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C.J. Hamilton
University High's C.J. Hamilton, center, races ahead of, from left to right, Normal Community's Ryan Everly and Aaron Hanson, and Normal Community West's Christian Magee and Jared Arthur during the Intercity Boys Track and Field Meet on Tuesday, April 26, 2011, at Bloomington High School. (The Pantagraph/Joel Fellers)

NORMAL -- C.J. Hamilton is a gifted runner.

University High School track coach Lester Hampton knew that the first time he saw Hamilton run last year after transferring from Castro Valley, Calif.

Hamilton possesses elegant running form, bouncing off the balls of his feet in a smooth, flowing manner. He could change gears with ease.

Hamilton's beautiful style has led to some pretty good results. He has lost one race in two years as a Pioneer.

Unbeaten this season, the senior enters Friday's Class 2A prelims of the 117th boys state track meet in Charleston as the No. 1 seed in the 800-meter run based on his school record of 1 minute, 55.07 seconds in the sectional.

"I would be happy with top three, but I really do want to win because my goal for the whole season has been 1:54," Hamilton said.

Hampton's state meet advice for Hamilton is to "have fun, relax and let his talent take over because I think his talent will do what needs to be done.

"I really do feel he has yet to truly be pushed. It would be a lot of fun to see somebody get in there and really push him to see what he is capable of."

Earlier this season, Hamilton proved his capabilities in the 400 by breaking Jim Donovan's 1995 school record of 49.7 and ultimately topping out at a Pantagraph Honor Roll leading 49.73.

Hamilton's only loss came in the 400 at last year's sectional where he finished fourth behind the eventual second-, third- and fourth-place state finishers. His 50.96 missed the qualifying standard by two hundredths of a second.

"He didn't know what to expect and I didn't prepare him for it," admitted Hampton, who saw Hamilton make his first big splash in the 800 at the April 14 Capital City Meet in Springfield.

Hamilton motored a meet-record 1:57.18 while beating Normal Community West star Bryce Basting (1:59.14), who enters the 3A state meet as the No. 2 seed at 1:54.13.

After the 800 Friday, Hamilton will run in the 1,600 relay prelims in which U High's school-record time of 3:22.19 ranks seventh among sectional marks. He anchored that relay in 49.1.

"I feel we can still drop some more and I feel we'll have to to make it into the finals," Hampton said.

Hamilton will not run in the 3,200 relay Friday because Hampton believes the No. 7-seeded group (8:05.27) of Jace Mortimer, Alex Parlette, Stephen Husk and Brent Emmerson has the talent to be among the 12 qualifiers.

The plan is for Hamilton to replace Husk in Saturday's final where U High's 1979 school record of 7:55.8 by Tom Engelhorn, Tim Killeen, Dave Bergin and Matt Engelhorn could fall.

"The school record is very much within reach," said Hampton, who has never had three sub-2:00 800-meter runners in a year until now thanks to Hamilton, Mortimer (1:57.29) and Emmerson (1:58.7). Parlette (2:00.1) may soon make it four.

Their bests add to 7:51.2.

The 6-foot-2 Hamilton looks -- and is -- light on his feet at a mere 145 pounds. Last year, a machine at U High used to measure body fat didn't register him.

"He was the only kid in the school that didn't register," Hampton said. "This year, he finally registered at (1.2 percent)."

Hamilton credits his success to the strength he developed while becoming a 15:40 3-miler last fall in cross country and to the push provided by talented training partners.

He expects even more intra-squad competition next year in college. He is leaning toward accepting a scholarship from Illinois State, but has yet to rule out Monmouth College.

Wherever he lands, track fans will be glad to see he has a gift he keeps on giving.

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