It’s a tall order for an Arizona athlete to enter the discussion of “the best ever” when it comes to girls distance running in Arizona.
Former Desert Vista standout Dani Jones, now a sophomore at University of Colorado, sits at the top of the heap on Arizona’s all-time lists for 1600 meters, the mile, 3200 meters and she’s near the top of the list at 800 meters.
Then there is Alhambra’s Kathy Gibbons, a pre-title IX runner who never ran for a high school team, yet her shadow may be the largest and most imposing of any on the history of girls distance running in Arizona.
Sara Gorton also earns a place in this discussion. Gorton, a 2000 graduate of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, is only one of four Arizona high school girls to run 1600 meters in less than 4-minutes, 50 seconds, and she owns the state’s second and fifth fastest times ever for 3200 meters.
And from a purely statistical analysis, Rio Rico senior Allie Schadler clearly belongs in the discussion of the state’s all-time best female runners.
A four-time state champion in cross country, Schadler owns the two fastest times in Arizona history on the 5-kilometer course on which the annual state championship race takes place, gapping Jones’ previous state best by 23 seconds. But in other head-to-head comparisons, Jones holds a slight advantage; she ran 11 seconds faster on California’s Woodbridge 3-mile course (16:15) and 20 seconds faster (16:43) on Casa Grande’s Desert Twilight 5K course.
In a post-season head-to-head comparison at the Nike Cross Nationals, Jones turned in the best performance ever by an Arizona female athlete when she finished third in the 2014 race; Schadler was seventh in the 2016 race.
On the track, Jones owns the first- and third-fastest times ever recorded by an Arizona runner over 1600 meters, while Schadler’s times rank as the second and fourth best ever. Jones’ best time in the 1600, 4:44.46, is only marginally better than Schadler’s best time of 4:45.15.
The dominance of Jones and Schadler is even more pronounced in the good-old American mile. Of the 15 fastest miles ever run by an Arizona high school girl, eight were recorded by Jones, with a state record clocking of 4:39.88 at the 2015 Prefontaine Classic.
Schadler, with a best of 4:43.18, is the second-fastest performer in state history, with the third fastest performance, and she owns five of the 15 fastest times in Arizona history.
Gibbons is often credited with a 4:39.4 mile while she was in high school, but that was a converted time based on a 4:18.9 performance over 1500 meters (more on that later). In a legitimate full mile, Gibbons has two of the 15 best times in Arizona history with a high school best of 4:48.4.
Doubling up the distance, Desert Vista’s Jones is Arizona’s fastest ever at 3200 meters, sitting atop the leader board with a 10:09.58 clocking in 2015 to eclipse Gorton’s prior state record of 10:15.94. Schadler has the third fastest time in Arizona history with the 10:16.72 clocking she turned in last season to win the Division III state title.
Stepping down to 800 meters, Jones had a high school best of 2:08.85 while Schadler’s best at the distance is 2:10.11.
Gibbons is left out of most historic comparisons because she ran in a non-metric era and her times were not electronically recorded. A 1972 graduate of Phoenix Alhambra High School, Gibbons never competed in a state track and field championship race in Arizona. The first-ever Arizona track championships for girls took place in 1974.
Instead, Gibbons cut her running teeth on the Amateur Athletic Union age group club circuit. In Golden Girls, deceased Arizona track and field historian Barry Sollenberger wrote that Gibbons was “the greatest middle distance runner in Arizona history,” male or female.
“Her times,” Sollenberger wrote, “were of ‘super star’ status … as fast as any female in the country.”
Throwing hand-time comparisons aside, Gibbons’ best times for 800 meters (2:07.6 in 1971) and the slightly farther 880 yards (2:06.7 in 1972) rank side-by-side with the best clockings in the electronic era.
Beyond that, her range was amazing. While still in high school, she was the 1971 U.S. National Champion at 1500 meters and the 1970 US Indoor champion in the mile. Also along the way during her high school years, Gibbons set women’s world records indoors for 1000 yards (2:32.2 in 1972) and outdoors at 10,000 meters (34:51 in 1971) and the half marathon (1:23.56 in 1971).
