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Ellis Looks to Take Running to Extreme

North Carolina track star Jeff Ellis is looking to break his own school record in the 800-meters this season.

Highlights coloring his hair and sunglasses resting on the top of his head, his speech and personality reveal the mellow yet confident swagger of an X-Games champion.

And while Jeff Ellis has been snowboarding for 10 years, you won't find him pulling any McTwists, nose grabs or frontside 720s for his home country of Canada in a competition any time soon.

For the North Carolina senior track and field star, who speaks as gracefully as he runs, there's only one international game he's interested in participating in.

"I've always wanted to go to the Olympics, still do," Ellis said. "Everything I do is geared for going down that road."

From the looks of it, green lights line the way. Ellis holds UNC's record in the 800-meters and is a three-time NCAA qualifier.

Ellis also was a member of the 1999 Canadian World Championship team, where he had the opportunity to run with track's greatest athletes.

"It was an eye-opener on what I have to do to get to the next level," Ellis said. "I was the young one on the team. It was just to get the experience at a national level."

While at the World Championships, Ellis met the fastest runners in the world and was even a part of a group toast to American 400-meter runner Michael Johnson for setting the world record.

The entire experience was invaluable.

UNC track and field coach Dennis Craddock said he could see a difference in Ellis already.

"I've seen a completely different person this year with his relaxed state," Craddock said. "He can see the long-range things. He sees the pain but he knows the rewards are much greater."

But Ellis' journey to North Carolina and running excellence was far from easy.

In fact, it had the detours and obstacles of an off-road race.

Throughout high school, Ellis skied cross country and planned to attend a Canadian university for its skiing program.

But during the summer after his senior year, schools in the United States started to realize the skier's phenomenal running ability.

After almost signing with Central Michigan, Ellis gave up his skis and laced up a pair of spikes for Kentucky.

But still something was wrong.

"I never really liked (Kentucky), and when my coach left that was it," he said. "I came here because I wanted to be on a championship team. There's a history and a pride."

Now it's Ellis' chance to add to UNC's track history. He won his first race of the season last weekend and is aiming for the school record he set last year.

Ellis said he wants to qualify for the World Championships and compete in other events including the World Student Games and the Games of Francophonie, an athletic competition for French-speaking nations.

"I've had some really good 800-meter runners, and he's certainly as good as anyone I've ever had," Craddock said. "I think he can be one of the best runners in the country. I think Jeff Ellis can be as good as he wants to be."

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The talent and determination Ellis brings to the track is evident. He doesn't have the in-your-face attitude some track stars have; but, then again, he doesn't need it.

"He's the best," said javelin thrower Kestutis Celiesius, who lives with Ellis. "He does everything the coaches tell him and even more. He's the real deal."

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