Kartalia hoping injury won't slow his Olympic bid Distance runner not down about possible foot surgery


Excuse Steve Kartalia if he has more than the normal jitters before his scheduled doctor's appointment today.

Kartalia, one of the country's premier 10,000-meter runners, expects to hear he'll need foot surgery to repair an injury that temporarily has blocked his path to the Olympics.

"There are other treatments that might be possible but it usually requires surgery," Kartalia said.

Kartalia's running career was on a fast track until plantar fascitis -- an inflammation of the sole of the foot -- flared up last January.

He competed at the Olympic Trials in the 10,000 a year ago and finished fifth.

"That was the highest level of excitement I've experienced in this sport," he said.

In 1991 he finished fourth in the 10,000 at the Olympic Festival and also won the prestigious Maggie Valley 10K in North Carolina. He pocketed $4,400 for the Maggie Valley victory.

He also won the Constellation in Baltimore in 1991, barely missing a course record. It was his third Constellation victory. That same year he finished 10th in the National Championship.

Until this year, Kartalia showed steady progress at the Peachtree 10K in Georgia, one of the country's premier 10K events. Four years ago he finished 19th, then seventh, and then sixth. He finished 25th this year.

"I was injured and didn't run too well," he said. "It's been a frustrating year because I had been getting faster and faster until this injury. It's been an exciting few years."

Kartalia, who moved back to Maryland (Ellicott City) in June after earning a master's degree in fisheries biology at Clemson, finds everything about running exciting.

"You can daydream during workouts about past and future races," said Kartalia, who turns 28 Sunday. "The whole experience is exciting. I feel lucky to be able to enjoy something like this."

He runs 70 to 100 miles per week when healthy, mixing a 15- to 20-mile weekend run with two hard weekday workouts. He runs twice a day the rest of the week at a recovery pace.

His workout partner until recently had been Jeff Canada, another national-level runner who lives in Columbia.

"He's a great training partner, but the past few weeks I've had to lay off," Kartalia said.

Running wasn't always Kartalia's niche in life.

He started out as a soccer player in Westminster, where he grew up. But as a freshman at Westminster High he discovered cross country.

He became a two-time state Class 4A cross country champion and a two-mile state champ in outdoor track. He ran a sparkling 9:23 in the regional meet for his best high-school two-mile time. As a junior and senior he finished the cross country seasons undefeated.

"Had I never run I would have ended up as a mediocre soccer player," said Kartalia, who is coached by Doug Renner, one of his coaches at Westminster.

Kartalia won a partial athletic scholarship to Wake Forest where he continued to build an impressive running record.

He became All-ACC in the 5,000 and 10,000. He set the school record for the 10,000 at 29:38. And he made the National Junior team in the 5,000.

"I think I'm better at longer races and in the future, 15K to the marathon should be my best distance," he said.

He finished fifth in a half-marathon in the Parkersburg, W. Va., last year. That was the national championship race in that event, and he was second among American runners.

His next major goal, once he gets gets over his foot injury, is to run in the Olympic Marathon trials. If he fails to make the marathon team, he'll shoot for the 10,000-meter trials.

"I think I have a good enough shot to warrant training seriously," he said.

"At that level the bulk of the competitive field falls within 15 seconds, so you need to have the right race on the right day."

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