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As the 2007-2008 high school competition year draws to a close, we asked five staff members who spend a great deal of their time at meets to look back over the last twelve months and select their five favorite events, moments, match-ups, interactions, observations, confrontations or celebrations. The things that stood out, stayed with them, stuck to memory long after the coverage was over and the headlines had faded. The only catch was that they had to actually have been there. Floored by Fernandez’ California double, but you were in Michigan at the time? Doesn’t count. Blown away when Chanelle Price led the Pre Classic women’s 800 with 150 to go, but you were watching on TV in New Jersey? Not good enough. Five favorites you saw with your own eyes.

So, without further ado… a week’s worth of moments we were “in the house” to see.

Friday | John Dye

Mike Shaw’s sensational anchor in the rain at Greensboro – 6/21/2008 GREENSBORO NC – In most meets, the closing 4x400 relay is a focal point, with team championships on the line. There is no team scoring at Nike Outdoor Nationals, so the 4x400 can be an anti-climactic finish to 3 days of competition. In this case, rain swept across the stadium and reduced the crowd to a faithful few. Those who left early missed a memorable race in the last section of the last event, the boys 4x400.

Dominguez (Compton) CA came in heavily favored with a seasonal US#1 time of 3:09.59, fastest in the country since 1997 and 11th fastest all time. But Mike Shaw had served notice earlier that his Waggoner Raiders (Trotwood-Madison OH) team would be a factor, anchoring the Raiders’ 4x200 win on Friday and winning the 200 on Saturday.

The race came down to the anchors, Shaw for the Raiders and Aaron Hester for Dominguez, with Hester taking the baton a few steps in front. Shaw made a run at Hester down the backstretch, but Hester seemed to have him held off. Turning for home, however, Shaw came again and the two runners matched strides in a furious drive to the finish. A last lunge by Shaw was the difference, 3:11.33 to 3:11.41, with Shaw splitting 46.4 to Hester’s 47.2.

Shaw kneeled to the ground and pounded the wet track. Then he got up and let out primal screams while striding around in “king-of-the-jungle” fashion. Unable to run for Trotwood-Madison in the Ohio state meet because of residency infractions in a transfer, Shaw delivered coach Randy Waggoner a sweet victory before moving on to play football for the University of Michigan.

Jordan Hasay steals the show on NBC – 7/4/2008 EUGENE OR – OK, I wasn’t at Eugene for the Olympic Trials, but I was in front of my TV for one of the most remarkable moments in my 12 years with DyeStat.

I am used to high school runners getting short shrift on network telecasts. They are either ignored or given a fleeting few seconds as the trailers start to roll across the screen. A few days earlier, Jeff Demps broke the US high school 100m record, finishing second to world champion Tyson Gay, and wasn’t even mentioned by NBC.

The women’s 1500 meter semifinals were different. California rivals Jordan Hasay and Christine Babcock were in the field and in the same semi, each with a great shot at breaking the high school record (4:16.42) set by Babcock earlier in the year. The high school pair was back in the pack until the last lap, when Hasay advanced to 7th place on the backstretch. Hasay needed to pass one more runner to make the finals, and the NBC announcer became entranced with her waist-length blonde ponytail flying in the breeze. As the runners neared the finish, NBC abandoned the leaders and switched to Hasay on the move in mid-stretch. She knocked off two more runners to finish 5th in 4:14.50, a new high school national record.

The cameras still stayed on Hasay as she grinned sheepishly and waved to the crowd in front of the scoreboard showing “Hasay 4:14.50 HSR.” Hasay is a year away from choosing a college, but the crowd turned into one big recruiting section for the University of Oregon, chanting: “Come to Eugene . . . Come to Eugene . . . Come to Eugene”

In case you missed it, Reebok pro Lindsey Gallo won the race. But for once, television got it right for the high school audience.

Jeff Nelson’s record falls – 6/20/2008 GREENSBORO NC – I saw Alan Webb run the first sub-4 indoor mile at the New York Armory. I saw Francena McCorory shatter the indoor 400 meter record on a flat track at Nike Indoor Nationals. I saw Sanya Richards break the outdoor 400 meter record at Stanford. I saw Tommy Skipper break the pole vault record at the Golden West. I saw both boys and girls indoor 200m records broken moments apart by Brendan Christian and Angel Perkins at the New York Armory. I saw Nik Arrhenius sail the discus 10 feet further than the old record at Arcadia. But until now I never saw anyone come close to Jeff Nelson’s 2-mile record of 8:36.3 set in 1979.

