By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Track and field records, like those of every sport, were made to be broken.
We all know that, it’s the ancient truth of all human athletic activity.
But some records were made to stay in the books a whole lot longer than a bunch of others.
Jesse Owens’s 26-8 1/4 long jump in 1935 endured as a global best for over 25 years, until Ralph Boston sailed 26-11 1/4 in 1960.
Sebastian Coe’s 1:41.73 800 meters in 1981 was unbroken for 16 years, until Wilson Kipketer clocked 1:41.24 in 1997. Cornelius “Dutch” Warmerdam’s 15-7 3/4 pole vault in 1942 remained a world record for nearly 15 years, until Bob Gutowski finally added a half-inch to it in 1957.
Some current world records continue adding luster every day they stay in the books - on the track, a notable example is Kevin Young’s 46.78 400-meter hurdles performance at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. In the field, world bests have lasted since 1986 (Jurgen Schult, discus), 1988 (Yuriy Syedikh, hammer throw), 1990 (Randy Barnes, shot put) and 1991 (Mike Powell, long jump.)
On the women’s side, Czechoslovakia’s Jamila Kratochvilova set the 800-meter world record of 1:53.28 back in 1983, East Germany’s Marita Koch ran the 400-meter best of 47.60 in 1985. (Of course, the drug allegations surrounding some of these performances remain to this day, too.)
Enduring stuff, for sure, all of the above.
But it’s time to remind track and field fans that Vince Cartier’s longevity in the record books - over 38 years - topped all of them.
As a senior at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in March 1972, Cartier won the mile at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Meet of Champions in the extraordinary time of 4:06.6. Running on the flat, eight-laps-to-the-mile oval at Princeton University’s Jadwin Gymnasium, Cartier bested the existing national mark of 4:07.24 set by the illustrious Jim Ryun in 1965.
Four years later, California high schooler Thom Hunt clocked a 4:02.7 and in 2001 Virginian Alan Webb stunned the track world with his 3:59.86 at The Armory Track Center. Remember, though, that the Hunt and Webb performances came in “open” races, pitting these then-schoolboy sensations against battle-toughened veterans of the national and international track circuits, with accompanying pacing assistance.
Let it be emphasized, however, that neither Hunt or Webb or anyone else ever ran the indoor mile faster than Cartier in an all-scholastic race, a whole lot tougher proposition. Call the differing scenarios apples-or-oranges,
not really comparable.
Things changed the afternoon of March 14, 2010.
Running at Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center, Fayetteville-Manlius, N.Y. senior Alex Hatz at last bested Cartier’s mile, the best-ever in all-high school competition, crossing the line n 4:05.50.
It was an eye-opener to both new record-holder Hatz and the deposed incumbent, Vince Cartier. And to every follower of the running game.
“I had no idea what kind of time I would run,” Hatz told the media in Boston. “I was expecting it to go out fast, and was expecting to run fast, but that’s about it.”
Ohio’s Colby Alexander spurted an opening 29.9 200-meter lap, before Georgia’s Kirubel Erassa grabbed the lead and held it through a 2:03 half and 3:05 three-quarters. And then Hatz “gathered” for the closing rush that carried him to a sub-29 last lap and a 4:05.50 at the wire. Erassa held on for the silver medal in 4:07.28 with Alexander snaring the bronze in 4:11.46.
Hatz’s progress had been slowed by kidney surgery but now he’s back on track and, it seems likely, heading for a sub-4 performance outdoors, territory still occupied by just four other schoolboys (Webb 3:53.43 2001, Ryun 3:55.3 1965, Tim Danielson 3:59.4 1966 and Marty Liquori 3:59.8 1967.)
And no one’s applauding these developments more than Vince Cartier, now a resident of Bloomfield, N.J.
“I took a look at DyeStat (actually www.dyestat.com) and, sure enough, Alex had indeed run 4:05.50,” Cartier said, in an e-mail message.
“Good for him.
“I have felt for a number of years that the record should have been broken by now. There were some great runners and they ran on some really super-fast tracks (which Jadwin surely wasn’t.) Not sure why they never attacked the record. When Webb broke 4, I was also surprised that he never ran faster than 4:06 (point six) in a high school race. I am sure he could have jogged to a 4:05.
“I guess I never really understood what the 4:06 (point six) meant. Today, a guy I didn’t know asked to be a Facebook friend. He had run a 4:07 at Dartmouth in 1984. He was from San Diego and said that I was an inspiration to him and a lot of other runners. What do you say? I was kind of in awe.”
