Leonardi is best girls distance runner in Maine since Benoit

KENNEBUNK – Here’s a no brainer: Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk is the most dominant girls distance runner to come out of Maine in years.
Want proof?
Here’s plenty.
How about 10 individual Class A state titles.
Or state records in cross country, the 1600 and the 3200.
Or 3 trips to the Foot Locker cross country national championship, capped by a fourth place finish last Fall.
No other Mainer not named Joan Benoit Samuelson can touch those creds.
Which is why the comparisons between Leonardi, who is bound for the University of Oregon, and the fabled Olympian from Freeport can begin to be made.
At least Mike Dinehart, Leonardi’s cross country coach at Kennebunk for four years (and for a few more before that in middle school) isn’t afraid to make them.
“Oh, I think they’re founded,” said Dinehart. “Joan was a Maine runner and went to a Maine college, and ran, then moved up to where she became a Gold medalist. I think Abbey has those same abilities to move up in distance.”
Of course, Samuelson long ago established herself in the marathon, having carried her state’s – and her country’s – colors proudly in the 1984 Olympics as the sport’s first Gold Medalist.
Dinehart, who still runs in Seniors Division competition, says he’s seen first hand similarities between the two.
“I’ve run next to ‘Joanie’,” he said, “and she’s got amazing pop in her legs. But Abbey has that same ability. As the distances move up, I think we’ll see her take it to another level. We’ve only seen her run 5k races. It’s a big step (to move up) but it’s a step I think she can make.”
It’s one Leonardi intends to take at Oregon, an elite Division I program.
“Definitely,” said Leonardi, who had a brief chance meeting with Samuelson last fall at a race. “I think on the track I’ll be more of a 5k and 10k runner. But I definitely want to try marathon.
“(Still) “I have a long ways to go to be up to her level.”
Even so, Leonardi has plenty of competitive company. coming within her own household.
Her twin sister Alex, who is headed to Stony Brook University to play soccer, has served as a sibling whetstone on which to hone her runner’s edge.
“Just to see how hard she (Alex) works makes me do my best, too,” said Leonardi. “I guess in a way we’re both really competitive. It’s a good thing we’re not fighting within one sport.”