Catching up with ... Steve Scott, Master of the Sub-4 Mile

(09/06/2008) Cal State San Marcos coach Steve Scott, (l), the former American record holder in the mile, is pictured at the UC Irvine Invitational. Scott is now retired and living in Northern California. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Scott is America's greatest miler. Not the fastest anymore, but the greatest.

Consider that in his running career, which didn't really take off until he was a sophomore at UC Irvine, he recorded 137 sub-4 minute miles.  He had as many as 19 in one calendar year and a mind-boggling two within 14 hours.

"No one will ever break that record -- that record of 137 is safe," Scott said. "No one is stupid enough to run as often as I did.

"I used to run 10-12 indoor meets and then run just as many outdoors in the U.S. and Europe. I ran a sub-4 minute mile at the Sunkist Invitational in Los Angeles, caught a plane to the Houston Astrodome where, to make the Wide World of Sports, they started the race early at noon.

"I still ran sub-4, beating Don Paige. I thought I was bulletproof."

The Steve Scott story is unique in that although he was a 1:52 half-miler and 4:15 miler at Upland High, where he placed second in the 1974 California state meet in the 800, he never was really pushed until he decided to run for Len Miller at UC Irvine.

On his team were runners like Brian Hunsaker (Corona del Mar), Don Moses (Crescenta Valley) and Ralph Serna (Loara).

"I griped about Len when I went there but I couldn't have gone anywhere else and been as successful," said Scott, 63. "Those other guys were used to running 10 to 20 miles a day, but not me. I was finally mature enough to handle that kind of work and I grew to love running.

"I believe one of the keys to my later success was that I wasn't pushed in high school.

"Guys like Eric Hulst, Alan Webb and German Fernandez worked their bodies really hard when they were young, but I believe they paid a price physically and mentally. I went 15 years without an injury because my high school stressed quality, not quantity."

Scott now lives in Pacific Grove in Northern California after retiring as head track and cross country coach at Cal State San Marcos almost two years ago.

He admits when he was in high school he knew about runners like Jim Ryun and Kenya's Kip Keino but never imagined one day he'd be mentioned in the same sentence as them. But once he started adding mileage to a mature body, he reaped the rewards.

Scott's forte was the mile.  Not the 800, not even the 1500, but the mile.

Oh, he ran a 1:45.05 for 800 meters and 3:31.76 for 1500 meters, but his 3:47.69 for the mile set in 1986 in Oslo, Norway, was the American record for 25 years. He missed the world record set a year earlier by Britain's Sebastian Coe by just .36.

Scott made three Olympic teams but one was 1980 when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics. That next year he ran 19 sub-4 miles.

In 1983 he ran the 1500 in the first-ever World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, where he admittedly made a tactical error that allowed Coe to race past him for the victory.

"Looking back, considering the number of Olympic medals I earned, that second place would be the highlight of my career," he said, then recalling that a year later in Los Angeles he was a disappointing 10th in the 1500 final. He would place fifth at the Seoul Games four years later.

Scott's experience of coming on after high school stuck with him when he coached at Cal State San Marcos  in northern San Diego County. His women's team won three national titles from 2009 to 2011 and his men placed second in 2011. Scott didn't necessarily recruit the fastest high school athletes but the ones he felt had not yet reached their peak.

"When I coached at San Marcos, I realized the women especially would do whatever workout I told them," he said. "I think the same thing happens in high school, which is why so many of our great young runners never go on to compete well internationally.

"A lot of coaches won't like this but since we have a lot of rules about football players, like how many workouts they can have, then I think we should get a scientist to come up with what a realistic number of miles high school kids should be running each week in cross country and track.

"Some runners think if 10 miles a day is good, then 20 must be better. I'm sure they could come up with a reasonable number to allow these runners to enjoy their experience now and still improve at the next level."

You can't talk to anyone associated with sports these days and not address the Coronavirus. Again, Scott is opinionated, one of the first to call for a rescheduling of the 2020 Summer Games.

"They should postpone the Tokyo Olympic Games for a year to be fair to everyone," he said. "Do it now so everyone can get through this thing.  Who wants an Olympics in front of empty stands? It's not worth affecting the athletes-just postpone it until 2021."

And what about a runner like Newbury Park's Nico Young possibly missing a shot at the national 3200-meter record of 8:34.23 by Riverbank's German Fernandez in 2008 if the 2020 high school season is erased?

"It may just prolong his career," Scott said.