The biggest calamity I can remember while coaching at the state meet came two years ago when our 14-foot 6 pole vaulter, Jeremiah Sheehy, broke his money pole as he warmed up for the finals. Sheehy had a second pole he could use, but it was a longer pole on which he had not really even practiced much, much less used in competition. He struggled through the competition, eventually clearing 13 feet and 6 inches to finish in a tie for ninth place.
Four years ago our 300 meter hurdler Sal Salvato, a junior then, fell on the third hurdle, entering the turn. His hurdle interfered with another runner, and so he was disqualified, as well. He did return his senior year to finish fifth.
I can also remember a dropped baton by our 4×400 relay at the state meet, probably six years ago.
We almost had another mishap today, as our 1600 meter runner Jack Keelan tripped off the track, nearly falling, with 300 meters left in his preliminary heat. Keelan had taken the race lead with 600 meters to go. He was running a fast pace, passing the 400 in 62.7 seconds, then the 800 in 2:07.4, but still in fourth place at that point. He moved to the lead without really picking up the pace on the third lap, rather, just maintaining, running 64.6 on that lap. With 400 meters to go sophomore Patrick Perrier of O’Fallon pulled up next to Keelan to challenge—in fact, giving him a nudge with his shoulder—but Keelan accelerated gently to fight him off.
Then, coming off the curve with 300 meters to go, Keelan’s back foot seemed to hit a runner behind him—and he stumbled off the track to the inside. One step, two steps—he somehow kept his feet, stepping back onto the track as the three other runners passed him. How he kept his balance, as his head seemed to fall inches from the ground, is a mystery. But after running awkwardly on the track for another fifty meters, he seemed to find his stride again and accelerated through the curve, moving back into second.
Going into the final straightaway, he moved again, taking the lead and finishing with a good margin, in a personal best and Saint Ignatius school record time of 4:13.63. His last 400, even with the near fall, was 60.9 seconds.
As Keelan stumbled off the track, two judges watched closely. Neither raised a yellow flag. Another track official visited them in the minutes after the race, as another heat prepared to run.
After the third heat of the 1600, it seemed like another official came to chat.
In the end, Keelan was given a pass for stepping off the track. It was ruled, presumably, that he had gained no advantage in the race having done so.
Winning his heat, Keelan qualified directly to the finals on Saturday afternoon. Overall, he was the fourth fastest qualifier of the day. New Trier’s Leland Later, arguably the event favorite, ran 4:12.60 to win his heat; Mike Lederhouse of Glenbard West won his heat with a time of 4:12.65.
Freshman Andy Weber videotaped the race from a seat in the grandstand, and he caught the near fall from across the track. The IHSA webtv video of the day, filmed from the press box, captures the event as well.
We had other good performances on Friday, but none with the drama of Keelan’s near fall. Our 4×800 meter relay entered the race with the slowest qualifying time of 41 teams, but improved nine seconds to run a season best 8:06.60 for 32nd place overall. Senior Patrick Santino ran 2:01.7, sophomore Taylor Dugas ran 2:01.5, junior Elliot Gibson ran 1:59.9, and senior Mike Tonner ran 2:02.5. Gibson then moved on to the pole vault, where he made three attempts at the opening height of 13 feet and 6 inches, but failed to clear it. Sophomore Chris Korabik ran 4:37.90 in his heat of the 1600, off his best time of 4:28, which qualified him for the state meet, but he gained valuable experience.
Finally, sophomore Conor Dunham ran 15.54 for eighth out of nine in his heat of the 110 high hurdles, about a half second off his best time. But he did better in the 300 intermediate hurdles, running 39.07 seconds, his second best time ever. Dunham finished 12th overall, just a tenth of a second too slow to make the top nine and qualify for the Saturday final. His sectional time of 38.99 was the fastest time of the year for a sophomore in the state of Illinois.
After a cold shower and some food, Keelan watched the video and was as amazed as everyone else that he had kept his feet. I worried mainly about an injury, a twisted ankle, perhaps, but he reported nothing.
Neither Later, nor Lederhouse will run another event on Saturday. Several top runners scratched from the 1600; some will run the 4×800, it appears, some will run the 1600. Several of the runners in the 1600, including Later, had been members of a 4×800 at the sectional meet, but they will only run the 1600 on Saturday.
Only Keelan and Malachy Schrobilgen of Oak Park –River Forest, who was the third 1600 qualifier in 4:13.11, will attempt the 3200 and 1600 double on Saturday. They will duel first in the 3200 at around 12:45, followed by the 1600 final at around 3:45. You can watch both races on IHSA TV: http://www.ihsa.tv/.