The best of this new generation of Distance Gods took turns trying through several iterations of “best 2-mile ever” at Arcadia and Nike Outdoor and no one even broke 8:40, let alone 8:36. Dathan Ritzenhein tried hard his senior year at both Dayton and Raleigh, but heat foiled him both times. Alan Webb blistered 8:45 indoors but never connected with Ritz at 2 miles outdoors. Chris Solinsky ruled for two years in Arcadia’s specialty event. Matt Centrowitz’s thrilling win over Craig Forys a year ago came up almost five seconds short.

I was beginning to think Jeff Nelson’s record was as unassailable as Michael Carter’s legendary shot put of 81-3.5, also set in 1979.

All that changed tonight as German Fernandez ran 8:34.40. The amazing thing was the metronomic simplicity of the accomplishment. The Riverbank CA senior clicked off 64-65 second laps as if it were a time trial. Worthy competitors like Luke Puskedra, Colby Lowe, Rob Finnerty and Kevin Williams fell back long before the finish, even though they were setting PRs in their own right. There was no rabbit and no pros to pull along the preps as there have been in many all-time great high school distance races.

At the bell, with victory in hand and the record there for the taking, Fernandez came by me with a big smile. He later said it was a grimace, but you can’t convince me.

Jordan Hasay and Luke Puskedra learn to finish – 4/12/08 ARCADIA CA – Jordan Hasay and Luke Puskedra used to be famous frontrunners.

If Jordan couldn’t kill off the opposition with the early pace (like Foot Locker 2005 when she won as a freshman), she could be caught at the end (like at Foot Locker 2006 and 2007). Luke was noted for leading every race, but fading against top competition, such as Matt Centrowitz and Craig Forys in the celebrated 2-mile in 2007 at Nike Outdoor Nationals, where Luke led through the first mile but ended up 13th. Jordan’s fades were never so precipitous as that (10th at Foot Locker 2006 and 3rd at Foot Locker 2007), but still there were whispers that she lacked the kick to carry her to the very top.

This was the year Jordan and Luke learned how to finish. They confirmed it here in back-to-back 3200 meter races.

In the girls race, Hasay faced California rival Christine Babcock. For seven laps they matched strides and surges, with neither able to get as much as a two-step advantage. Babcock kicked at the bell, and with her California state champion mile speed, she seemed a sure winner as she opened up daylight down the backstretch. But then Hasay responded. She inched closer around the turn and swung alongside at the head of the stretch. Hasay relentlessly pressed to a tiny advantage to the finish, 10:03.07 to 10:04.03. It stood as perhaps the greatest high school girls 3200-meter duel ever until Hasay and Laurynne Chetelat mirrored this race in 9:52-9:53 at the California state meet two months later.

The boys race matched Puskedra against New Zealand invader Dominic Channon and stateside worthies Riley Sullivan CA, Sean Keveren TN, Evan Appel CO, and Jim Walmsley AZ. Just as the girls race, this turned into a two-way battle with little to separate Puskedra and Channon. They put away the others and took turns on the lead through seven laps. The seesaw battle ramped up to a frenzy as Channon surged in front at the bell. Puskedra countered on the turn, but Channon surged again on the backstretch. Then Puskedra shook the frontrunner label forever with a final surge down the homestretch to win, 8:46.60 to 8:48.00. There were four lead changes in the 61-second last lap.

Chris Derrick’s solo 5K – 4/12/08 ARCADIA CA – Chris Derrick turned a runaway victory into a spellbinder.

The 5k is a tough event to sustain interest. It starts on the other side of the infield and then goes round and round 12 times. Several laps can go by without a change in position, and you have to play mental games with splits and projections while patiently awaiting a winning surge.

Sometimes one runner breaks early and removes all suspense about the outcome. That’s what happened in this race. After Chris Derrick pulled away from Doug Smith NJ, there was nothing to suggest this would be a memorable race. Veteran observers in the infield started chatting about other things. Late in the race, however, announcer David Mitchell brought their attention back to the tall, smooth striding senior from the suburbs of Chicago. Derrick’s pace projected to a low 14 finish, good enough to rank among immortals on the all time list.

At the bell, the crowd was electrified when the clock showed 12:55. A 64-second last lap would yield an unbelievable sub-14 minute time. The crowd rose all around the track and spurred Derrick to a 60-second last lap and a final time of 13:55.96. It was the fastest 5k ever in an all-high school race and made Derrick the 6th fastest prep ever at 5000 meters. Look at the names ahead of him: Rupp, Lindgren, Ritzenhein, Prefontaine and Zishka. Most of them had rabbits or pros to pull them along. Derrick did it by himself.

This was the final third of an amazing good-better-best trilogy at the best of the 10 Arcadias I have seen: Hasay-Babcock 3200, Puskedra-Channon 3200, and Derrick all alone.
My Favorite 5 Index