Prep boys' track: Woods Cross finds unlikely speedster

Prep boys' track • Spano is among the state favorites in the 100, 200 and long jump.
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Woods Cross track coach Judy Allen has had foreign exchange students approach her to join the team on several occasions.

Allen is happy to have some extra participation from the student body despite the students' limited time at the school.

But it's fair to say she's never had someone like Jacopo Spano come from out of the blue before.

"He came to me and said, 'I run,' so I had him come to one of our workouts," Allen said. "The way he was warming up, he was doing one step to every eight for the others. These are good athletes, and he made them look average."

It didn't take long for the Woods Cross coaches to head to the Internet to find out more about this kid from Italy. What they found was that Spano had an accomplished start to his track career back in his home country, including a national victory in the 200-meter sprint last May.

And his ability certainly has translated to the United States. Spano will be a favorite in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as the long jump at this weekend's Class 4A state track meet at BYU.

Spano set a state record in the 200 (21.66 seconds) and certainly was an integral part of the 800 state record-setting Woods Cross relay team at the BYU Invitational earlier this month.

Of course, back at that first introduction, Allen had no idea that this was part of the newcomer's track DNA. Her experience with previous students who transfer from another country is that very little information pertaining to athletic excellence is passed along.

In fact, Spano was supposed to go to Minnesota before the host family had to back out.

"My first thought was excitement because we always like to see foreign exchange students come out for the team," Allen said. "Our exchange students are wonderful, great students — don't get me wrong — but not necessarily great athletes."

Allen jokes these days that her original primary concern with Spano was not to set back his progress. She did want Spano, a junior at Woods Cross, to peak at the end of the high school track season, and that meant holding him back a little early.

"It was so cute — I heard that he went to another one of our team members and asked, 'Can I trust them when they say I will peak at the right time?'" Allen said.

Spano, who will return to Italy in early June, has improved his English. His coach notes that it's "light years from where it was three or four months ago."

"I was worried before I came here," Spano said. "I didn't really speak very good English and didn't know what would happen with my running."

His time away from the track has been rather ordinary for a high school student. He says he likes hanging out with friends and going to movies.

And when Spano returns to Italy, he soon might develop a longing for an American food item that he's grown to love during his time at Woods Cross and with his host family.

"Hot dogs — it's the best food ever," Spano said.