Fri, Jan 27 2012 02:40 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Chip Holmes still maintains contact with high school running sports even though he has officially retired from coaching. He remains active as a race official within the San Diego Section and thus has managed to stay close to its vibrant pulse.
He was among those offering congratulatory messages when former Hilltop High School distance queen Desiree Davila qualified for the upcoming London Olympic Games in the women’s marathon.
Davila, now 28, finished second in the U.S. women’s Olympic Marathon Trials Jan. 14 in Houston. The top three finishers qualified for the American team.
“It’s an outstanding achievement,” Holmes said, “We’re all proud of her.”
Holmes may be prouder than most who know Davila. She was the centerpiece athlete for Holmes’ Lancer girls team that captured back-to-back San Diego Section Division II championship titles in 1998 and 1999.
“We had a lot of talent throughout the team but she was the centerpiece of the teams that won CIF titles,” Holmes said. “As an individual, we were hoping to get her to a state title, but that’s an awfully hard thing to do.”
During her years at Hilltop (1998-2001), Davila was untouchable on the running course — be it cross country or track and field.
She was a four-time Metro Conference and three-time San Diego Section divisional champion in cross country. She was a four-time all-state place-finisher, notching finishes of second, fourth, fifth and 10th in her four trips to Fresno’s fabled Woodward Park course.
In track and field, she was equally decorated, if not more so.
She went where few have gone before after capturing championship titles in three events at the 2001 South Bay League finals, winning individual titles in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter events while setting league records in each event.
The Hilltop distance queen also won individual titles in three events as a junior after reigning supreme in four events as a sophomore.
She finished her Metro career as a four-time league champion in both the 800 and 1,600 events and a three-time champion in the 3,200 run.
As a senior, she won CIF titles in both the 1,600 and 3,200 distances after claiming the 1,600 title as a junior.
At the California state meet, she placed fifth in the 1,600 and fourth in the 3,200.
Her intense focus on the running course set her apart from her competitors.
Holmes ranks Davila among the top two or three female runners to ever represent the South Bay region. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers, a 1984 graduate of Sweetwater High, obviously ranks at the top.
Holmes coached Davila during her first two years of high school before moving over to coach at Eastlake, where he helped lead the Titans to boys and girls Division II titles in 2000.
Holmes said Davila had already garnered a reputation among local running circles before arriving at Hilltop.
“She already had a reputation as a great runner from youth track and, as a freshman in high school, she just stepped right in and followed along,” Holmes said. “At that level (high school competition), it was a workout for her for most of the events she ran in the dual meets. She would face challenges only when she got to the CIF or state levels.”
Mark Hedderson, who coached Davila her senior year at Hilltop, said she made a “lasting impression” as a prep.
“She was such an exceptional athlete from Day One as a freshman,” Hedderson said. “She was also friendly and involved with ASB, so despite being a fairly quiet person, she was well known on campus. People have been clipping articles or posting information about her success even before the trials, but obviously now that has increased.
Like many, Hedderson was already aware of Davila’s reputation before arriving at Hilltop.
“I already knew her, having coached against her while I was with Chula Vista High,” Hedderson said. “I am not surprised at her success in the marathon as two of her great attributes — above pure talent — are determination and dedication. Because of this, she could handle difficult workouts and focus during demanding events. The greater the distance the higher that demand becomes and she always showed the ability to tap into an inner strength.”
Veteran Otay Ranch coach Ian Cumming said Davila’s accomplishment sends a positive message to current high school athletes in the South Bay.
“It gives them the knowledge that they might also be able to accomplish great things at a much higher level of competition,” Cumming said. “They can also take hope from the fact that, while Desiree was very good in high school, she accomplished even greater things in college. Then, in the past three years, she has moved to the top echelon of distance runners in the United States and has a chance to make a big statement in the Olympics. It is nice to see a local athlete have her hard work pay off in such a big way.”
Davila, who now trains with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Mich., appears to be reaching her peak. She participated in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing 13th in 2:37.50. Her time at the Houston trials earlier this month was 2:25:55 — 12 minutes faster than her previous trails’ effort.
She led the 26.2-mile race in Houston at times, finishing just 18 seconds behind race winner Shalane Flanagan of Portland, Ore.
Davila gave an inkling of what was in her future by becoming the lone freshman to compete on Arizona State’s starting seven her first collegiate cross country season in 2001.
She earned her first NCAA All-American honors (10th in the outdoor 5,000-meter run) in 2003 and concluded her senior season at ASU with a fifth-place finish at the Pac-10 cross country finals.
But it was her meteoric second-place finish at the 2011 Boston Marathon in what remains a personal best 2:22:38 — the fastest time ever by a U.S. woman at the celebrated event — that made her a celebrity.
Previously, she had finished 19th in 2:44:56 at the 2007 Boston Marathon.
Her 2:26:30 time at the 2010 Chicago Marathon (good for fourth place) was the fastest by an American woman.
At the international level, Davila competed in the 2009 IAAF World Championships, placing 11th in 2:27:53. She was the fastest American woman.
How might she do this summer in London? Holmes said anything is possible.
“A lot in the Olympic marathon depends on the altitude and what happens in the first half of the race, so it’s hard to gauge the international field sometimes,” Holmes said. “She’s definitely of that caliber, however. It will be exciting to she what she does.”
One thing is for certain: all eyes will be on her this summer, especially those in her hometown of Chula Vista.
© 2009 The Star-News