Looking back at his epic day at Jadwin Gymnasium in 1972, Cartier feels he could have run it even faster.
“I only say that because going through (three quarters) in 3:03 was so easy. I am not sure that 3:00 would have been that much harder. Plus, it would have been nice to be either pulled or have someone to run with in the last 220.”
In the fall of 1971, Cartier had serious doubts about running anything extraordinary that upcoming winter of 1972.
“I had a horrible last part of the cross country season, with an ankle injury and the Achilles (tendon) going south for a while just after the season. So I missed almost all of December and only started to run around the 26th.”
By January 1972, though, he was healthy enough to step up his mileage and go for Sunday morning training runs with such veterans as Hugh Sweeny, Fred Best and Tom Fleming.
His track workouts, under Scotch Plains-Fanwood coach Jean Poquette, were tougher, and incorporated the routines of Olympians Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, and others - much of it lots of long intervals and very little rest.
Even with that good training under his belt, he never thought he’d break 4:07.
“I was actually more focused on the outdoor season and trying to break 4 outdoors,” he said. “My ultimate goal was to win the Golden West Meet and run in the Olympic Trials.
“But when the (Meet of Champions) gun went off, I figured, ‘what the hell, go for it.’
“As I heard the early splits (61 at the quarter, 2:02 at the half), I said this is way too fast. I actually thought I would die. But to be honest, I just said ‘what the hell, let’s see how far you can take it.’
“I kind of stiffened up in the last 220, I wasn’t tired as much as I was alone and just couldn’t go any faster alone. I guess I hit the wall.
“When I heard it was a new record, I remember hugging Mr. Poquette and doing a victory lap of some sort.”
Cartier went on to the University of Florida and excelled as a Gator, medaling in the NCAAs and earning All-American status. Among his most memorable collegiate runs were a 4:04.9/8:48 one-mile/two-mile double indoors, a 13:48 three-mile time trial, and a sub 30:15 six-mile road race.
Gainesville, Fla. was a major center of American distance running at the time and Cartier got to share workouts with the likes of Shorter, Marty Liquori, Byron Dyce (Olympians all) along with Juris Luzins, Barry Brown and other notables of the day.
But a bout of mononucleosis, early in his college career, and assorted injuries took their toll.
“I had some very good moments as a Gator, and some very bad moments,” he remembers. “But I wouldn’t have changed anything and I learned a lot, got to travel, and earned a pretty good degree. I also got to meet some wonderful people along the way. And some of those friendships have lasted a lifetime.”
These days, Cartier keeps very busy “doing a lot of writing, doing a lot of blogs, and learning to play the guitar.” He regularly promotes music events such as open-mic “Beatles Jams” at New Jersey establishments.
The Cartier family never shied away from taking on major challenges.
His Dad, the late Walter Cartier, was one of the finest middleweight boxers of his day, and won 46 of 61 pro bouts, 24 by KO. Among the greats he took on were Joey Giardello, Willie Troy, Randy Turpin, Pierre Langlois, Bobo Olson, Gene Hairston and Rocky Castellani.
After his active running days, Vince Cartier continued his athletic career playing in an array of adult hockey leagues, while keeping busy in track and field as a coach at Manhattan College, Seton Hall University and Red Bank Catholic High School, making middle distance runners better at every juncture. And he found time to serve as co-director of the New Jersey International Track and Field Meet, considered the Garden State’s biggest annual event in open-level competition.
“I have to say that for me, track and field was the kind of sport where you passed on what you learned to the next generation. It didn’t matter the event, I loved it all.
“I loved coaching and watching my athletes run PRs and become good citizens. It was very rewarding.”
As a man who’s seen so much of the sport, he’d love to see track and field regain the major-league status it enjoyed a few decades ago. For sure, he’d like to see the sport earn the support of the powers-that-be, that it surely deserves, but doesn’t always get.
Cartier certainly knows knows that, at the top, it’s a highly professionalized sport, but still would like to see more than a handful of big names earn a reasonable return on their efforts. He’d like to see the major shoe companies promote the traditional club system, rather than destroy it with their own corporate priorities.
And, bottom line, he’d like to see youngsters like Alex Hatz go on to bigger and much better things, erasing a lot of other records along the way.
"Good for him," Cartier will continue telling the track and field world.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN