The Internet Home of Track & Field

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.

Monday | Steve Underwood

Harbinger of Things to Come – The NIN Boys 2M - If you’re a fan of the nation’s elite prep 8-lappers, your memory of 2008 is no doubt overwhelmed by the visions of German Fernandez making history over 3200 meters and 2-miles this spring, with spectacular efforts three weeks apart. Alas, I not only wasn’t part of the DyeStatCal crew in Cerritos for the German’s first bombshell, but I also missed his crowning achievement in Greensboro, having been assigned to the USATF Juniors in Columbus (and settling for watching the live webcast of the NON 2M). But that didn’t mean my 2008 was completely void of memorable deuces.

While there was no Fernandez, Derrick or Fout, the Nike Indoor 2-Mile (right, photo by Donna Dye) was still loaded with a field of the winter’s great distancemen, with no-holds-barred front-runners Luke Puskedra and Colby Lowe leading the way, and the sizzling NJ trio of Brian Leung, Brandon Jarrett and Doug Smith providing an intriguing sub-plot. Several of us journalists, officials and “experts” stood on a platform in the middle of the infield during that race and made ourselves dizzy as we watched Lowe and Puskedra hammer each other, lap after lap, as the others hung on for dear life and hopes of a sub-9. The consensus among most of us was that a mid-8:50s was in the offing, or maybe even 8:53 or so.

But Luke and Colby never let up and drove with increasing speed in the final laps to finish in 8:49.58 and 8:50.79, wowing even the most optimistic among us. With four others between 8:59-9:02, it was truly an indoor deuce for the ages and let all of us know that it could indeed be a memorable year ahead.

He Saw It Through – Chris Derrick’s 5k at Arcadia - Yes, I was in Arcadia CA that April weekend, and present for the annual magic at the great invitational at the local high school. But damned if I almost missed the best race of the night.

I had been talking to Christine Babcock and her family, you see. My main duty was the girls’ portion of the meet and after the great 3200 duel between Jordan Hasay and Babcock, I was unable to get my quotes from the runner-up. After she had been interviewed by other media and autographed the t-shirts of a few dozen student volunteers – a unique memory in and of itself – Christine had begged off to cool down and rest up for a possible double, and it was only after searching outside the track that I was finally able to track her down and talk with her – during the first several laps of the boys 5000.

It was David Mitchell that brought me back. Of course I knew Chris Derrick (right, photo by John Nepolitan) was in the house and running, and despite the fact that he had forsaken the more competitive 3200 for the 5k, it was certainly possible that he could hit at least mid-14s, if not something like 14:10-15. As I got back to the infield, I heard he had passed 3200 in 9:02. With a big lead, it would have been easy for him to slow down and let those laps creep up to or above 70 seconds. But with Mitchell’s frenetic announcing driving the crowd into a tizzy, and his own competitive juices kicking in, Chris laid it all out there. Each of the final three laps was faster than the last and he closed in 60 to bring himself home in a #6 all-time 13:55.96. “I kind of felt like I owed it to the crowd,” Derrick would tell our Dave Devine for his “See This Through” story. “And I owed it to myself.” Thanks to that old-school sense of indebtedness, one of the year’s best memories was created.

Numbers Not Imagined – Eleanor Roosevelt’s 4x800 at Penn - Records and other great performances come at us in different ways. With a sprint, throw or horizontal jump mark, there’s often little time to think about it; it just happens and stuns us. With distance events or vertical jumps, there’s a growing sense of the possibility, building up to a final climax. In either case, the performance is usually within our expectation, or at least our imagination.

The relays, however, are a different animal, and the girls 4x800 at the Penn Relays this spring was an experience unlike any I’ve had before.

For the past few years, the girls of Eleanor Roosevelt have had a crew capable of spectacular things – from the 4x200 to the DMR – every time they stepped on the track. Of the many great efforts, the 2007 Penn Relays 4x800 was one of the best, with Tasha Stanley’s finishing drive beating the Jamaicans for a #3 all-time 8:51.19. The 2008 crew, though, was without the omnipresent Jameson sisters (graduated) and it was hard to imagine a quartet could be assembled this time around to challenge their school record, let alone a HSR.

