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McGrath runs with his pack, for now

• UO freshman hopes to score in Pac-10 800, then try moving up in distance

Mike McGrath made his mark at Lincoln High mostly in the 800 meters. Eventually, he may become even better known for running about twice that far.

'I think I have a good shot at being good in the mile, also,' he says.

But the mile and the 1,500 can wait. McGrath and the Oregon Ducks are aiming for points in the 800 when UO defends its Pacific-10 Conference track and field championship, May 14-15 at the University of Arizona.

'I think I definitely have a shot at winning the 800,' the Duck freshman says. 'And I definitely want to do the team thing. I think that's the right thing to do.

'After the season ends, I get to be my own greedy self.'

The 5-7 McGrath, who turned 19 last month, hopes to run in the Olympic Trials, July 9-18 in Sacramento, Calif., or make the U.S. team for the Junior World Championships, July 13-18 in Grosseto, Italy.

'My biggest improvements are going to come in the summer,' he says. 'I want Trials experience for the future, and the traveling experience with the junior team would be great. I got to go to the Junior Pan-Am Games last year (in Barbados), and that was very good experience for me.'

McGrath and Sandy pole vaulter Tommy Skipper, who was second in the NCAA indoor championships three weeks ago, have loyal Duck track fans excited about the future Ñand the present.

Oregon has 11 returnees with NCAA championship experience, including Jason Hartmann in the 10,000, Jordan Kent in the 200 and Pac-10 champs Adam Jenkins (javelin) and Brandon Holliday (400 hurdles).

'We have a solid team, and it's really fun being part of a winning program,' says McGrath, whose dorm roommate is former Grant distance ace Alec Wall, a freshman redshirt this spring. 'Running in Eugene is awesome.'

As a Lincoln senior, McGrath led the nation with his 800 time of 1 minute, 48.56 seconds. He qualified for the Pac-10 championships in his first outdoor race, winning the Oregon Preview 800 on March 20 in a comfortable 1:51.19.

McGrath had the fourth-best prep mile time in the nation in 2003 (4:05.28). And a week before he won the Class 4A state 800 title in Eugene last year, he ran the Bowerman Mile in the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field by special invitation.

He redshirted in cross country last fall but expects to be a contributor for the Ducks in the coming years.

And his training is going so well, he says, he's in the best aerobic shape of his life.

'I'm really strong,' he says.

Oregon track coach Martin Smith says the top eight 800-meter runners in the Pac-10 could do 1:48 or better, 'and we think Mike (McGrath) can be part of that mix.'

Next up for Oregon and McGrath is the Pepsi Team Invitational, April 10 at Hayward Field against Minnesota, the Big Ten champ; Colorado; and Washington.

'The coaches want me to go out pretty fast in the 800 to see if I can get used to that,' he says.