Sports

Junior Olympian Tate races at national meet

West Mercer Elementary fifth-grader Jaelin Tate is racing in this week’s National Junior Olympics Track & Field Championships meet in Greensboro, N.C. - Contributed photo
West Mercer Elementary fifth-grader Jaelin Tate is racing in this week’s National Junior Olympics Track & Field Championships meet in Greensboro, N.C.
— image credit: Contributed photo

His track coach describes him as a quiet and well-mannered leader. His father thinks speed runs in the family. But for local 10-year-old Jaelin Tate, it is about the fun of competition.

This weekend, the West Mercer Elementary fifth-grader will travel with his parents and coach to Greensboro, N.C., and race at the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championship. The young runner will compete at the Bantam Boys level in the 200, 400 and 4x400 meter relay competitions. In the past, the national competition has helped the likes of current U.S. track stars Jeremy Wariner, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards and Bryan Clay reach the Olympic National Team.

“I like to compete,” Jaelin said. “I think it’s really fun.”

The competition will be hosted by North Carolina A&T University on July 28 through Aug. 2.

Jaelin reached this level based on his performances at preliminary, association and regional levels of the 2009 USATF Junior Olympic Program. The competition consists of five two-year age divisions, with athletes generally falling between the ages of eight and 18.

Competing in regional qualifiers on July 11 and 12 at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Jaelin Tate finished first in the 200, 400 and 4x100 meter events and second in the 4x400 meter relay. He said he enjoyed the hot weather and made friends with a fellow 10-year-old runner from Portland, Ore., named Michael Jordan, who gave him a close race.

With times of 29.65 seconds in the 200 and 1:06.85 in the 400, Jaelin’s father Reggie says he is one of the fastest 10-year-olds in the country.

“That’s pretty good,” Reggie Tate said. “In Nationals, you have kids running close to a minute.”

Whipping by opponents is something that Reggie has grown used to watching his son do in years past, but not on a track. This month marks the youth’s fourth of running competitively.

Over the past several years, Jaelin Tate has raced for touchdowns in Mercer Island’s Boys & Girls Club tackle football program. Last season on a Rookie division team, he reportedly rushed nearly 1,000 yards for 12 touchdowns in seven games, according to Reggie and his coaches.

Preparing Jaelin for the competitive world of track and field, Coach John Shoemaker’s Wings of Eagles running club in Seattle welcomed him into their fold this May.

Described by Shoemaker as an “inner-city” team, the club is taking six relay teams to the Junior Olympics Championship this year and serves as a development team for some of the fastest athletes emerging from Seattle and the surrounding area.

Asked how he was adjusting to the change in atmosphere, the track coach praised his ability to take charge and respond to a challenge.

“He fits right in,” he said. “[It] doesn’t matter where he came from.”

He expects Jaelin to achieve a top-10 finish in one of his events, especially his favorite race, the 400-meter dash. The coach described his tenacity and attention to detail as the keys to the emerging youngster’s success.

“He practices hard and never brings excuses,” Shoemaker said. “And it shows.”

Jaelin wouldn’t be the first Tate to make an impression here, growing up in a home with a proud family sporting heritage on Mercer Island. His father, Reggie, and uncles, Stanley, Brett and Keith, all played football or ran track at Mercer Island High School in the late 1970s and ’80s, while his mother was a track star around the same time at Franklin High School in Seattle.

Jaelin, however, is not too concerned about living up to the family legacy just yet. He is looking forward to the fun he will have in those three races he has qualified for. But it turns out that, in the build-up to the Junior Olympics Championships, the sociable youngster is actually worried about one thing: the “meeting new people” part.

“I feel kind of nervous,” said Jaelin. “I never met anyone in North Carolina.”

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