Track team expects large medal haul at Jr. Olympics

By JON NAITO
P-I REPORTER

It would be safe to assume the Seattle Speed Track Club is the most unheralded sports juggernaut in the area.

Founded last year, it has just 15 members between the ages of 9 and 13, and splits its training sessions between Franklin and Rainier Beach high schools.

Its roster includes the great-grandson of an NBA legend, the granddaughter of a national team coach, and one of the best young sprinters in the country.

At the USATF Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships, which run Tuesday through Sunday at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., the club expects a considerable medal haul.

The expectations we have are high, said Michael Cunliffe, the club's founder and head coach. On the short end, 15 medals, and on the high end 30. If we can do that, I think we might be the fastest team in the country, pound-for-pound.

Cunliffe, 41, was a long jumper at Washington State. The software consultant and Federal Way resident had long been involved in the local youth track and field scene.

He had coached his daughter Hannah, 11, and son Samuel, 10, privately, when several parents approached him about coaching their children as well. Thus was born Seattle Speed Track Club (a name chosen by the kids), and in the year since its founding, the club has become a top destination for the area's best young sprinters and jumpers.

What we want is to help these kids get the most out of their talent, Cunliffe said. We make it fun, but we also try to help them get as much exposure as possible. Universities now start tracking times at age 10. It's the age we live in, and we hope that we can help them get noticed and eventually get scholarships.

Leading the club into the Junior Olympic meet (as well as next week's AAU Junior Olympics in Knoxville, Tenn.) are Cunliffe's children.

Hannah is considered the top 11-year-old sprinter in the nation. She has already run a 100-meter time of 12.58 seconds this year (12.45 is the national record for her age group) and her best time as a 10-year-old, 13.06, would have qualified her for the finals in last year's 3A state high school championships.

She has long-jumped 16 feet, 1 inch this year and will compete in both events this week.

Hannah is so unique, Michael Cunliffe said. She has the chance to be pretty special. A lot of people are already watching her times.

Samuel Cunliffe anchors the club's 400-meter relay team and will also compete in the long jump, in which he is ranked No. 1 nationally, and the 200.

Other competitors this week are Gavin Robertson, 9, the great-grandson of NBA Hall of Fame guard Oscar Robertson who will compete in the relay and long jump; Davine Tullis, 10, in the relay and 200; Myles Gaskin, 10, in the multi-event competition and relay; and Tahlie Cablayan, 12, one of the top 400-meter runners in her age group, and whose grandfather is a coach for the Philippine national team.

Cunliffe said many in the contingent would also compete the following week at the AAU event in Knoxville.