

“I just go down there to have fun, track is something I like to do,” Powell says. “I also got to see some states I haven’t before and meet a lot of new friends.”

Powell competed in 13 events this year, starting indoors with the 55-meter dash at the Colgate Women’s Games in January. She advanced through four preliminary rounds and the semifinals at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, reaching the finals at Madison Square Garden.

The Garden trip created a surreal spectator experience for her father, a sports columnist for Newsday on Long Island.

“It was an odd feeling because usually I am there writing about someone else’s child, who is almost always an adult and a professional,” Shaun Powell says. “I would say that the biggest thrill was Victoria and I having that link: She was competing in a place I work.

“It was weirdly wonderful.”

The younger Powell’s 8.51 in the final was .22 faster than the rest of the field, which included runners from New Jersey, the five New York City boroughs and Philadelphia.

“The girls who competed with Victoria at the Colgate Games were very committed,” Shaun Powell says. “You have some of them coming up from Philadelphia once a week at five in the morning for more than a month to run. That’s devotion and also evidence of how big of a deal track and field is down there.

“That Victoria was able to beat them in one of her first formal meets was very encouraging.”

OFF THE TRACK

At 5-foot-2, Powell uses her above-average height during basketball in the autumn. She played soccer for a brief spell, but the draw to run track in each season, except basketball, was too strong. Basketball, however, will remain a constant in her roster of sports, according to Powell.

“Right now it’s my second-favorite sport,” she says. “It comes pretty easy to me and I like the break it gives me from track. I can also practice it a lot easier in my driveway.”

Powell will be a fourth-grader at Northeast Elementary School next month, and she is looking forward to getting back into the classroom for math, her favorite subject. She also enjoys gym.

A straight-A student in all subjects, Powell plays the piano and hopes to soon pick up the drums.

“My friend has a drum set, and I would like to start with a snare and some bells,” she says. “Hopefully I can work my way up to a whole set.”

BIG TIME

Before reaching Knoxville, Victoria, her father and mother, Terry, traveled to Orlando, Fla., with the Jaguars for an AAU regional qualifier. The Powells saw firsthand in Orlando how big amateur sports are today.

When they arrived in Knoxville and there were over 40,000 amateur athletes on hand for the all-sports AAU Junior Olympic Games, it brought the competition and scale of things to even another level.

“When it becomes that large, you have to ask yourself, ‘What is driving these kids, especially at that age?’ ” Shaun Powell asks. “If a kid is there to feed a parent’s ego, that’s not the right reason.

“But if a kid is having fun, then why deprive them of the opportunity? It really comes down to how the parents handle it.”

The Powells handle their daughter’s success well.

“There are life lessons for kids to learn from winning and losing in sports,” Shaun Powell says. “It also extends to school, music, whatever Victoria is involved in. If a kid can sift through their emotions to recognize both success and failure, that’s when the overall experience works.”

With a month break from sports before school starts, Powell has other important things to do with, and talk to, her father about.

A tooth-fairy discussion between Victoria and her father this past Tuesday proves the younger Powell is enjoying being what she should be at this age: a kid.