But Coach Desmond Dunham does amazing things every year with his girls. In the past, you just about could imagine them averaging 2:12 or better per leg, but they just never quite got it all together at once. This year, it was very experienced bookends Dominque Lockhart and Tasha Stanley on the one hand, but near-rookies Amirah Johnson and Brittany Ogunomokun in between (right, photo by John Nepolitan).

Though they trailed the Jamaicans most of the race, there was the growing realization that something special was happening. Johnson’s sudden breakthrough, a 2:08.6 on the 2nd leg, took them through 1600 in an improbable 4:21.6. Just past halfway on Ogunomokun’s leg it dawned on me – with crushing force – that as long as she didn’t crumple to the track for some reason, and Tasha ran at least a “normal” race for her – 2:12 or better – the quartet was going to destroy the record, sending it deep into the unimaginable realm of the 8:40s.

I guess what you have to understand is that the mindset for a great prep girls 4x800 is always 8:50-something, or maybe – maybe – just under that. Although Tasha and Roosevelt didn’t win – the ultimate irony – their runner-up mark to the Jamaicans was 8:43.12, seven seconds under the old mark and maybe the most amazing record of the year. And it was that surreal feeling of knowing a record (and unimaginable time) was at hand just past halfway, and perhaps before most others did, that really made this an amazing experience.

On the Doorstep of Perfection – Jackie Coward’s 100H win at Great Southwest - For more than two years, we’ve followed Jackie Coward at the forefront of US prep hurdling, watching as she smashed the indoor 60H mark, beat nearly all comers in and out, and wondering when everything would be right for an assault at Candy Young’s almost mythical 12.95 100H.

As it turned out, the closest call came this spring in Albuquerque.

Against a field that included star Texans Destiny Lumas, Donique Flemings, and A’Lexus Brannon, as well as Arizonan Larissa Matthews, Coward was almost perfect – and devastatingly so. She stopped the clock at 13.00, just .05 off the US mark, which has stood for almost 30 years. While she was aided by the friendly altitude and a moderately illegal 2.9 wind, the story was how Coward (right, photo by John Nepolitan) had overwhelmed the deepest field she’d faced all year (by 0.46) and, perhaps, set the stage for the rest of what could be an amazing post-season. The form, the technique, the speed, the power – all appeared flawless to this journalist’s eye, even as she was analyzing afterward what she still needed to work on.

Although the rest of her campaign was disappointing – a fall in the subsequent 300H at GSW, an inexplicable 4th at USATF Jrs and a first-round exit at the Olympic Trials – that 13.00 will remain as a crowning achievement to a great career for one of the best female prep hurdlers in history.

Character Revealed – Chanelle Price after her Olympic Trials 800 - Sometimes we learn more about an athlete by what they do off the track than their actual races, jumps or throws. At this point, anything Chanelle Price – the 2007 DyeStat Athlete of the Year and 2008 Gatorade Girls Athlete of the Year – does should not surprise us. But as it turned out, Price’s most impressive “performance” came after her most disappointing race.

Few prep athletes in history have more been locked in on an Olympic dream than Chanelle. For most of the ultra elites, it’s enough to win national high school titles, and perhaps – if they’re lucky – qualify for the Trials or USATF senior meets (in certain events) and make a brief appearance on the big stage. But as it became apparent as a junior that she could run with the big girls, she embarked on a 2-year quest to make it to the Trials. As she got faster and faster, thoughts of advancing through the rounds and even making the Olympic team became palpable.

But while talent has never been a question, race strategy has always been an issue for Price. Though she was coming off her #2 all-time 2:01.61 from Pre, she struggled mightily in her tactical first-round race in Eugene, failing to advance to the semis (right, photo by John Nepolitan). After two years of hard work and a rather public build-up, the dream came crashing down in two minutes and eight seconds – and now there were a couple dozen media types to face in what had to have seemed like a very, very long mixed zone outside the track.

It was here Chanelle showed her greatest qualities. For at least 15 minutes, with at least three groups of interviewers, she bravely answered every question. While she did so with a smile on her face, she was honest and sincere in acknowledging her mistakes and disappointment. Tears were clearly welling up behind the smile, but she responded with as much composure and kindliness as a teenager could ever be expected to muster in such a situation.

More than anything she ever did on the track, that’s what I’ll remember about Chanelle Price.

My Favorite 5 Index