Gibbons was a member of several US National teams that went head to head against the old Soviet Union national teams in the early 1970s. A March 27, 1972 Sports Illustrated story on the US women’s national team carried the headline, “They’re Sweet 16 and Deserve a Kiss.” The story noted that the entire US women’s middle distance contingent competing against the Russian nationals were all teen agers, with Gibbons the oldest of the bunch at 17.
The July 6, 1972, Arizona Republic reported that, “Kathy Gibbons of Phoenix leaves this weekend for Munich, Germany, with the United States National Track and Field team to compete in meets against West Germany, Italy, Russia, and Africa. Kathy, 18, who attends Glendale Community College and competes with the Glendale Gauchos, will be competing in the 1500 meter run during the tour organized by the AAU. Miss Gibbons, who was the 1971 U.S. Outdoor National champion for 1500 meters, was selected on the basis of her performance in the National AAU Women’s Track and Field Championships June 22-23 in Irvine, Calif.”
Gibbons was selected as an alternate for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team at 1500 meters. She was injured leading into the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. The United States boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow.
Gibbons was killed Jan. 12, 1982, when struck by a car in Boulder, Colo., during a training run in preparation for the 1984 U.S. Olympic trials.
Arizona All-Time Best Performances
Morgan Foster, Chandler, 2016, 2:07.06*
Lauren Ellsworth, Highland, 2014, 2:07.61
Natalie Johnson, Xavier, 2007, 2:08.61
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 2:08.85
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 2:09.15
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2014, 2:09.24
Christine Williford, Liberty, 2016, 2:09.25
Morgan Foster, Chandler, 2016, 2:09.51
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 2:09.94
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2016, 2:10.11
*Running unattached June 12, 2016, at Portland Track Classic
800 Meters Hand Timed
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1971, 2:07.60
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1971, 2:07.84
Anne Gallaher, Moon Valley, 1972, 2:08.0
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1971, 2:09.20
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1972, 2:06.7
Anne Gallaher, Moon Valley, 1972, 2:08.9
Anne Gallaher, Moon Valley, 1971, 2:09.5
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1971, 2:09.8
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1971, 2:10.0
Anne Gallaher, Moon Valley, 1973, 2:11.3
Anne Gallaher, Moon Valley, 1970, 2:12.0
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 4:44.46
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2015, 4:45.15
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 4:48.73
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2016, 4:49.03
Sara Gorton, Mtn. Pointe, 1999, 4:49.11
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2014, 4:49.12
Jessica Tonn, Xavier Prep, 2008, 4:50.42
Sarah Penney, Xavier Prep, 2008, 4:50.72
Leslie Heywood, Amphitheater, 1982, 4:51.12
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2013, 4:51.17
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2016, 4:51.24
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 4:39.88
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 4:41.35
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2015, 4:43.18
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2014, 4:43.40
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 4:44.90
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 4:46.17
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1971, 4:48.80
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2015, 4:49.37
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2015, 4:49.45
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2016, 4:49.50*
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2014, 4:50.41
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2014, 4:50.49
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2014, 4:50.81
Kathy Gibbons, Phx. Alhambra, 1972, 4:51.20
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2016, 4:51.24
* Kathy Gibbons is often credited with a 4:39.40 mile, which is a conversion from 1500 meter time
Kathy Gibbons was the US National Indoor champion in the mile in 1970. She was a junior in high school. She was also the US outdoor champion at 1500 meters in 1971.
* July 2016 between Allie Schadler junior and senior years, exhibition race at U.S. Olympic Trials
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 10:09.58
Sara Gorton, Mtn. Pointe, 1999, 10:15.94
Allie Schadler, Rio Rico, 2016, 10:16.72
Danielle Jones, Desert Vista, 2015, 10:19.62
Sara Gorton, Mtn. Pointe, 2000, 10:23.34
Sarah Fakler, Xavier Prep, 2013, 10:24.48
Jessica Tonn, Xavier Prep, 2009, 10:25.85
Sally Meyerhoff, Mtn. Pointe, 2002, 10:26.51
Kari Hardt, Queen Creek, 2006, 10:26.79
Jessica Rydberg, Blue Ridge, 2009, 10:27.57