Boys 2K Steeplechase - John Gregorek in 1978
John Gregorek grew up in Northport and ran for Saint Anthony's high school, then on Smithtown on Long Island in the 1970s. An elite runner at many different distances in track and in cross country, Gregorek's specialty of the steeplechase was the event that brought him to the height of national attention during his high school years.
Gregorek was moving up in the CHSAA ranks as a sophomore but was described in a news report as "a relative unknown" until he really burst on the scene for NY as a junior in the fall of 1976 because of a stride-for-stride battle with Dave O'Connor of Valley Central at the Albertus Magnus Invite at Bear Mountain that saw both runners smash the course record at an identical time of 14:43.1, still #2 all-time behind Monroe-Woodbury's John Trautmann. Gregorek also set a Sunken Meadow record in his senior year that would last for 34 years until broken by Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's in 2011.
During his junior and senior seasons, the tall lanky Friar kept piling up the the plaudits, winning the CHSAA and Federation championships in both 1976 and 1977 in XC. His track achievements and times are a highlight reel and include, starting with the shortest distance: 3:47.5 for the 1500m for NY 2nd best back then and still NY #5; 4:05.4 in the Golden West 1 mile for NY 2nd best at the time and still NY #4; 8:50.7 in the CHSAA championship 2 miles for a state record in 1978 and #4 today; and 31:53.5 in the 10K for NY #4 in 1978 and NY #9 today. In addition, he ran the second fastest NY time ever of 8:56.9 in the usual 3K distance for the steeplechase (see below). Among his top accomplishments for the Friar relay teams was to anchor the team's win in the 1978 Penn Relays distance medley relay.
Gregorek's state record is in the 2K steeplechase distance which was very rarely run back in the 1970s and is now done mainly just at New Balance Nationals. The story behind the record is unusual, because it's not often that an athlete runs what he feels is a really bad race while finishing dead last, and yet still sets a state mark that has stood now for 42 years. Gregorek ended off a tremendous senior year in which he was the nation's top prep miler by going to US Juniors to try to qualify for World Juniors against other high school and young collegian steeplechasers. He won the qualifying 3K steeplechase in 9:04 after cutting back in the later laps when he had the race secured. From there it was on to Russia, where he beat the Soviets' best Juniors with his PR of 8:56.9. Four days later with no steeplechase on the docket, he was put into the 1500m race and was narrowly edged by the top Russian while finishing 2nd in 3:47.5.
Near the end of the World Juniors tour, Gregorek got to compete in Germany against German and British steeplers at the unusual 2K distance. It was a semi disaster for Gregorek, as he said at the time. "I was feeling tired from the trip and did just about everything I possibly could wrong." He was 6th and last in a time of 5:47.1, a state record that only Packer Collegiate's Eddie Owen in 2011 has run within 3 seconds of in the following years. It is frightening to think what Gregorek's time would have been if he was feeling okay and had done anything right.
Gregorek went on to star for Georgetown, again piling up the accolades. Among his top legendary feats was his 1600m anchor leg in the DMR for the Hoyas at the 1982 Penn Relays in which he made up a five second deficit to end Villanova's 16 year winning streak. After college he became a big piece of the senior racing circuit at a variety of long distances, and his best mile time was 3:51.34 in 1982. He qualified twice for the Olympics in the steeplechase, first in 1980 for the boycotted Moscow games and then in 1984 in LA when he earned his top mark of 8:18.45 at the US Trials and then bowed out at the Olympics in the semifinals.
Gregorek married his college sweetheart and Hoya track star Christine Mullen, coached at Brown University for many years, and then worked in promotions for a shoe company out of his home base in Seekonk MA. One of his three children, John Gregorek Jr., has become a top distance runner in his own right and has teamed with his dad by running a 3:49.98 mile to make them the fastest father-son mile combo ever with a 3:50.66 average.
There is no record of any time for the NY steeplechase in the 2K before 1978.