Naples junior John Markman is all alone as he wins the 1,500-meter run by nearly a half-minute over his closest competition at Aviano on Saturday.

Naples junior John Markman is all alone as he wins the 1,500-meter run by nearly a half-minute over his closest competition at Aviano on Saturday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

PORDENONE, Italy — Track and field isn’t the most high-profile sport for American high school students in Europe. With enrollments even smaller in Italy than up in Germany, there’s probably even less attention for athletes south of the Alps.

That is not the case with Naples’ John Markman. He’s a marked man.

"He’s a monster," said Vicenza coach Chris Olguin, marveling as the red-haired junior swept by Saturday during the last meet of the season in Italy. "If he had some competition down here, he’d probably drop another 10 seconds."

Markman smiled and nodded in agreement when he heard the statement a few minutes later. Then he asked: "Which race?"

Olguin was referring specifically to the 1,500 meters, in which Markman’s best official time this season is 4 minutes, 18 seconds, — third best in Europe. But he’s run close to 4:10 during the offseason while training with Italian friends.

"In his senior year, he’d be looking at 4 minutes if he was pushed," Olguin said. "I don’t think there’s any doubt."

Markman hasn’t really been challenged in the 800, 1,500 or 3,000 in track competitions in Italy this season. There are plenty of other good athletes on the track, but none who come close to him in his races. For example, all the other runners who have qualified for the 1,500 in the Europeans are from schools in Germany.

"I just push myself," he said.

That situation changes quite a bit when it comes to taking on the best across Europe. Markman won’t have to contend with Lakenheath’s Greg Billington this year.

"I wish he was still here," Markman said of Billington, who dominated cross country and the longer track events in Europe in recent years before graduating in June.

But Ramstein’s Kelis Secrest has put up the times to beat this season. Yes, Markman has been paying attention.

"I look forward to competing against him," he said with a smile. In fact, he said he’d relish the competition if every meet was like it is at Europeans.

"I think I can improve a lot," he said.

And he’ll hope to do that during his senior year at Naples and beyond in college.

His coach, Chip Noonan, could see that happening.

"He’s incredibly motivated and self-disciplined," he said. "Most of the guys don’t train in the offseason. But John trains very effectively in the offseason."

In fact, that’s where Markman said he’s posted his best times. He’s found a few Italian nationals that take running seriously and he’s clocked much better times running with them. His official time in the 3,000 this year is 9:50, but he ran the same distance in 48 fewer seconds before the season started.

Markman’s lack of competition might hurt him in the big meet. But he still likes his chances in the 1,500 and 3,000. He’ll skip the 800 because of the way the races are packed together in the finals and compete for Naples’ sprint medley and 4x800 relay teams to round out the maximum four events each athlete can compete in.

Noonan, in his first year as coach, said he’d be hard-pressed to pick Markman’s best event.

"So far this year, it would be the 1,500," he said. "Historically, he has run very well in the 3,000. We’ll see on Friday and Saturday."

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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